In the beginning, there was Downtown Datsun.
The automobile dealership squatted there for many years on West Santa Clara St., advertising Great Deals Below Sticker Low Monthly Payments Bad Credit No Problem!!!!!!
Most people drove right past the car lot and exclamation points, barely noticing.
Except that Tom McEnery did notice. As a high school student en route to Bellarmine Prep, he frequently traversed the West Santa Clara St. and Autumn St. intersection on the gritty edge of downtown San Jose. Much later, from 1983 to 1991, he did so as mayor of the city.
This explains why, when talk of building a civic sports arena began to heat up during the 1980's, McEnery was ahead of the curve. He had just the location. He knew in his gut it was better than others that had been proposed, in North San Jose adjoining Route 237 or at the county fairgrounds.
"In the 1960s and 1970s, so much of downtown San Jose was cleared out for redevelopment," McEnery now says. "There were blocks full of vacant lots. I had told voters we were going to rebuild it all as an entertainment and business center."
An arena meshed with that master plan. But if you think that McEnery merely snapped his fingers and magically made the vision come true . . . well, you weren't around back then.
With the building now known as SAP Center celebrating its 25th anniversary, it can be easy to forget that there was a time when San Jose's most popular downtown landmark almost didn't happen at all. Dissenters filed a lawsuit against the plan. A civic referendum was controversial and nearly failed.
In the end, for the building being constructed, you can primarily thank the 73,409 San Jose citizens who voted "yes" on the arena ballot issue in 1988 -- with no promise of any professional sports team ever occupying the venue. But that is still getting too far ahead of the story.
And it's one hell of a story, with multiple twists and turns involving toxic waste, a Hollywood producer and an Olympic gold medalist. There were multiple twists and turns. At one point, San Jose's new hockey team was going to be called the "Americans" and wear red, white and blue uniforms. Yes, really.