The Tardy Times
                        The (former) Tribune Tower  

   When newspapers leave downtown,
   they lose their roots – and barrooms   
NEWS ITEM: Hearst Corp., owner of The Chronicle, has signed an agreement with Forest City Enterprises Inc. to explore development possibilities for the newspaper’s headquarters and adjacent parcels...
    “I don’t feel that it will have any immediate impact on the facility or employees,” said Frank Vega, publisher of the Chronicle. “
If and when a
decision was made to go forward and develop the project, The Chronicle (at left) would remain in San Francisco and likely go into some new space...”
    Did the Detroit implant really say the newspaper operations would (1) stay in the city, and (2) would “likely go into some new space?” It remains to be seen. But he gets corporate points for placing the seven-graf
story in the online news budget on a Saturday, a cemetery of dead news.
    And he gets bonus points. Theonline story announced  that the same story also appeared on the second page of the business section in the print version of the Saturday Chronicle. It didn’t. (Laughter in the board room.)                 ><
WE CAN'T wait to watch how the business editors struggle with the inevitable campaign by the heritage mob to seek landmark status for the last of Frisco’s downtown newspaper offices. Pity the reporters who must try to play it straight when the arm-twisting begins at City Hall.
    After all, nobody protested when the wonderful old News Call-Bulletin plant on Howard Street was leveled in 1965 for a parking lot (and 30 years later, as the site for the third unit of the Moscone Convention Center). Why shouldn’t the Chronicle become a parking lot for two of the downtown projects of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprise – the Westfield San Francisco Centre (Nordstom) and the Metreon complex? By then, we can expect the Chronicle offices to be moved to India.                                           ><  
FOR YEARS we have speculated that the Chronicle would sell its towering presence downtown, take the money and run to the printing plant on the grimy industrial flatland just south of the unfashionable southern slopes of Potrero Hill.
   To the Hearsts, burdened with million-dollar-a-week negative cash flow from its mismanaged broadsheet monopoly, relocation makes sense. This assumes that Hearst, which bought the Chronicle in 2000 from the  descendants of the de Young brothers, actually control the valuable properties at Fifth and Mission streets. We don’t know.
   The site has been occupied by the Chronicle since it moved uptown in 1924 from the Market Street corner of Geary and Kearny streets. The newspaper's presses, which the late publisher Charles Thieriot bought in the 1950s with profits from KRON-TV, once thundered below the newsrooms. A few years ago, new Flexographic (no ink stains) presses were built across Cesar Chavez Street while it was still Army Street, and Thieriot’s  now-obsolete presses were shipped abroad.
    If the Chronicle wants to reduce its staff even beyond the summer bloodletting, the site on Cesar Chavez would be handy for cars. Parking? No problem. But it’s two miles from the nearest BART station at 24th Street. It's accessible by Muni only with the 19-Polk bus. No more strolls to John's Grill for lunch. In fact, no more strolls. It's a sketchy neighborhood.                                               ><  
MOVING metro papers outside the metro is so commonplace these days that it's a wonder the Chronicle's clock tower has lasted as long as it has.
    Oakland:  In the past year, MediaNews expelled the Oakland Tribune from the landmark Tribune Tower. All that remains is the neon sign. The company announced plans to relocate the newsroom and other offices in the Airport Corporate Center on Oakport Drive. It's across from the Oracle Arena on Interstate 880, also known as the  Nimitz Freeway (in the “Oakland Song” performed by the Washboard Three, the busy freeway is enshrined with this memorable line: “Out beyond the city lim-its, shoots a freeway called the Nim-itz . . .”).
    Santa Cruz: Last year, Ottoway (Dow Jones) peddled the Santa Cruz Sentinel to an Alabama chain, Newspaper Holdings, Inc., which then sold it early this year to the MediaNews octopus. It was goodbye to the 40-year-old, 54,000-square-foot headquarters on Church Street in Santa Cruz itself. The Sentinel is now printed over the hill at the San Jose Mercury News. The newsroom and other offices were shifted to cramped quarters in Scotts Valley, about 7 miles to the north of Santa Cruz itself. Space may not be a problem. Of the 39 journalists on the staff when MediaNews bought the paper, only 30 commute up Highway 17 to Scotts Valley. The rest are job hunting.
   San Mateo:  When MediaNews bought the Times in 1996, the presses were dismantled. Production, as in Santa Cruz,  shifted to the Mercury News plant. Up for sale was the 40-year-old building with a clock tower on South Amphlett Boulevard. It  memorializes the Times’ now-forgotten founder, Horace Amphlett. The new address: Ninth Avenue.  Nine what?
A JOURNALISM scholar in search of a doctoral thesis could try to analyze the journalistic effects when newspaper offices leave their historic roots near the urban centers where they were born. It's been the trend for years.
    Do reporters and editors feel isolated at the Fresno Bee, which was transplanted in 1975 to the industrial West Fresno
Redevelopment Area? Left to deteriorate, like much of the downtown area, was the palazzo-style newspaper building put up in 1922 at Van Ness Avenue and Calaveras Street (it's been rehabbed into a museum, possibly a harbinger of what awaits the newspaper business).
    In Santa Cruz, the Sentinel's former editor, Tom Honig, was quoted as saying, “It's going to be tougher in some ways. Being downtown means when you go to the deli at lunch you run into somebody and you get some information. We're going to lose that. No question, we're going to have to make a much greater effort to be out there.”
   Then he himself was out.  
                  Lynn Ludlow

