JCC building boom expands with S. Bay $12 million complex

The first few years of the 21st century are going to be remembered as a building boom time for JCCs in the Bay Area.

New facilities are already planned for San Francisco and Foster City, and the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center might be drawing up blueprints, as well, if squeezed from its current home by Palo Alto officials.

Not to be left out of the frenzy, the Addison-Penzak JCC of Silicon Valley will be getting a new home, too, as part of an expansive building project for the South Bay Jewish community.

Plans are under way to build a $12 million campus in Los Gatos that will more than triple the size of the current building complex. It will include new facilities for the JCC, the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, Jewish Family and Children's Services of Santa Clara County and Yavneh Day School.

All of the construction will be on the campus' current site — 14855 Oka Road in Los Gatos — and is scheduled to be completed by January 2003. A 100,000-square-foot building will replace present facilities, which total 30,000 square feet.

"This is an incredible opportunity for this community," said Howard May, the president of the Greater San Jose federation. "It'll be a real center for Jewish life in the South Bay."

The lack of a vital community nucleus in the South Bay has long been a thorn in the side of Jewish leaders in San Jose and surrounding environs.

The JCC has shifted locations several times in the past three decades, landing 15 years ago at a former elementary school in Los Gatos.

While the single-story campus has been functional as a home to the JCC, federation and JFCS, Jews in the South Bay have long dreamed of a state-of-the-art facility.

"This project is reflective not only of a growing Jewish community but also a lack of existing infrastructure in the Jewish community," said Jon Friedenberg, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose.

Addressing the Bay Area JCC building boom in general, he said it was more than just a product of flush economic times.

"In the Midwest and back East, some places have declining Jewish populations that are well-served by outstanding facilities. Out here, it's the opposite. We have an emerging Jewish community that is served by inadequate facilities."

According to estimates cited by Friedenberg, there are 40,000 Jews in the portion of Santa Clara County served by his federation, a portion that doesn't include Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

That's anywhere from 60 to 100 percent more than the 20,000 to 25,000 Jews who were believed to live in the Greater San Jose area in the mid-1980s.

"Over the last 20 years, the Jewish population here has just about doubled," Friedenberg said. "There has been tremendous population increase and turnover in Silicon Valley, and a good percentage of people that have moved in have been Jewish."

The hope is that the new campus will continue to serve its current constituency, as well as attract new people.

For example, the JCC expects membership to increase from 700 families to 2,000 families when the new facility is complete, said Steve Makoff, the center's executive director.

"When JCCs around the country get a new building, they usually double or triple their membership," he said.

The JCC is in store for the biggest upgrade.

Roughly three-quarters of the 100,000-square-foot campus will house JCC facilities, including a 4,000-square-foot fitness center and an indoor basketball gym — neither of which is part of the current JCC.

"We don't have anybody working out at our facility now," said Makoff. "Once it's up and running, I know we'll have hundreds of people a day showing up. All of the local [fitness centers] here have waiting lists."

Those who use the equipment and workout facilities do not have to be Jewish but they will have to join the JCC to gain access, Makoff said.

The final blueprints for the campus are still anywhere from two to six months away from being completed, although a preliminary rendering was to be distributed to a design committee yesterday.

"We're just at the infancy stage," said federation board member Leonard Metz, chairman of the executive design committee and JCC president from 1985 to 1986. "We don't even have any drawings yet."

Dennis Kobza and Associates of Mountain View has been retained as architect.

Plans call for a two-story facility, with a museum and art gallery, a kosher kitchen and dining hall available for all the agencies on-site, and an upgraded JCC swimming pool. A mikvah is also a possibility.

All of the agencies will be under the same roof rather than in separate buildings. Currently, there are three permanent buildings and some portables on the campus.

The new facility will have more classroom space for both the Yavneh Day School, which currently has an enrollment of about 150, and the JCC preschool, which has about 180 kids. Significant enrollment increases are expected.

There will also be more space for the agencies headquartered in the complex as well as the JCC, which plans to expand many of its programs, especially those for teens, seniors and early childhood education.

"We will all of a sudden be able to have a lot of things we do not now have," Makoff said.

To make room for the new building, the old Berry Elementary School will be razed. The wrecking ball tentatively is scheduled to swing in the summer of 2001.

During a construction period expected to last 12 to 15 months, personnel at the federation, JFCS and the JCC will work out of portable buildings placed on the campus' athletic fields.

"Everyone recognizes there is going to be a major distraction for the better part of two years," Friedenberg said. "But everyone also realizes that rebuilding this campus is crucial to the Jewish community, and is willing to put up with the headache so we can move forward."

Then again, said Friedenberg, the portables have air conditioning and other amenities. "The bathrooms are actually much nicer than the ones we use now."

Two-thirds of the funds for the $12 million project have already been raised.

A capital campaign raised $8 million from 40 gifts — including two big ones that netted $4 million — during its "major gift" phase. A community campaign kicked off in March.

The biggest donors will not be forgotten. "Certain parts of the facility are being named to say thank you to the people who made very large leadership gifts," Friedenberg said.

The JCC will retain the name "Addison-Penzak JCC of Silicon Valley," which was named in 1973 for Arnie Addison and his wife, Cookie, whose maiden name was Penzak. Each served a term as JCC president in the '80s.

The Bay Area is going to see a blossoming of new JCCs in the next few years.

Construction is slated to begin next month on a new $22 million Peninsula JCC in Foster City, with a target opening date of September 2001.

Three months ago, the JCC of San Francisco announced plans to replace its 66-year-old building at 3200 California St. with a new $50 million facility in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Albert L. Schultz JCC in Palo Alto could be seeking a new home, which Sandy Blovad, executive director, figures will cost $40 million. After 17 years in the same location, the JCC might get pushed out of its rented location. Palo Alto municipal and school officials are eager to reclaim the site for a middle school.

The Marin JCC in San Rafael, by contrast, is still relatively new, having opened in 1991 at a cost of $12 million.

The South Bay agencies are eager to get a modern facility of their own.

"What we're using now is an old elementary school being held together by termites and chicken wire," said May. "It's just not big enough for everything this community needs."

Metz agrees and takes it one step further.

"We need a heart of the Jewish community here," he said. "We haven't had it up to this point."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.