Historic Hotel Metropole sign finds new home in San Jose

Another of San Jose’s historic signs has received a new lease on life, with the old Hotel Metropole sign now installed in the beer garden between Camino Brewing and Faber’s Cyclery on South First Street.

Opening in 1903, the Hotel Metropole occupied the top floor of the Alcantara Building, an 1890s brick beauty on Market and Post streets, and its blue porcelain neon sign was a familiar sight for decades as a modern downtown San Jose grew up around it.

The Alcantara building in downtown San Jose, photographed on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2020, once housed the Hotel Metropole. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

As downtown’s fortunes turned downward in the 1960s, so did those of the hotel, which always had been a bit of second-rate joint but fell into being a flop house by the early 1980s. The top floor was deemed unsafe after the Loma Prieta earthquake, and the Alcantara building — which also was home to the California Loan pawnshop and Keegan’s Kafe , a popular breakfast spot — was designated a city landmark in 1989 and sold in the late 1990s.

Jim Salata‘s Garden City Construction/Buccaneer Demolition was called in to do the interior demolition of the building, which was then renovated into offices in 2001. (Knight Ridder Digital, Xactly and Electric Cloud occupied the currently empty building for most of the next two decades.) He got both the porcelain sign and an older smaltz sign from the owners, who didn’t want them.

The older sign hung in the Garden City Construction offices until recently. Salata says he’s been toting around the porcelain sign from warehouse to warehouse for the past 22 years. He also kept the original neon tubes in a five-gallon bucket, which allowed glassblower and neon artist Kevin Chong to light them up and determine what color they were at the time the sign was taken down. Salata’s planning a small, private re-lighting ceremony in early December, but the sign’s location on First Street just south of Interstate 280 means everyone can enjoy the sight.

Salata proposed creating a “neon alley” behind Camino Brewing — partly for preservation and partly to deter crime in the area — but didn’t get anywhere with the city. He says he’s happy to be part of the preservation movement, working with people like Chong and others at History San Jose and Preservation Action Council to keep these bright spots of our civic heritage alive.

“This is the end of one long journey for me and I trust the beginning of another,” Salata said. “Perhaps the relighting of the Metropole sign will inspire others to support restoring neon signs from a planning and financial standpoint.”

TECH PUTS LEADERS ONLINE: Back in the pre-COVID world — remember that? — the Tech Interactive honored its Tech for Global Good laureates at a big event (known for many years as the Tech Awards). This year, however, the big “event” is online and the four honored organizations are featured in a Virtual Field Trip created in collaboration with Discovery Education.

The laureates all use data in creative ways to help people and are led by San Jose’s own Destination: Home and include Chipsafer, Opportunity Insights and UNICEF. The Virtual Field Trip, which launched Thursday, is accompanied by materials teachers can use in their classrooms. Check it out at techfortomorrow.com/virtual-field-trip/tech-for-global-good.

“Our goal is to share their stories with young people around the world, so they can be inspired to use technology to solve problems in their own communities,” said Katrina Stevens, The Tech’s new president and CEO.

PLAYING POLITICS: Former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery sent over a photo of the Bill Clinton statue in Ballybunion, Ireland, that’s been adorned temporarily with a poster congratulating President-Elect Joe Biden.

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