My neighborhood message group sent out a note the other day about a short 1921 film on San Jose by the Ford Educational Library. Honoring the slogan of the day, it was called "Journeys Through the Valley of the Heart's Delight.''
I have since watched that silent 11 minute and 41-second film (see it at http://goo.gl/wrPvm) at least a dozen times. I know it almost by heart. Henry Ford, who started the motion picture division in 1914, wanted to feature places people could visit in his cars.
As someone fascinated by our town's past, I'd watch a flick like this even if it was done poorly. I kept replaying it for two reasons: First, it focuses on my neighborhood. And second, it shows a city of promise and optimism.
At 1:36 into it, the filmmakers pan four houses on my street, Hanchett Avenue, between Sequoia Avenue and the Alameda. The filmmakers proclaim that San Jose is a city of homes, not houses.
And that seems true enough. One of them is a stately two-story with a jutting bay window. Closer to the Alameda is a Craftsman-like home with dormers. Another has clearly received a second-story addition.
Homes still there
Using a printout from the movie, my wife and I walked by and noted the features of the houses. We argued about whether a porch had been filled in, whether a roof line had changed. I asked myself, why am I so interested?
The first reason goes back to the saw about news being local: I was fascinated to see that houses there 92 years ago are still substantially the same. Unlike a lot of suburban properties, they were built to last. Homes, not houses.
The rest of the film, particularly its aerial footage, focuses on a cohesive city of 40,000 folks where a downtown really mattered and where the major industry "' -- fruit-picking and canneries -- offered stable employment.
In the first four decades of the last century, San Jose was one of the most delightful places in America -- a navigable town surrounded by vast acres of blossoming fruit trees (The Ford filmmakers spend considerable time on the flowers).
Downtown was packed: The film shows how the upright cars of the day moved down First Street past other autos parked at an angle by storefronts. "This is not circus day,'' says one subtitle, noting that San Jose had 15,000 automobiles.
The view today
It all made me think a little of how a promotional filmmaker might portray the valley today: Certainly, they would show what Silicon Valley companies produce: The iPhone, the iPod, Facebook, etc.
I doubt whether they'd linger so lovingly on the landscape itself: The fruit trees have long since been plowed under. And even a Ford filmmaker might avoid the traffic on Highway 101.
Yes, there are markers that remain: The Santa Clara Mission, the downtown First Church of Christ, Scientist (now a wreck), the tower at San Jose State University. In my neighborhood, we can claim a past. I just wonder whether we live as well.