If Chuck E. Cheese leaves, so will the history of San Jose


It looks like one of my favorite San Jose landmarks will live to die another day.I’m talking about the 30-foot statue of Chuck E. Cheese in one of the three glass-walled alcoves at the location of the pizza chain on Tully Road. Created in the early 80s by the sculptor Jeff Tritel, the foam and fiberglass rodent can be seen by drivers on Highway 101, the largest pizza and trading monument you’ll find anywhere west of Chicago.

I was a little concerned for her this week when the Texas-based parent company of Chuck E. Cheese announced that she was going into bankruptcy due to losses related to the coronavirus pandemic. But CEC Entertainment says its reorganization should not mean the closure – or continued closure – of its hundreds of restaurants across the country, including several in the Bay Area.

Do not mistake yourself. My fondness for Chuck E. Cheese has little to do with his pizza or the noisy games that make kids press buttons like the demons of Vegas slot machines. It was not even the animatronic and anthropomorphic animals, including Mr. Cheese himself, that would entertain the guests (and have since been removed in favor of the costumed artists live).

It’s because Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater debuted in San Jose in 1977, founded by Atari co-founder and inventor of Pong Nolan Bushnell, who – the story goes – wanted to create a family place where children could play games. The original Pizza Time Theater was on South Winchester Boulevard – Santana Row now occupies the site – but it didn’t take long before the Bushnell concept spread and colorful pizzas began to appear everywhere, presenting families with characters like Jasper T. Jowls, M. Munch and Pasqually the chef.

In a valley full of invention, Chuck E. Cheese – with sandwiches and Eggo waffles from Togo – is a San Jose original who has made his way across the country. The iconic character has evolved over the years from a paunchy, gangster-themed rat to a thinner mouse along the way, and swapping his cigar and bowler hat for sportswear.

The statue of Chuck E. Cheese was born after the restaurant moved into the old house of Magic Village, a toy store I remember very well from my childhood that had giant soldiers in the three alcoves. (They also survived and are now on display at the Children’s Museum in Stockton.) The statue has been repainted to match the company’s current colors, and he still has his hat (but no cigar), so I guess it will still be there after this last financial drama has passed.

After all, it’s not even the first bankruptcy. This happened in 1984 and resulted in Bushnell’s departure from the business.

Speaking of Bushnell, he is in one of my favorite stories about Chuck E. Cheese. David E. Early, a retired Mercury News writer and editor, wrote in 2015 about his troubling experience finding a Confederate flag among several in an automated display waving the flag, as well as mini-versions of the flag for sale. Some time later, he came across Bushnell on a mission and shed light on the problem. Bushnell listened, and when Early took his children to the pizzeria the following week, the flags were gone.

DOWNTOWN ART INFUSION: The provocative and poignant murals that have grown on the walls and lined windows around downtown San Jose since the start of the Black Lives Matter protests have been a welcome addition to the artistic street landscape.

Another is the Downtown Doors student art program, which installs 10 new pieces on doors and utility boxes, creating a street gallery of 302 student art in 17 years. The Downtown San Jose Foundation program received nearly 100 submissions in January and February, and selected pieces will be on display at the Hammer Theater Center, Il Fornaio and Westin Sainte Claire, the Fairmont San Jose, 50 West and at Studio Climbing Gym.

“Downtown Doors offers young artists the opportunity to express themselves publicly,” said Ramona Snyder, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the SJDF. “Students of all ethnic and demographic backgrounds have posted their messages of change and have been hoping for downtown for 16 years now.”

SAVE THE STREAMERS: When the Rose, White & Blue parade in San Jose, traditionally held on July 4, had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers were optimistic about the organization of the 13th annual Labor Day event in September. But conditions haven’t changed enough for anyone to think it’s a possibility, so the parade was officially canceled until 2021.

Instead, revelers are invited to join an online celebration at Facebook.com/RoseWhiteBlueParade by sending photos or video greetings for the holidays. Learn more at rwbsj.org/parade-participation.

PASSIONATE FAREWELLS: Park Place Vintage, the Willow Glen store where you could find a 1950s dress or the perfect aloha shirt, closed last weekend after 38 years, another shelter victim on the scene. It was a great place to buy vintage clothes and other gifts or just hang out while browsing Lincoln Avenue.

Owner Linda Ruiz has announced that it will be closing in May and has two blast weekends to empty the 3,000 square foot space. “I’m not going to stop being Park Place Vintage,” said Ruiz on Facebook, “I’m just going to do it differently. “


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