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Building Entertainment Destinations in Santa Clara Not New Idea

That Santa Clara is notoriously deficient when it comes to entertainment venues is not something new.

Fifty years ago City leaders had a plan for bringing more events to Santa Clara with a civic auditorium. In Oct. 1963, the Council approved a plan advanced by then-City Manager Don Von Raesfeld that included a civic auditorium-cultural center, as well as Central Park development and new branch libraries. The projects were to be funded with public money, by selling bonds – which would require a public vote.

The Council considered a range of ideas, spanning from a $9 million ($68 million today) arena to a “scaled down $3 million project,” wrote the Oct. 2, 1963 Santa Clara Journal. “Councilmen discussed various sized auditoriums, but decided for the moment to consider the more ‘exotic’ $9 million facility for the ballot and let the voters choose what they wanted.” The venue was to be built near the Old Quad, according to former Santa Clara Mayor and then-Council Member Larry Fargher.

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Fargher expressed more caution about the idea that bigger was necessarily better, suggesting that Santa Clara needed to invest in development that was grounded in the City’s own character. “It’s a question of whether or not we want to duplicated San Jose’s (planned) facilities…Why should two cities each have multi-million dollar plants a few miles apart?”

Instead, Fargher favored the smaller, 2,000-seat theater that “won’t bankrupt us to build.” Von Raesfeld, however, said that an arena-type facility would be better “to stimulate downtown business activity,” reported the Journal.

In the end, residents voted down the $9 million bond issue for the project, according to Fargher.

Mary Hanel of the Santa Clara City Library contributed to this story.

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