SAN JOSE — A new housing tower with hundreds of homes could sprout in downtown San Jose, a project that would seek to preserve the facade of a fire-gutted building that was constructed in the 19th century.
The 25-story residential highrise with at least 300 homes is being planned at the corner of South Second Street and East San Fernando Street, according to documents on file with San Jose city planners.
The site contains the burned location of the Cinebar, a no-frills drinking establishment at 69 E. San Fernando St. and two adjacent restaurants, Mumbai Lounge and M Asian Fusion, which are at 98 S. Second St.
Swenson, a veteran development and construction company, filed the preliminary plans with the city as a way to gauge the reaction of city officials to the project.
“We are looking to preserve the facade of the Cinebar building, known as the Lawrence Hotel building, and provide a more efficient modern structure above,” said Christy Marby, a senior development manager with Swenson.
The building that contains the Cinebar lounge has addresses ranging from 69 through 81 E. San Fernando St. and suffered a devastating fire in January 2021. Other dining or drinking establishments in the burned building include Los San Patricios, Chacho’s eatery, and Social Lady.
“Preserving the history of San Jose in the design along with incorporating the vision for San Jose in the future is paramount to us,” Marby said. “This location is a prime example of where these goals can be successfully achieved.”
The owner of the Cinebar believes the bar, which first opened in the 1920s, is the oldest drinking establishment in downtown San Jose.
Barry Swenson, the patriarch of the Swenson family and development empire, is familiar with Cinebar from the time he was a college student.
“Cinebar has been a pillar of the community for decades and was a place Barry Swenson remembers fondly from his college days at San Jose State University,” Marby said.
Cinebar sign on the side of the fire-ravaged Lawrence Hotel building on East San Fernando Street in downtown San Jose, January 2021. // Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group
The Lawrence Hotel building was constructed in 1893, according to a post on the San Jose Public Library site.
An estimated 339 residences would be built on the site, preliminary plans on file with San Jose officials show.
“Residential definitely works at that site,” said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association.
The project would bring about the demolition of two existing buildings at that corner, although the developers intend to retain the facade of the existing structure, the plans show.
View along East San Fernando Street looking north of the lower floors of a mixed-use housing and commercial tower in downtown San Jose, showing the facade of the Lawrence Hotel Building, lower center, lower right, concept. // Swenson
“Swenson is a long-term owner in the historic district of downtown San Jose and they have a deep understanding of what has happened and is happening downtown,” Knies said.
In addition, 5,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space would be developed on the site.
An existing residential tower is located at an adjacent corner and a big developer, Westbank, is eyeing a major office and residential tower nearby. Other projects are in the works a block or two away.
“When it comes to the revitalization of downtown San Jose, Swenson has been at the forefront of that for decades,” said Erik Hayden, founder and managing partner with Urban Catalyst, an active developer in downtown San Jose. “Swenson continues to find creative solutions to the housing crisis while maintaining the historic character of the downtown. That’s what you want to see.”
Street-level view of a residential and commercial mixed-use tower at South Second Street and East Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, concept. // Swenson