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San Jose salvage firm preserves architectural treasures

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Many people would not readily see the value of the items offered for sale at Jim Salata’s salvage company in San Jose. But for those in the know, or looking for something quirky, unique, or something to talk about, the warehouse filled with reclaimed wood, custom milling, antiques, and more ‘curiosities’ was the place to be on Saturday.

For example, where else could Moonlite Lanes benches be marked in Santa Clara? Or a mahogany and fir balustrade with posts from the ground floor bar of the historic Oak Knoll Naval Hospital Officers’ Club?

James Salata, owner of Garden City Construction, holds a railing salvaged from Oakland’s historic Naval Hospital Oak Knoll pavilion last year during an architectural treasures sale at his warehouse in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, February 26, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Salata has a passion for saving pieces of the Bay Area’s architectural history. He and his Garden City Construction are widely known for the meticulous salvage and restoration of historic buildings and businesses.

It has preserved architectural treasures from buildings that are no longer there or those that have been restored, such as the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the Jose Theater and the Twohy Building. Salata and his team have been restoring projects themselves since the 1980s. Salata and his wife Suzanne started Garden City Construction in 1988.

He said there is way more in the yard than he can ever use, so he tries to sell the items to the community for them to use. He encourages Bay Area residents to buy and reuse them for themselves, and to “get creative.”

Carl Foisy carries a ceiling fan salvaged from an old Hobee restaurant to a customer’s car, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, during an architectural treasures sale at Garden City Construction in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

At a soft launch of the warehouse on Saturday morning, Salata showed off wooden benches marked with Moonlite Lanes lane numbers, square glass building blocks and stone pieces he scavenged from others buildings, old typewriter desks, light fixtures and plumbing materials.

“I’m crazy, really,” Salata said when asked why he collects all these items.

“You find old things and you don’t want to throw them away,” he said. “It’s not really a profitable business, but there is satisfaction in reusing, especially if we use things in a restoration project, which we often do.”

Aileen Lenzi was delighted with the “very beautiful” ornamental columns she and her husband, John, bought on Saturday morning after hearing about their story from Salata.

He told them the carved white columns survived the 2014 fire that destroyed most of Holy Cross Catholic Church on Jackson Street in San Jose’s Northside neighborhood.

James Salata (center), owner of Garden City Construction, receives help from Carl Foisy to hoist a marble column salvaged from the fire-ravaged Holy Cross Catholic Church into Aileen Lenzi’s van, Saturday, February 26 2022, at a sale of his architectural treasures in San Jose, California. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

“We used to go to this church!” Lenzi said, recalling that she and her twin sister attended Mass there when they were young. She plans to put the columns in her yard and maybe turn it into a birdbath. But, Lenzi said, she and her twin have similar tastes.

“Once my sister hears about this, she’ll want to get me one,” she said.

San Jose resident Laura Romero and her friend scoured the warehouse that afternoon for gardening supplies and a salvaged stained glass window.

Romero said she liked “old things” and quit after a friend told her about the sale. Romero said she saw pieces in the warehouse that she would like to restore in the future.

“I bought a stained glass window for my house and I see it every day and I love it so much. And if someone hadn’t collected it, I wouldn’t have this beautiful window,” he said. she declared.

She praised Salata for seeing the beauty of the artifacts from the now-defunct Bay Area buildings and saving those artifacts for the community.

“I think what he does is so valuable and I feel so lucky that we have him here to do it for everyone,” Romero said. “He’s keeping it so everyone can come and give it new life.”

Editor Linda Zavoral contributed to this article.

James Salata, owner of Garden City Construction, shows off a pile of bowling lumber salvaged from Santa Clara’s Moonlite Lanes during a warehouse sale in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area Newsgroup)