San Jose officials reluctantly approved a plan to demolish the remaining walls of the historic H.G. Wade Warehouse, but have lingering concerns about valuable bricks that disappeared from the partially burned building.
The San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission on Wednesday voted 4-0-1 to recommend approval to demolish the remaining walls of the Wade Warehouse following a fire that destroyed most of the structure in June 2021—removing the last trace of the Civil War-era building. Commissioner Harriett Arnold was absent.
Commissioners added a condition that any bricks removed from the warehouse must be recovered, stored and protected until they can potentially be used at some point in the facade of a future development on the site. The commissioners unsuccessfully tried to include a requirement for the property owner to restore the Wade House—an adjacent property dating back to 1851—but a city attorney said that was beyond the scope of their agenda.
Commission Chair Paul Boehm emphasized the importance of not letting the historic legacy of the warehouse disappear due to owner neglect.
“This is a owner that held the property for as many as 10 years and really did nothing to protect it,” Boehm said. “It was a hazard from pretty much the time they bought it until the time burned.”
Commissioners also had concerns about historic bricks that may have been transported off the site after the fire—something that shouldn’t have happened without a historic preservation permit. A representative of the company Garden City Construction, which is doing the demolition, said he didn’t have knowledge of what happened with the bricks, but noted anything salvaged from the site would have been cataloged.
Over 150 years of history
Owner Michael Zaro told San José Spotlight the warehouse is beyond saving, and the remaining structure is a deterrent to potential buyers.
“Obviously it’s coming down at some point, there’s not enough of it left to save,” Zaro said prior to the vote.
The warehouse was built in Alviso in 1860 and used to store hay and feed. Later, it housed stage coaches and trucks until it fell into disrepair in the mid-20th century. San Jose granted the warehouse landmark status in 2003, one of only six buildings in Alviso to receive the designation.
Jan Jensen, a fifth generation descendant of the Wade family, told commissioners her family has been working with local organizations to preserve the warehouse’s history.
“We did mention in 2019 when we did a site visit our concerns that there (were) electrical issues and fire danger,” Jensen said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic halted code enforcement.
Years of neglect, then fire
Over the last decade, locals have complained about the dilapidated state of the building, and the homeless people who occasionally squatted in it. Code enforcement inspectors repeatedly warned the property owners to not let tenants live or work at the warehouse. On several occasions, inspectors found electrical cables near the warehouse being used for RVs and a solar panel. They also photographed debris and trash stored inside the building.
Several residents expressed outrage over the missing bricks and the fact that the property owner wasn’t present at the meeting. Edward Saum noted the destruction of the warehouse would make it easier for development to proceed on site–a pattern he said has happened with other neglected historic structures.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened, but if city procedures aren’t adhered to and enforced it will continue to happen,” he said.
Richard Santos, a member of the Valley Water board of directors and former Alviso resident, said he’s bitter about the loss of the warehouse because it was preventable. He sees it as an extension of San Jose’s failure to safeguard the legacies of marginalized communities.
“San Jose doesn’t protect minority history in any way,” Santos told San José Spotlight. “It’s a terrible thing.”
Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the warehouse, told San José Spotlight the fire and degradation of the surrounding mortar at the building didn’t leave much that was structurally sound or safe.
“Despite that, the owner of the property wants to repurpose the Wade Warehouse materials that remain, the bricks and the plaque, in order to help preserve the history of this one-of-a-kind community in San Jose,” Cohen said, referring to a bronze plaque currently affixed to the front of the building.
Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, said his organization is in favor of the monument. He emphasized they don’t want to encourage owners of historic buildings to neglect them, pointing out that several historic houses have been lost to fires in San Jose in recent years.
“It seems like this property is going to be a lot more valuable with the building gone,” Leech said. “We don’t want to reward the neglect that led to this chronically under-maintained and abandoned building that burned down.”
Leech added there is still a standing historic structure on the lot—the Wade House. Zaro said the house is in disrepair and he’s spent thousands of dollars keeping the roof from falling in. He offered to donate the house to the city and claims San Jose officials rejected the proposal.
“They’d like me to restore it, but they have no interest in doing it,” Zaro said.
City officials claim this is false.
“The owner has not made any official offer to donate the Wade House to the city of San Jose,” spokesperson Kristen Van Kley told San José Spotlight. “The Historic Landmarks Commission would first consider the offer, and subsequently make a recommendation to the City Council for their decision on whether to accept or reject.”