History Park in San Jose preserved a lot of buildings by moving them from their original location to Kelly Park. Some of the buildings are replications of former glory, like the Bank of Italy and the candy shop next door.
Nevertheless, the most recognized structure is the electric tower framing the intersection next to the Bank of Italy building. It is a half-scale replica of the original 237-foot tower that was built at the intersection of Santa Clara and Market Street in San Jose in 1881. The tower collapsed in a storm in 1915. As a monument to progress it was hoped to illuminate the downtown area by imitating moon light. J.J. Owens, editor of the San Jose Mercury, is credited with the idea. In an editorial piece, he proclaimed that by “providing a high and immense source of arc light, the night would become as day for the downtown area.” (Information signage at History Park)
Hailed as the world’s tallest free-standing iron structure of its time, some said the design influenced the 1889 Eiffel Tower. After a mock trial at Santa Clara State University, it was decided that two minds had independently come up with similar ideas.
Ironically this concept of lighting up the downtown didn’t prove to be successful. The tower did not light the immediate area, and farmers nearby complained that the moon-imitating structure confused their chickens.
But this was the beginning of available electricity in in cities, and gas lamps were slowly replaced with electric lights.
A much smaller reproduction of this landmark can be seen lit up at Christmas in the Park sponsored by the Rotary Club.
Did you know about the electric light tower?
History in San Jose is located at 635 Phelan Avenue. Admission is free, except during special events, but parking is $6 for an all-day pass. The park is open Mondays thru Sundays, 9 am to 4 pm.