New, modern decor dominates the Farmers Union -- the soon-to-open restaurant and bar in downtown San Jose's San Pedro Square -- from the comfortable bar stools to the 200-inch projection TV. So don't be shocked when your eye drifts toward the one thing that's clearly of another era: an ornate, 15-foot stained-glass sign above the kitchen with the restaurant's name and a picture of a horse-drawn wagon traveling through a sun-drenched valley.
The sign is an oddity in the sleek-design world of Silicon Valley, but its roots trace back to one of the valley's visionaries: Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell.
Bushnell commissioned the sign in the 1970s for the nightclub he had in San Pedro Square, which attracted hitmakers like Ricky Nelson and Jimmy Buffett to downtown San Jose. The club also was called the Farmers Union, and both it and the new restaurant took their names from the building they inhabited (Theatre on San Pedro Square now occupies the nightclub's old space above Peggy Sue's).
The original Farmers' Union was established in 1874 and was a one-stop shop for the agricultural families in then-tiny San Jose. It was a bank, as well as a hardware and supply store. "You could get everything there, even a tractor," said former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery, whose family bought the property in the early 1960s and developed it into San Pedro Square. The McEnerys have a clear affection for the old place, as their family partnership is called the Farmers Union Corp.
After the 1970s nightclub closed, the stained-glass sign was removed and stayed largely unseen for three decades in McEnery's office. "Larry Ellison has his Asian art collection, I had my stained-glass sign," McEnery quipped. It's difficult to say what it would cost to have such a sign made today, but I've heard that it's insured for six figures.
When Farmers Union proprietors Mike and Danielle Messinger were planning for the 10,000-square-foot restaurant occupying the long-dormant Spiedo corner, they wanted to honor the legacy of the building and the name. Incorporating the sign into the interior design seemed a good way to do that, and there will be other touches, too: The restaurant's logo incorporates both a tractor and wheat stalks, historic photos of the building will be hung on the walls, and copies of the 19th century Farmers' Union share certificates will be used as place mats.
"You look at the names on the certificates, and they're the names of streets today," Danielle Messinger said.
With a 36-seat rectangular bar as its centerpiece and that 200-inch TV, the Farmers Union expects to be a magnet for sports fans, But even they'll get a little history lesson along with their games and ESPN updates.
"We're also going to honor the sports history of the area and the great teams from San Jose State, Santa Clara and Stanford," McEnery said, rattling off names like John Ralston, Bill Walsh, Jennifer Azzi, Yosh Uchida and Pop Warner.
The Farmers Union is aiming for a July 18 opening, so you can see the history for yourself.
CHARGING UP THE PARADE: Silicon Valley's probably one of the few places where eyebrows aren't raised when a group of electric vehicles joins the classic Chevys and Ford Model Ts in a July 4 parade. The Electric Auto Association's Silicon Valley chapter had a stream of EVs in San Jose's Rose White & Blue parade on Thursday, including at least a half-dozen of the hot Tesla Model S and one Tesla Roadster.
Of course, electric vehicles aren't anything new around here. The Electric Auto Association itself was founded in San Jose back in 1967.
CURSE IS OVER: Marcelino Castillo, whose Casa Castillo restaurant was forced out of its downtown San Jose home back in 2001, was at Blackbird Tavern for the new restaurant's opening celebration June 26 in Casa Castillo's old space. Three previous eateries had opened and closed there in less than a decade, but Castillo told co-owner Chris Esparza he's pulling for them to succeed and avoid the problems he had with the city's Redevelopment Agency.
"I hope the only tears you cry are tears of joy," he said. "The curse is lifted."
THE BARD IN WILLOW GLEN: If you're looking for a little culture and a lot of fun, look no farther than San Jose's Frank Bramhall Park, where the Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company will be staging plays this summer. The company, which was founded in 1999, opened "Twelfth Night" at the Willow Street park Friday night, and there are evening performances planned for Thursdays through Sundays until July 21.
The performances are free, though actors will pass the hat at the end of the show (and a $10 donation per adult is welcome). Feel free to bring a picnic, along with a blanket or low-backed chair. "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" are planned for later this summer.
Go to www.shadyshakes.org for all the details.