The Geezer Gazoot
June 2008
Cruel separation of newsrooms
from barrooms
– a tragic loss

ROM 1961 to 1963, when the Gazoot's co-founder worked for the Ridders in San Jose, the morning Mercury and the afternoon News came out of a cavernous box on West Santa Clara Street. It was three blocks from the center of the city. Long, high and narrow, the one-story building was as big as a blimp hanger and just about as charming. Sports writers amused themselves by tossing spitballs at least 50 feet into the battered wooden desks of snoring reporters. Cubicles wouldn't be invented for another 25 years. 
FOUR BLOCKS away were the government buildings surrounding little St. James Park, notable in November 1933 when a disorganized mob invaded the  county lockup to grab and hang two murderous kidnappers. The Chronicle's Royce Brier won a Pulitzer Prize with a story that began, “Lynch law wrote the last grim chapter in the Brooke Hart kidnapping here tonight . . .”
    By 1963, the little park had become a favorite of vagrants and hobos (the “homeless” had yet to be so labeled). The nearby jail, sheriff's office and other Santa Clara County departments had been moved, along with City Hall and municipal functions, to the northerly margins of a smoggy city in a valley where the mass rape of orchards was called “progress.” 
   The county maps then listed 27 Blossom streets, Blossom drives, Blossom lanes, Blossom avenues and other ways to celebrate orchard country. Even in 1963 the trees of pears and prunes were already turning into firewood among the proliferating subdivisions where houses sold for $20,000, with $100 down for veterans.
   In 2008, the smog has been mostly cleared out, and the same houses sell for $700,000 and up. The Chamber of Commerce's old promotional slogan, “The Valley of the Heart's Delight,” was replaced by the boomtown promises of microchip mining. Instead, “Silicon Valley” sounds like a bleak Welsh coal-mining district in a 1941 movie. It had an apt title for today's blossom-free Santa Clara County: “How Green Was My Valley.”                                                     ><  
LET'S GO back to 1962, when the night shift at the morning Mercury was freed at midnight. When beckoned by the Central Coast editor, John Howe, the thirsty crew scampered across Notre Dame Street to the bar at the down-at-the-heels De Anza Hotel. Beer flowed. So did conversations. Bad jokes. War stories from the 1960 Guild walkout (Howe was publisher of the Guild's strike paper). Lamentations about the sorry state of the press. Gossip about the publisher, Joe Ridder. Scorn for the editorialists and developers who were addicted to annexations and strip malls.
   Like as not, Howe would buy a six-pack or two at closing time and troop out to his car for another hour of jokes and stories. How about the night when the managing editor of the News was spotted in the next parked car, its windows fogged over, as he made out (a popular euphemism at the time) with the society editor? Or the time when the police chief successfully lobbied the publisher, who owed him a favor or two? He demanded a front-page retraction of an absolutely accurate story. It said the FBI hadn't alerted San Jose police before raiding bookie parlors on a Saturday night. The chief was embarrassed. (The reporter quit.)
THE JOKES ended when the Ridders merged with the Knights and moved the newspaper offices and presses four miles north to a sterile industrial development next to the Nimitz Freeway.
   Most offices of Santa Clara County and the city of San Jose had already absquatulated from downtown San Jose. It became an urban wasteland for years, an ideal preparation for the redevelopment boom that further accentuated isolation from the real world by the city fathers, the board of supervisors and, of course, the journalists who now lived in a fortress surrounded by a sea of asphalt and parked cars.
   It's called Ridder Park, a last reminder of the family that ruled South Bay journalism for generations. Maybe it should be renamed Singleton Park, but with easy-erase paint. In the meantime, Ridder Park is so far from the hanging trees of St. James Park that it might as well be in Peoria. Nobody walks to the nearest bar, which is at a freeway interchange about a mile away. In fact, nobody walks anywhere. People hang out instead in the newspaper's cafeteria, where the conversations are dominated by tales of commutation and how best to avoid traffic jams.                                             ><  
THE NEWSPAPER ITSELF itself was upgraded from the dismal product of the 1960s. In time, so was downtown San Jose. Even the Hotel De Anza was gussied up. Back in Ridder Park, the Mercury writers and editors, chained to their cubicles, see the world through the screens of their computers.
   From Kato Road in Fremont, you could drive in just 15 minutes down the freeway to San Jose. To the old timers of Johnny Howe days, and even to today's journalists safely imprisoned in Ridder Park, the downtown's empty blocks have been transformed. The site of the Mercury and News is now occupied by a Tower-O'-Condos. Across the street, now a four-lane motorway, the renovated De Anza Hotel's management strives for adjectives like “charming” and “boutique.” Gone are the Willy Loman drummers and the welcoming old bar where newsmen of the 1960s were tranquilized with Budweiser and a bump. As in most downtowns abandoned by their newspapers, journalists are always welcome. Would you care for grigio or Heineken?    
               Lynn Ludlow

The Geezer Gazoot
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