Developers propose high-rise at historic San Jose restaurant
The Bo Town restaurant site in downtown San Jose may become a residential tower. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

In the 1950s, youngsters bopped to doo-wop, folks dined at drive-in burger joints and architects dreamed of homes in outer space. It was in this decade that the “Googie” style of architecture flourished, eventually bearing the construction of what would become Bo Town restaurant in downtown San Jose.

Now developers aim to erect a 29-story residential tower at the site—which closed in 2019—and demolish the historic restaurant with a promise to rebuild it at the base of the new building.

“I commend you on the incorporation of this project,” said Harriett Arnold, historic landmarks commissioner, during a hearing on the proposal Wednesday night. “I really like the fact that you’re incorporating something that is, for many, a landmark at that particular corner.”

Bo Town restaurant, located at the corner of San Salvador and Second streets in downtown San Jose, was in operation for 30 years. Image courtesy of Steinberg Hart.

Arnold recalled how she often walked past Bo Town restaurant as a San Jose State University student. The building, first erected in 1967, is listed in San Jose’s Historic Resources Inventory. The inventory tracks “architecturally and historically significant buildings,” according to the city’s website.

Despite its inclusion in the city’s historic inventory, the Bo Town restaurant site is not designated as a historical landmark and needs no formal recommendation from the Historic Landmarks Commission in order to be redeveloped.

The building currently houses LvL Up Arcade, which has another location in downtown Campbell.

The new residential tower, proposed by Canadian luxury development firm Westbank, features 520 one- and two-bedroom homes, first-floor retail space and 194 parking spaces.

Ernie Yamane, senior vice president at architecture firm Steinberg Hart, said during the hearing that Westbank would demolish the existing restaurant, but erect a new concrete structure in the building’s historic Googie style. The current restaurant features wood frame construction.

A side view of the reconstructed Bo Town restaurant. Image courtesy of James K.M. Cheng Architects / Steinberg Hart.

Commissioner Edward Saum praised Westbank for attempting to preserve the building, despite the fact that it was not legally required to do so.

“It’s a compass point for so many people,” Saum said of the eye-catching building. “The voluntary effort to leave this iconic structure on the corner demonstrates an enormous proportion of good will.”

The Googie style is named after Googie’s Coffee Shop in Los Angeles and is typified by “space age” patterns reminiscent of “The Jetsons” cartoon.

Chu Chang, acting director of planning, building and code enforcement, wrote in a memo that the building exemplifies the architectural style through “folded-plate sloping roof, large expanses of glass in metal frames… and the free-standing signage.”

During public comment, Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, said the city needs more developers to do the most they can to preserve historic structures.

“A project that demonstrates a historic resource is an asset,” Leech said. “This is not a city landmark, we would love it if it was, but it isn’t… the developer is really taking this on of their own commission.”

Resident Terry Sodergren playfully suggested that the business occupying the new restaurant be open around the clock.

“Think about what it means to the people of downtown San Jose that want to live and thrive there,” Sodergren said. “Hint-hint, 24 hours!”

The commission will hear the project again at an undetermined date to review environmental and historic documents.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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