Nonprofit Wants San Jose’s Light Tower To Rise Again >

Anne Gelhaus, Mercury News
June 29, 2018

The view from San Jose’s Capital Club is of a downtown skyline whose landmarks are arguably known only to those who live and work in the area. But the three co-founders of the nonprofit San Jose Light Tower Corporation hope to change that.

Steve Borkenhagen, Jon Ball and Thomas Wohlmut are working to build an electric light tower in the spirit of the one that graced downtown San Jose from 1881 to 1915. The new tower would be taller than the original, which stood at 237 feet at Market and Santa Clara streets, and would take advantage of advances in design and technology.

“Our dream is to come back in a few years and look out the window” to see the new tower in Plaza de Cesar Chavez, Borkenhagen told a roomful of supporters and press gathered at the Capital Club on Sept. 5 to hear two teams of students from ETH Zurich present their design concepts for a new tower.

Engaging Swiss engineering students for the task was something of a full-circle concept, since some believe that the Eiffel Tower, designed by an ETH Zurich student and built in 1889, was inspired by San Jose’s tower.

The student designs are what supporters hope is the first wave of ideas for the new light tower. Borkenhagen said the nonprofit is putting together a worldwide competition for design submissions.

“We’re hoping that students, architects, artists and even people with a pencil and a cocktail napkin will submit ideas,” he told the audience.

The nonprofit netted $120,000 last month at a fundraiser at Cafe Stritch, the downtown San Jose restaurant Borkenhagen co-owns. Final project costs have yet to be estimated.

Borkenhagen said the goal is to build a distinctive new light tower akin to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Although the original light tower was knocked down in a windstorm in 1915, the students’ designs focused more on seismic safety. Wohlmut  said the tower, one of the tallest free-standing structures of its day, was missing 16 bolts when it fell.

“Thirty-four years is pretty good for a project built out of cheap boiler parts,” Wohlmut said.

For more information, visit sanjoselighttower.org.

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