San Jose is thinking about tearing down the Bank of California, one of the South Bay city’s best examples of Brutalism and its only César Pelli design. The unfortunately maligned utopian architecture style once again has its poured-concrete head on the guillotine.
According to the East Bay Times, the San Jose City Council is expected to soon sign off on its demolition, “along with the rest of the 10-building financial center now known as City View Plaza, to make way for a 3.79 million square-foot mega campus proposed by developer Jay Paul.”
San Francisco developer Jay Paul Company purchased the 8.1-acre site, located at 170 Park Center Plaza, in 2019. The company reportedly made no plans to keep the building intact or integrated it into its gleaming, albeit listless redevelopment plans.
The storied building dates to 1973, featuring a blocky concrete facade that looks like an abstract Sphinx. Although credited to Pelli—who designed some of the world’s most noted structures, including Salesforce Tower and Petrons Towers—real estate developer Lew Wolff, who constructed the building, says the bank was allegedly the work of an intern who whipped up sketches for concrete behemoth.
“I like the building, but please don’t insult César or (Sidney) Brisker by over-identifying the build with those fine gentlemen,” he told Bay Area News Group. “The real credit, if anyone is interested, should go to the intern who completed the plans.”
Despite questions about who deserves credit for the design, both architects and preservations have defended the building, calling for a stay of execution.
The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission voted unanimously last week to urge the city council to designated the building a historic landmark, but such performative declarations don’t always save a structure from the wrecking ball. Alan Hess, former San Jose Mercury News architecture critic, and John Pastier, onetime Los Angeles Times architecture critic, have also signed letters of support to keep the Sphinx alive.
Although Brutalism has seen a rise in popularity as of late—look at the hashtags #brutalism or #brutalismo and you’ll see why—that hasn’t saved these Instagram-friendly structures from the demolition button. In 2018, the University of California at Berkeley tore down this squat 1963 concrete low-rise, much to the chagrin of architecture geeks, and jn 2019, London green lit the demolition of the Welbeck Car Station, a famed Brutalist parking garage.
It’s hard for the general public to get behind the divisive style. Brutalist buildings, lacking the ornate pageantry of Victorians or the obvious seamlessness midcentury-modern, aren’t for everyone. But for architecture geeks and design nerds—i.e., the Curbed masthead—the style, described by senior story producer Diana Budds as “ugly delicious,” is everything.
“I like the smoothness of the concrete and the thoughtfully placed windows,” says Curbed news editor Megan Barber. “I find it bold and heroic.” While architecture critic Alexandra Lange notes, “I like that it looks as if you are entering between the knees of a heroic statue.”