University announces closure of beloved local establishment
Sophie Mattson & Jenni Sigl
THE SANTA CLARA
November 3, 2016
Santa Clara’s beloved watering hole will soon close its doors for good.
In an email sent out to the campus community on Wednesday, Nov. 2, Vice President for University Relations Jim Lyons announced that The Hut will close in December.
He said that business owner Mike O’Brien will likely close the business before Christmas, opting not to renew his lease. The Santa Clara was unable to reach O’Brien for an interview.
“My understanding is that it’s not a profitable business,” Lyons said. “(O’Brien) was in a situation where his lease was up at the end of the year, on Dec. 31, and he had to make the decision to renew the lease or to close his doors.”
Lyons said the university was not made aware of The Hut’s impending closure until yesterday.
“My understanding was that he’s been thinking about this for a while and he had not made the decision until yesterday when he contacted the (property owner) and notified him that he wasn’t going to renew his lease,” Lyons said. “He called us right after that.”
Dan Johnson, a bartender at The Hut, was disappointed with how the announcement was made.
“I wish I had the opportunity tell my staff before the school sent out the email,” Johnson said.
One week prior to the official announcement, an alum connected to the local real estate scene who wished to remain anonymous told The Santa Clara that the legendary off-campus bar would soon end its run after over 70 years in business.
The source said the university wanted The Hut’s closure to go quickly and quietly, since it could be a public relations disaster and also damage its relationship with alumni. The source also said they thought the university would want to keep its hands clean of the deal.
Johnson said that in the past eight years he has worked at the bar, the university has approached the landlord several times a year about buying the land on which The Hut sits. Johnson added that rumors that the bar would close have circulated for years.
“I first started hearing rumors that The Hut would close within the first month I started working here,” Johnson said.
Property Ownership and University Development
To confirm the current ownership of 3200 The Alameda, the official address of The Hut, The Santa Clara accessed a Realquest report which collects data from public county records. The record shows that San Jose resident Ray George Lychak currently owns the property, which is assessed at a value of $255,385. According to Lyons, Lychack owns both the building and the land.
The Santa Clara was unable to reach Lychak for an interview.
Chris Shay, interim vice president for finance and administration, also confirmed that the university does not currently own the land that The Hut is on, as indicated by property records. When asked whether or not the university had plans to purchase the property in the near future on Oct. 26, Shay responded with an official statement via email.
“The university has not entered into an agreement nor is it in negotiations with the property owner. The recently approved master plan, by the city of Santa Clara, did not request development in the blocks noted,” Shay wrote.
Lyons said that the university “has no vested interest in The Hut” and has no plans to develop the property.
“The Hut’s an institution,” Lyons said. “Ideally it would be nice if The Hut would be able to stay in business and stay there.
Lyons said that it would be an incredibly difficult, several year-long process to change or amend the master plan for development that they already filed with the city of Santa Clara.
The latest master plan, he said, does not contain any plans to develop the property. However, he added that “10, 20, 15 years down the road the university would love to fill that property there.”
Although Lyons and Shay denied that the university is in negotiations over the property, the anonymous source was skeptical of this and said that the university does indeed wish to purchase the land.
It remains unclear whether or not Santa Clara will enter negotiations with Lychak in the near future in an attempt to purchase the land.
University Ownership Off Campus
On the block of land bordered by Franklin Street, Sherman Street, Benton Street and The Alameda, the university currently owns the two properties adjacent to The Hut. Out of the 16 total properties on the block, property records show that the university owns 11 of them. In addition to Lychak, three other individuals hold property deeds for homes on the block and the Santa Clara Women’s Club owns 3260 The Alameda.
One of properties not controlled by the university is 655 Franklin St., which is owned by Flordeliza Concepcion. The Santa Clara spoke to Concepcion’s grandson, Jared Pono, who said that she has not been approached by the university to sell as of late. However in the case that she is approached about selling the property, Pono said her answer will be definitive.
“She’s not willing to sell the property,” Pono said adamantly.
However, another property owner on the block may not be as firmly against selling to the university. According to Luis Barcelos, the son of Elvira Barcelos who owns 641 Franklin St., his mother was approached by the university to sell in the fall of 2014. A “swap” of some sort was proposed, but ultimately fell through.
“They’re gonna stay there until there’s some way where their property taxes are not gonna go up, they’re not gonna get hit with capital gains and they’re gonna get something similar in the area,” Barcelos said. “It’s very straightforward. It’s very simple. She’s not trying to hold out, she just doesn’t want to get screwed.”
When asked if the university would purchase the land if Lychak offered to sell the property, Lyons did not provide a definitive response.
“Obviously the university has a vested interest in accumulating land that is adjacent to our campus,” Lyons said “The issue is that we don’t have any development plans for that, so it’s not like we are waiting for the phone call. We don’t have any plans for that right now and really not for the foreseeable future.”
The Hut’s Rich History
Before The Hut opened in the 1940s, the property used to be home to an old farmhouse originally built in 1910. The bar was also Hawaiian-themed in the 1940s, and was called either the Hula Hut or the Maui Hut, according to Johnson.
In addition to the bar’s legendary two for one drink promotion on Tuesday nights, one of the most iconic facets of The Hut is the plethora of dollar bills pinned to bar’s walls and ceiling. It has been a longstanding tradition for Santa Clara seniors to write their name on a bill in Sharpie and then pin it to the wall, later returning to add their business card to the same place as their dollar.
According to Johnson, Santa Clara MBA students began the trend in the 1970s or 80s, and other students began following suit.
“In 2012, some guy came in and found his dollar from 30 years prior,” Johnson said.
Johnson estimates that the dollars on the walls and ceiling of The Hut are worth between $4,000 and $5,000 total.
Campus Community Reacts
Jason Back, a Hut enthusiast and 2016 alumnus who frequented the bar during his undergraduate career, said that the bar is a fundamental part of campus—as integral as Buck Shaw Stadium or Benson Memorial Center.
“When I think of Santa Clara there are certain key landmarks that come to mind and The Hut is in the top five or top three defining institutions,” Back said. “It’s such a reliable option for any type of socializing, it’s a grade equalizer and it doesn’t matter if you are Greek or non-Greek.”
He said that The Hut had a “huge, positive impact” on his junior and senior years at Santa Clara.
“There are so many alumni that had sublime experiences there and if that opportunity to dive into The Hut was denied to thousands of future generations of Broncos I think that the uproar would be just immediate and over the top,” Back said prior to the official announcement.
His sentiment was echoed by alumni and students who flocked to The Hut on the night of the announcement to grab a drink and soak in the bar’s final few weeks before it closes.
Distraught co-eds also launched a Change.org petition mere hours after the Nov. 2 announcement. Titled “Save The Hut,” it demands that the university attempt to come up with a “creative solution to preserve this bronco tradition while continuing to grow as a university” if the bar is closing due to pressure from them.
“It would take away our cheers, it would take away our favorite place to meet up at. It’s dads and grads, it’s seniors coming of age, it’s homecoming, it’s weddings, it’s funerals, it’s that big,” the anonymous alumni source said. “It’s something we all have in common no matter what we study, where we came from, where we are going next. It’s a piece of Santa Clara that should not go away.”
Contact Sophie Mattson at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4849. Contact Jenni Sigl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.