New Life for the Steinmetz Building – Bella Viva Ristorante

Contributed by Carol DeSantis

The Steinmetz Building - 2012

The Steinmetz Building 2012 Photo by John Russell, RRDG

“Oh, you mean the new wine bar is going into the Steinmetz building?!”

I hear this over and over. This is strange, because it hasn’t been the Steinmetz building for 50 years, and between then and now it was the engineering offices of Garcia and Henry before they retired and afterward, the building housed a collection of pianos.

And, the new restaurant will be not be just a wine bar, but a full service Italian restaurant, a deli, and a wine bar, serving tables inside, where there were once four pool tables, a snooker table, and card tables; and serving tables outside in the restaurant’s restored loggia where the Steinmetz family sold newspapers, magazines, and sundries.

What is unique about the Steinmetz building is that the Steinmetz cigar shop lasted in that location for two generations – for about 50 years. Joe Steinmetz started the shop sometime between 1913 and 1916 as a franchise of the United Tobacco Company, the largest chain of tobacco stores in the United States. Joe’s sons, Harold and Elmer, carried on the business into the 1960’s.

Many Gilroyans still remember stopping after church for the Sunday papers. At that time, the location was at the edge of the civic business area, comprising City Hall, the post office, the hotels, and the saloons that were the domain of the politicians. And truly, such was the male-bastion aura surrounding the cigar store, mothers, actually shook their fingers at their daughters, telling them that if they had to walk past Steinmetz’s, they should walk fast and not look inside!

The Stienmetz Building in the early 1950’s Photo by Al Gagliardi

As you can see from the accompanying photo of a fire next door to Steinmetz’s in the M and M Grocery store during the early 1950’s, the Steinmetz building was open all across the front, with newspapers and magazines displayed to the street, and a sundries stand facing the sidewalk. The edge of a rolling security door up above the open front of the building can be seen in the photo taken by Al Gagliardi, then deputy sheriff and a volunteer firefighter, who stood in front of his office in Old City Hall to snap the shot. Today, Steinmetz’s open space, which had been enclosed by Garcia and Henry, has been re-opened into a outside café area where a working fireplace has been built into the south wall.

The lone remaining element today of the early building façade is the art-deco glazing over the building entrance. In the photo, you can see that the glazing was without supports, while today, there are pieces of 2 by 4 reinforcing the framework, holding the glass.

When the smoke shop closed, Jim Steinmetz is thought to have donated the pool tables to the WQED public television station auction. Bill Henry says that when their engineering firm took over the building you could tell where the pool tables had been set – the floor dipped where the table corners had been because so many players stood there to take their shots.

Bill Henry said it was a good building in which to hold a business. In the summer at night, they would open the upper windows to let the heat out and the cool air in, and shutting the windows at morning time kept the building cool during the day. They never had to heat the building except on occasion when it was exceptionally cold.

Good old building.

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