As cities grow, it’s not uncommon for favorite landmarks to fall by the wayside. That was the fear of Cambrian Park residents when developers set their sights on Cambrian Park Plaza, whose quirky carousel sign had been a local icon since the Plaza’s construction in the 1950s. Those worried about the carousel’s fate soon brought their concerns to County Supervisor Ken Yeager.
“Neighbors had heard that the shopping center was being sold,” Yeager recalls, noting that even though the buildings themselves were not particularly noteworthy, “there is that carousel in the middle of it all that people just adored.” Locals were unsure what would happen to the landmark after the property was annexed to the city, so Yeager decided to see what action the County could take to preserve it.
The first thing he did was commission a study to see if, in fact, the Cambrian Plaza Carousel fit the criteria for being a historic landmark.
What makes something “historic”? There are three important criteria:
- The structure has to be at least 50 years old.
- It has to have “architectural integrity,” meaning it hasn’t been significantly changed over the years.
- It has to be representative of a particular architectural style.
To no one’s surprise, the Cambrian Plaza Carousel met all three of those benchmarks. Its style fell into a category called “roadside vernacular,” which describes a distinctive marker meant to draw people onto a property. Residents fighting for their piece of neighborhood history were rewarded last fall, when the Carousel was officially declared a historic landmark.
His experience with the carousel led Yeager to look around for pieces of history in other unincorporated areas of the County, which are some of the last places to be developed. One hidden gem happened to be near his own neighborhood and in the district he represented for years as a city councilman — the Burbank Theater.
Located near San Jose City College, the art deco theater and its iconic sign have caught many a wistful eye. Built in 1949, the theater fell into disrepair over the years, even being declared a public nuisance in 2000. But Yeager hopes the distinctive landmark can be given a new life, perhaps as a cafe or even a small performance space, and has started the process to determine whether it, too, can be designated a historic landmark.
“What I’ve discovered from this process is that with all the development and growth in our area, people are just longing for some part of history,” says Yeager. “Anytime we can preserve a piece of that history, people are very enthusiastic.”