Clarence Robert Tower, known to his friends simply as Bob, is an artist, author, historian, and friend to many in Santa Clara and beyond. Though Bob turns 85 this July he has the spirit of a young man, the passion of an artist, and a tenacity for life. Bob’s book Legendary Locals of Santa Clara has just been published, and he is here to talk about the book and himself.
Abby: I have always called you “Bob” but your given name, “Clarence Robert Tower” is how you are listed on your books. How should your readers address you?
Bob: I answer to “Bob.” But if you are looking for me on line, search for “Clarence Robert Tower.” If you type in just “Bob Tower” you won’t find me at all. And that’s what I go by mostly. If you type in “Clarence Tower” you will get the left tower at the main entry of Warwick Castle in England. That is Clarence Tower. So what I usually do is “Clarence Robert ‘Bob’ Tower.” That covers the bases because most people know me as “Bob Tower.”
Abby: What is it about you that made you the perfect candidate to write Legendary Locals of Santa Clara?
Bob: The span of my life corresponded exactly with what was necessary to do a good job with this, and I’ve been writing books for the last 12 years. I was born at the time that this valley and the city were growing. I was here to experience that growth and then I was involved in that growth. I was a civil engineer and land surveyor. You look around and you will see subdivision after subdivision, you’ll see shopping centers, you’ll see colleges. I was involved in every bit of that. Let’s say I had an “in with the city.” I knew the people. I knew the city. I knew the history.
Abby: Were you born in Santa Clara?
Bob: I was born in San Jose not far from the Rosicrucian Museum. Just off of Park Avenue on Martin Avenue.
Abby: What are your favorite memories of Santa Clara?
Bob: My favorite memories would be in my first book. In 70 Years in the Silicon Valley, I remember the orchards more than anything else. For example, when I was at Washington School as a kid, there were orchards right next door. We’d be out playing, and we would run over and pick cherries off of the cherry trees. We weren’t supposed to. We could get in a lot of trouble for doing it, but we did it. My neighbors, my friends, and I, we’d take off on bicycle rides out in the country. We’d just travel everywhere. At that time we would be traveling through open country. Orchards, field crops that sort of thing. The same trip today would be on totally developed land.
Abby: Welcome to the Silicon Valley! Is it true that you typed this book using just one finger?
Bob: Absolutely. Not only that, but I’ve been typing for 12 years with one finger because my hands are crippled with arthritis. I have completed five books this way; Seventy Years in the Silicon Valley: An Anecdotal History; The Toughest Chicano: The Story of Joe Kapp; The Adventures of Zack Gentry: A Tongue in Cheek History of the Opening of the West, and my children’s book, The Life of a Teddy Bear Family. And then this current one: Legendary Locals of Santa Clara.
Abby: You are amazing Bob! How did it feel to have your father Stanley Tower included in the book?
Bob: It was great. My dad was a world class archer, and not many people know that. Back in those days people knew it because everyone in town knew he was an archer. Those days are lost.
Abby: Not any more. They’re in your book.
Bob: Let me put it this way, there’s nobody around that remembers. That’s a better way to phrase it.
Abby: Thanks to your book people are being made aware of the rich history of Santa Clara’s people. How does your family respond to your writing?
Bob: Amazed! Blown away! Seriously.
Abby: How many children do you have?
Bob: I married into a family of 5 and raised 4 of the 5. They are still strong members of my family. I have a son that lives in Raymond, Washington. I’ve got one that lives here in Campbell. A daughter that lives up the Columbia River Gorge, and a daughter that lives back in Virginia. They are all the strongest supporters I’ve got. They are all blown away by what I do.
Abby: Don’t you have a brother that was in World War II?
Bob: Actually, I had two brothers in World War II. My brother Erwin fought in Europe. He is no-longer living. My brother Donald, who lives nearby, served in the Pacific and is an Iwo Jima survivor. I’ve been writing his story.
Abby: I am looking forward to reading that! Do you have a favorite anecdote from Legendary Locals?
Bob: Yes. For some reason or another the James Lick story fascinates me. He tried to marry this girl, and the girl’s father said, “You can’t marry her until you have a mill as big as mine.” And he did it! The original mill was as big. Now when you go up to Lick Mill Road, the current mill that’s standing is not as big but it once was. And then there is his connection with Ghirardelli. Not many people know that James Lick brought Ghirardelli chocolate here from Peru.
Abby: Yes. He brought 600 pounds of chocolate! A man after my own heart!
Bob: Yah! That’s my story. That’s really the one that’s neat because very few people knew it. It was a story I uncovered.
Abby: That’s pretty cool, Bob.
Bob: That is an example of being in this town and knowing everything that I should have known to put this whole story together. There are several books out in this Arcadia series that do not even mention James Lick, and that’s a big thing. You look out and there’s the Lick Observatory staring at us every day. So that’s it. That’s my favorite.
Abby: What was the prerequisite to be in the book?
Bob: There are two phases to this book as I saw it. First, to capture the history, and second, to make sure that history has some color to it. Stories for example like the Salberg Jelly Factory. Everybody I know remembers the pickled watermelons from the Salberg Jelly Factory. You have to have stories that catch peoples attention.
Abby: I like the dog “Buster” being profiled. He brought the color you talked about to the book. You also mentioned the Santa Clara Swim Club. I spent many a summer day at that pool and would see all of the photos of the famous Olympic athletes. Who were your favorite athletes?
Bob: I go back to Don Schollander, Mark Spitz, Donna De Varona, Chris von Saltza, the early ones.
Abby: As I look around the city of Santa Clara I’ve just begun to realize just how much of an influence you’ve had on this city.
Bob: I spent most of my life as an engineer developing this valley. I did the West Valley College. I did the Mission College and even parlayed that up to a college in Ukiah called The Mendocino College. I did all of the high rise buildings around the airport. The Red Lion Hotel that has become the Double Tree Hotel and many other hotels as well. Tons of subdivisions because they were my primary. I was an artist trying to go through my life as an engineer. My real love was as an artist. My off time was spent doing all of this art work. I’ve got over 450 items of artwork. I don’t want to be considered just an artist or an engineer, but both.
Abby: And now you can add author to that list. Thank you Clarence Robert “Bob” Tower for talking with me today. And for people that want to read Bob’s writing and see some of his artwork they can do that at your upcoming personal appearances:
Saturday- April 19, 3PM at Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Stevens Creek Blvd.
Saturday- May 3, 11AM to 1PM at Costco 1601 Coleman Ave, Santa Clara
Saturday- May 10, 7PM at Studio Bongiorno at the Corner of Lincoln and Bellomy Streets in Santa Clara
Sunday- July 13, 2PM at Central Library, Redwood Room at 2635 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
For more on Clarence Robert Tower: http://ctower4305.wix.com/clarence-tower-3#!
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