Fire-gutted San Jose building remains an eyesore after three years

Fire-gutted San Jose building remains an eyesore after three years

The Lawrence Hotel building, a historic two-story structure on East San Fernando Street, was nearly destroyed by a fire Jan. 7, 2021 — wiping out the home of Cinebar, a decades-old downtown San Jose watering hole, and taking out spaces that had been home to three other restaurants and bars.

To look at the building three years later, you would think the fire just happened last weekend. While there may have been some interior cleanup and demolition, the exterior brick facade is still boarded up and the sidewalk in front of the building is blocked off by a chain-link fence forcing pedestrians to walk in the bike lane. The only thing that’s really changed is the proliferation of graffiti tags on the building.

The sign for Cinebar remains attached to the Lawrence Hotel building on East San Fernando Street. The bar, believed to have originally opened in the 1920s, was forced to close after a fire gutted the building on Jan. 7, 2021. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

A promising plan, reported in summer 2021, to build a 25-story housing tower on the site that preserved the facade of the 1893 building looks to be on hold if not dead.

The building — originally a hotel and apartment building — has a long history of San Jose retail worth preserving. It was the location of Bob Sidebottom’s comic book shop, long considered among the first in the nation, Twice Read Books (also known as Woodruff and Thrush), Olga Encisco Smith’s Inca Gardens Peruvian restaurant, Stratta Bar and Grill, Mandrake’s Shoe Repair and Chacho’s. If San Jose wants downtown to recover from the pandemic, it needs these spaces on a major corridor to be rebuilt and occupied — not boarded up.

It’s worth noting that San Jose Foos, the popular social media account, posted about the infamous anniversary last weekend, drawing reactions from more than 6,300 people. That should be a sufficient warning to the building’s owner and maybe even the city. As the San Jose Fire Department could tell you from its Pink Poodle scandal last year, getting on the radar of San Jose Foos can be an uncomfortable place.

CELEBRATING MLK DAY: Caltrain again will be running its Celebration Train on Monday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, taking passengers from San Jose to San Francisco for the NorCalMLK celebration.

The special train leaves Diridon Station in San Jose at 9:30 a.m., stopping at Palo Alto at 9:50 a.m. and San Mateo at 10:10 a.m. before pulling into San Francisco at 10:40 a.m.  There’ll be activities to do onboard for passengers and a free giveaway for kids. Attendees must register in advance to receive a free Celebration Train commemorative ticket for the ride, which pays tribute to the 54-mile Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. While there isn’t a special southbound service, Celebration Train tickets will be accepted on southbound trains leaving S.F. after 1 p.m.

You can register for a ticket at, and find more information about the Northern California Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Foundation celebrations at

WILD WEEKEND: Downtown San Jose’s going to be a regular zoo this weekend, with foxes, racoons, lions, dogs, cats and even a few unearthly animals roaming around the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. That’s right, it’s time for Further Confusion, the annual gathering for fans of anthropomorphic animals, which started Thursday and runs through Monday. Last year’s event drew about 5,000 attendees, so don’t be surprised if you run into someone downtown wearing anything from animal ears or a tail to a full-body fur suit.

And downtown businesses should be happy to see the furries return, too. Fox Tale Fermentation Project on East Santa Clara Street is offering a 15% discount for convention badgeholders, and a $1 drink for anyone who shows up in — what else? — a full fox fursuit.