Winter 2020 News

Board Spotlight: Brian Grayson

Rick Holden, Board PresidentAs well as being a Levitt Pavilion San Jose Board member, Brian Grayson is a long-term resident of San Jose, former Executive Director of the Preservation Action Council, and a current member of the City of San Jose’s St. James Park Advisory Committee.  Brian also served for eight years on San Jose’s Planning Commission and has many years of collective wisdom and experience with development projects and historic resources. His contributions to the Levitt-SJ Board covers a wide range of topics including historic resources, communications, and awareness regarding the public sensitivity toward the proposed Levitt Pavilion project.

What about the Levitt Pavilion San Jose Board drew your interest? 
My main interest in being on the Board has been as an advocate for historic preservation as it relates to the entire park. While I believe the Levitt Pavilion can be an asset to the park, a very careful balance is required to maintain the historic character of the park and the surrounding Historic District. I hope my input helps bring focus to the historic importance of the park and the need to be careful that any plans for the park respect its historic nature.

How was St. James Park used by the public originally (1800’s) and how did this change overtime?
The park was a gathering place for families who would often visit the park. Obviously, that has changed over the years, although the goal has been to return the park to its family-friendly history so that everyone feels comfortable and safe visiting the park. We still have a lot of work to do to achieve that goal.

Historically speaking, what is your opinion of the proposed design for the Levitt-SJ Pavilion and related park renovation?
Although the park design continues to change, the early designs showed respect for the original layout of the park. It remains to be seen what the final design for the pavilion and the park will be, but I would hope the final product will respect the park and its history as well as the importance of maintaining the surrounding Historic District.

How does the preservation community view the proposed Levitt Pavilion project?
The historic preservation community has been supportive of the overall concept of the Levitt Pavilion project. However, the community has reserved full support until it is confirmed that the plan will have no negative impacts on the park or the Historic District.

What about more recent uses of the SJP for such things as music concerts, movie nights, yoga, and other events? How will the Levitt Pavilion project make any difference to what is currently being offered?   The more recent activities in the park help bring more people into the location. The current events that take place there still do not bring in the numbers of people that I would like to see frequenting the park but it is a start. Hopefully, the Pavilion and the family-friendly concerts it will host will bring more people, especially families into the park.

Where does the project currently stand? What do you see as next steps for the board in realization of the Levitt Pavilion and SJP renovations? Currently, the park plan awaits the completion of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The EIR will analyze all aspects of the proposed plan from noise and traffic to potential impacts to the historic resources in and near the park. Once that process is complete and the public has had an opportunity to review and comment on the EIR, then we will need to determine the actual costs of the Levitt Pavilion and the park revitalization. The Board will then be tasked with raising a certain amount of money to supplement the amount the City of San Jose will provide.

If there was one thing you would like people to remember about the proposed Levitt Pavilion San Jose, what would it be?
The potential to revitalize the park and return the site to the family-friendly park it was in its prime.
Levitt Pavilion San Jose Calendar Picks

Downtown Ice
Now through January 12, 2020. 
A San Jose holiday tradition since 1994, Downtown Ice is the only rink in the world that offers skating in and around a circle of 32 palm trees. 

Vietnamese Tet Festival 
January 25 - 26, 2020
The Vietnamese Tet Festival at Santa Clara County Fairgrounds offers a feast for the senses with traditional dance, martial arts and a selection of delicious Vietnamese bites. 

San Jose Jazz Winter Fest
February 14 - 29, 2020
The “cool” counterpart to Summer Fest, Winter Fest presents jazz, blues, Latin jazz, New Orleans and related genres in intimate venues in San Jose and Palo Alto. Check out the lineup, which includes stars like Miguel Zenón, with his Sonero project; phenomenal vocalist Stacey Kent and Quincy Jones protégé Sheléa.

St. James Park - A Brief Community History

St. James Park, formerly known as St. James Square, was established in 1860’s and from its inception  was designed as a neighborhood and community meeting place.

Prior to establishment of St James Square, the undeveloped open space had at one time been the location of a school and later an informal gathering spot. City leaders in the late 1800’s certainly knew about the importance of outdoor community space and activation.  The walking paths reflect this “constant movement” through the park with features, highlights, and destinations at every corner.  Important civic and religious buildings that still surround the park proved to be natural borders that protected this small oasis in the middle of downtown San Jose.

St. James Square had a uniquely neighborhood character. In the late 1800’s, the simple act of going for a walk with family could be a focal point of the day. As a local destination, St. James Square has played an important role in the northside Hensley District neighborhood. In 1885 the park received minor renovation, by the renowned Victorian landscape designer Rudolf Ulrich. This was the high period for the park, when a prominent fountain was created along with ornate benches, street lamps, and exotic plantings from around the world. The park truly was the place to be and be seen. Around this time the area began to be called St. James Park.

Taking a stroll in  St. James Park, 1890

The emphasis on community has always been key. It fulfilled this role through a series of ups and downs during the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, adopting unique character each decade while constantly evolving. The once quiet walking paths became community memorials and a place for politics. Picnic spots became places for people to gather in protest, for assembly, and even for a dreadful lynching in 1933.

In the post WW II period (1950’s through late 1960’s )interest in the history of the park grew.  In late 1964, the City Council approved the  design of community center that was federally funded and fully intended as “interim use” to better utilize city owned property.  Many people felt this development disrupted the original 1880’s park design. No matter what the opinion of the design, the activation of the community center was a key element in making productive use of the space.  Community interest in the history of the park continued to grow until in 1978 steps were taken to have the park listed as on the National Register of Historic Places, ultimately achieving this designation.

St. James Park, Community Center Design, Architect's Rendering 1964 (Higgins & Root)

Robert F. Kennedy Visits San Jose with a speech in St. James Park, March 23, 1968

In 1955, because of the proposal to continue 2nd Street through the park, the division of the park into two halves was completed after years of debate. The intent was to provide more direct access for people to into the downtown. Thirty years later the southbound light rail was brought through along 2nd Street, also intended to increase accessibility and provide a jumping off/on point for the north side of town. Many people now want to remove the automobile traffic but keep the light rail for community access.

Later changes included a small, children’s playground on the southeast corner of the park in the early 2000’s. This proved successful for a time but use has since become underutilized. More recently a small dog park was constructed, and this currently appears to be quite popular with pet owners and even local office workers. Other more recent activities include music & movie nights, weekly yoga classes, and even a Pokémon Go hot spot. The more things change, the more the stay the same. St James Park is still very much a unique community destination in a key location. Current City and Levitt Pavilion renovation plans envision an evolution of the park into a family-centric location for everyone to enjoy year round.
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