Activists fighting to preserve San Jose landmarks in danger of being demolished

San Jose’s iconic Burbank Theatre has a three-story-tall sign that’s been a beacon for the neighborhood, dating back to the 1940s.

But the theater's better days are behind it. One group hopes they’re possibly on the horizon too.

"This is the kind of building that defines the character of a neighborhood," said Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose.

Leech is fighting to save the Burbank Theater from being bulldozed. He’s placed it, and seven other sites — the San Jose Flea Market, First Church of Christ, Diridon Station, former San Jose City Hall, the Alviso Historic District, and Graves House — on an endangered list.

"These are the places that we feel are most threatened. And that we have the most ability to steer in a more preservation-friendly direction in the coming year," said Leech.

Community groups are decrying the planned displacement of the flea market due to BART. The church grounds are doomed for more housing. And there are fears redevelopment may change Diridon and other sites on the list.

"They’re part of the fabric of our shared experience," said Ken Middlebrook, curator of collections at History San Jose.
"If they disappear or even altered substantially, they’re gone forever."

In the case of Burbank Theatre, time and disrepair now mean the structure needs lots of "TLC," as a bank auction looms.

Leech is hopeful the eventual buyer will see the beauty in the building, and restore the one-time theater.

"Frankly we’re trying to scare off the people who would want to tear it down. And get the attention of the people who would want to do something good," said Leech.

Time is in short supply. The bank auction, with a base bid of $200,000, is slated for Dec. 13-15. Only after it’s completed will preservationist know what to do next.