San Jose’s Doobie Brothers House becomes a historic landmark

San Jose’s Doobie Brothers House becomes a historic landmark

August 25, 2021  By Maggie Angst

A small piece of San Jose’s rock music history will be preserved for years to come, as the San Jose City Council has designated the home where The Doobie Brothers made their name as a historic landmark.

“When we preserve something and it’s not a part of today’s culture, that’s preserving history and I appreciate the work that’s gone into this,” said councilmember Raul Peralez.

Located at 285 S. 12th Street, the Craftsman-style home in the city’s Naglee Park neighborhood is a three-bedroom, two-bath house worth more than $1 million. But long before the region’s soaring housing market and the home went through some upgrades, Tom Johnston, singer and songwriter for the Doobie Brothers, rented it from 1969 to 1973 while attending San Jose State University, where he studied graphic design.

It was in that same house, that Johnston founded the Doobie Brothers in 1970 with guitarist Patrick Simmons, drummer John Hartman and bass player Dave Shogren. The classic rock group held their band practices in the house and wrote some of their biggest hits, including “Listen to the Music.”

The band bounced around venues in downtown San Jose and surrounding cities, experimenting with styles and eventually landing on their signature sound. They then went on to release their first three studio albums — “The Doobie Brothers,” “Toulouse Street” and “The Captain and Me” — while Johnston was living in the home.

More than five decades later, the Doobie Brothers have sold more than 40 million albums, making them the most successful pure San Jose band in the city’s history. The group last year become the first San Jose act to get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was a long-awaited recognition for a band that had been eligible for inclusion in popular music’s most exclusive club since the mid-90s.

The Doobie Brothers perform in concert at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

The current owners of the Doobie Brothers house in San Jose submitted applications in May 2021 to designate the house as a city landmark and created a ten-year plan to restore and rehabilitate the home, which will include repainting the exterior, upgrading plumbing and installing a bronze plaque on the front of the home explaining its historical significance.

Under a statute known as the Mills Act, the city will enter a historic property contract with the homeowners that grants them a reduced property tax rate in exchange for the preservation of the historic property.

Though she supported the historic landmark designation for the home, councilmember Maya Esparza raised concerns Tuesday night about the types of sites that receive historic landmark status in the city and the history of certain segments of the population that might be getting left out in that process.

“Oftentimes the history (that we preserve) is the history of the privileged, the history of whose benefited from our city’s past redlining and other discriminatory practices,” Esparza said. “I’m not bringing this up because I have issues with the Doobie Brothers or their contributions to music, but as far as I know we don’t have any city historic landmarks associated with Los Tigres Del Norte, for example.”

Los Tigres Del Norte is a famed Norteño music group — regional music from Northern Mexico — that was formed by Mexican-American brothers who began recording music when they moved to San Jose in the late 60s. Since then, the band has sold more than 30 million records and won a handful of Grammys.

In listening to Esparza’s comments, Mayor Sam Liccardo encouraged more people to offer proposals for historic landmarks like those that could be tied to Los Tigres Del Norte.

“Let me also encourage members of the community to bring forward those Mills Act historic landmark designations for those many hidden gems in our city,”

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