The historic San Jose H.G. Wade Warehouse was gutted by a catastrophic fire last year, but its walls are still standing. Now, the owner wants to knock them down.
The San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission meets Wednesday to discuss an application to demolish the remaining walls of the Wade Warehouse, removing the last trace of the Civil War-era building. Owner Michael Zaro told thecupertinodigest.com 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.
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.
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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.
On June 25, 2021, a fire ignited at the warehouse and destroyed most of the structure. It’s unclear how the fire started.
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 thecupertinodigest.com. “It’s a terrible thing.”
Councilmember David Cohen, whose district includes the warehouse, told thecupertinodigest.com 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.
The current proposal from Garden City Construction calls for the removal of the remaining walls and the salvaging and reuse of any bricks in good condition. The company would also build a monument—a sign made up of the bricks spelling “H.G. Wade”—to commemorate the warehouse.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a good nod to the family,” James Salata, president of Garden City Construction, told thecupertinodigest.com.
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 thecupertinodigest.com. “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.”
The Historic Landmarks Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Contact Eli Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.
This story will be updated.
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