SAN JOSE — The Bank of Italy historic tower in downtown San Jose is slated for more than an eye-catching renovation: The iconic high rise could become an office, cultural, retail, and food hub under a revamp that a development alliance has proposed.
Global development powerhouse Westbank has teamed up with local developer Gary Dillabough to launch a wide-ranging venture that would usher in a dramatic makeover of downtown San Jose, and the Bank of Italy tower is one of the early efforts in the endeavor.
“The Bank of Italy is an amazing building,” said Andrew Jacobson, head of development for Westbank’s San Jose initiative. “The historic characteristics are unlike anything you will see.”
A top-to-bottom, inside-and-outside renovation and rehabilitation of the historic tower at 12 S. First St. in San Jose is long overdue, Jacobson said.
“For the last 30 years, the Bank of Italy has been a gem that no one really cherished,” said Jacobson, who lived in San Jose for some time and was familiar with the sight of the landmark and its iconic spire.
Now, the upgrade is ready to happen under the guidance of Westbank and Dillabough’s Urban Community company.
“This tower was built as part of San Jose’s emergence in the 1920s from an agricultural empire into a major center of commerce for the West,” said Mark Ritchie, president of Ritchie Commercial, a real estate firm. “No matter how much we have added to the skyline since then it is still the most recognizable landmark. It is incredibly worthy of this scale of new-age renovation and thought.”
Of the initial five projects that Westbank has begun to fashion at six sites in downtown San Jose, the renovation of the Bank of Italy building involves a different approach than the others.
“The Bank of Italy provides a really interesting context to everything else that we are doing at the start in downtown San Jose, which is ground-up development,” Jacobson said.
Constructed in 1925, the building is at a key location, both historic and futuristic. The tower is at First Street and Santa Clara street, the traditional core intersection of downtown San Jose. And the tower is at one of the anticipated entrances to a future BART stop.
In a vision booklet that Westbank has circulated to real estate agents, the developer makes crystal clear its enthusiasm about the potential for the old tower.
“The Bank of Italy is one of the most iconic buildings in California,” Westbank said in the document. “A designated historic building, the interior has the potential to become an exciting conversion and the city’s next unique destination.”
How unique? Westbank envisions “culture clubs” that are oriented towards food and dining that would operate on multiple floors. Some floors would have education-oriented activities, but these could be sites that could educate visitors about food and cuisines.
Terraces in the tower could be devoted to gardens, a lounge, a dining area, or a swimming pool – or a combination of all of these.
The exterior staircase would include balconies that could serve as extensions of an adjacent office or an outdoor breakout room for meetings.
Dining areas, a lounge, and a cafe are envisioned for the lower floors. The upper floor could have a club, restaurant, and terraces with views in all directions.
Offices — which Westbank calls workspaces — are being planned for 11 of the floors of the tower.
“There’s great symbolism to bringing the city’s most iconic building back to life,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association. “Westbank is integrating the modern with the historic and paying close attention to the uses and street-level connections.”
Jacobson didn’t want to immediately offer details about the culture club and education-oriented activities, other than food would be a focus.
“Food is what brings vibrancy to a downtown,” Jacobson said. “When you go to any great city of the world, food is important, food is crucial to the culture of every city. We’ll definitely have a food and culture focus in Bank of Italy and all of the San Jose projects.”
The historic tower will be one of the first of the Westbank projects to get underway in downtown San Jose.
“The bank of Italy building has a lot of untapped potential and will shine again with the renovations,” said Bob Staedler, principal executive with Silicon Valley Synergy, a land-use and planning consultancy.
Westbank indicates it is approaching the Bank of Italy project with an eye on the past as well as the future.
“We want to restore it to its old glory and add our own historic touch so that in a hundred years from now, people will look at this building with pride,” Jacobson said.