The Hart Kidnapping and Midnight Lynching

Hart Kidnapping

I knew Alex J. Hart; he was a customer in my Los Gatos antiques store and longtime friend of my late husband’s mother. Mr. Hart was the epitome of a gentleman, with elegance and class, Mr. Panache, I called him—and he always smiled his inimitable, shy smile. I recently learned that he died last August, just shy of 90. Alex Hart had achieved a sad kind of fame at thirteen—a fame that put his family on banner headlines of America’s front pages. He was the younger brother of Brooke Hart who was kidnapped and killed on November 9, 1933 for ransom; an angry crowd of San Jose townspeople, still raw after the Lindbergh baby kidnapping—publicly lynched the two captors.
The kidnappers had demanded $40,000 for his safe return, an enormous sum during the Great Depression, even after they had already murdered Brooke within an hour of the abduction. They had watched his movements for weeks and snatched him at the parking garage behind Hart’s Department Store, then drove him ten miles south to a rural road, switched cars and took him to the San Mateo Bridge.
In the days before San Jose’s urban sprawl and shopping malls, Hart’s Department store, at the corner of Market and Santa Clara Streets, was a retail giant where everyone shopped, where everyone knew and everyone loved the Hart family. The Hart kidnapping was to become a California landmark case; when an angry mob seeking vigilante justice took vigorous action and lynched the pair of kidnappers at midnight from trees, swinging side by side, in San Jose’s St. James Park on a chilly November Sunday in 1933.

I had wanted to write of the historic lynching for a long time. I had saved yellowed newspapers for years. I perused the 1933 time-yellowed crumbling papers: San Jose News blared a banner headline HART KIDNAPPED; San Francisco Chronicle KIDNAPPERS KILL HART—Crime Confessed by Pair, Youth Bound, Tossed in Bay; The San Francisco Examiner blasted the boldest—HART BODY FOUND, San Jose lynching threatened—November 27.

Upon reading the actual November 1933 newspaper reports, unfiltered and undiluted, and not tinged with modern-day moral relativity opinion—reported in a time when political correctness, neutral attitudes and the use of alleged did not exist, it is clear how the media inflamed the crowds to become so bloodthirsty, so desirous of justice—albeit devoid of even a constitutional right to a fair trial. The Examiner’s headline about a threatened lynching was taken as a serious suggestion. Revisionists would argue otherwise. Radio stations broadcast the kidnapping and the captors’ confessions, announcing that angry mobs were seeking justice at the Santa Clara County jail across from St James Park—promising “to be broadcast as a ‘live’ event.”
There was never good reason for such deplorable extrajudicial action, but it must be understood that in 1933 during the Great Depression, there was intense economic stress in a period of unrest and disillusionment; people had no jobs or money and people were hurting, hungry and angry. They vented their simmering fury to a boiling point, four years into the country’s worst depression—the lynching may be seen as a social catharsis of taking control, and taking justice into their own hands with electric mob action galvanizing their sense of immediacy, camaraderie and potency.

Alex Hart, Sr., Brooke’s father, was one of San Jose’s most beloved business owners, having founded and operated the landmark Hart’s Department Store in 1902. The first 1866 operation started as a dry goods store in the Valley of Heart’s Delight. The Hart family was involved in the San Jose community and had generously supported many causes, including the later donation of their historic family home on The Alameda at Naglee to the YMCA. The Harts were a respected and well-known family in the Jewish and Catholic community—Alex was Jewish, his wife Nettie was Catholic. The kidnappers could not have chosen a more beloved high-profile family to target, as the public lynching so dramatically had demonstrated by the citizens’ collective wrath.

Brooke Hart had graduated from Bellarmine College Preparatory and Santa Clara University—his parents supported school programs and knew everybody. Brooke’s stunning good looks, athletic build, blond wavy hair and blue eyes added to his dashing popularity and ‘the town’s most eligible bachelor’ attracted the valley girls. “They went to Harts just to look at him…” Marie Venezia, four years younger than him, told me many years ago. “Everyone loved him, everyone was shocked…everyone wanted to go to the park…”

After Brooke graduated from SCU, he was groomed to head the family business. His father Alex Sr. never drove an automobile so Brooke bought a 1933 Studebaker Roadster to drive his dad to and from work. It was the same green roadster he was retrieving from the parking garage when the kidnappers grabbed him. No one ever saw the twenty-two year old man alive again. A phone call that night to the family home confirmed that their son was kidnapped. “We have your son; we want $40,000 for his return, drive the money to Los Angeles and you will get him back.” Ransom notes had also been mailed from Sacramento and San Francisco to send the police off the track. One note demanded that the number 1 be placed in Hart’s store window if they agreed to pay for their son’s safe return. The kidnappers nonchalantly strolled by the store and saw the sign, believing the $40,000 ransom money would be paid (millions by today’s standards), and the men waited it out.

The San Jose News printed an overture from the family on the front page on 14th November, 5 days after the kidnapping: “To the kidnappers of Brooke L. Hart, we are anxious for the return of our son Brooke. We desire to negotiate for his return personally through any intermediary who may be selected. When contact is made we will want evidence to prove Brooke is held by you. All negotiations will be considered confidential and we will allow no interference from outside sources; signed Alex J. Hart, Nettie Hart.”

Guards were placed in front of the family home and telephones were tapped. When Thurmond made calls from a hotel and a pay phone in a parking garage, police nabbed him. He squealed and fingered Holmes as his accomplice.

The details of the abduction, as confessed by the pair were reported by newspapers spelling out the gruesome scenario; Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes had driven with Brooke from the San Jose garage around six o’clock on the 9th of November to rural Evans Road 10 miles south—now Milpitas—Holmes in the Studebaker with Brooke and Thurmond following. Brooke was transferred to the rear seat of a ‘long-hooded sedan’. A woman had seen them; the green roadster was in front of her house, lights still on—that night her husband reported the incident; the police now had proof that Brooke Hart was abducted.

The confession to interrogators by Thurmond and Holmes explained that as Brooke Hart was exiting the garage, Holmes opened the passenger door poking his hand in his pocket as if he had a gun. Thurmond followed and they drove to Evans Road, switched cars and drove through Irvington to the San Mateo Bridge. They asked Brooke for his wallet and split the $7.25 take. The kidnappers were prepared; Holmes had already bought a brick, two 22-lb concrete blocks and 55 cents worth of bale wire from a San Jose cement company.

“We planned the kidnapping for six weeks,” Holmes confessed. The town was shocked that two cold-blooded killers lived among them; Holmes had attended Lowell High School and lived on Bird Avenue with his wife and two children; Thurmond was a Campbell High School drop-out.

The kidnappers confessed that they drove to the San Mateo Bridge, bound Brooke Hart’s hands with bale wire up to his shoulders and attached the two cement blocks to sink him. Holmes beat his head with the brick, Brooke screamed for help, he hit him again and grabbed his upper body, Thurmond held the knees and they placed him on the railing. “He was still struggling when we threw him off the bridge; it was low tide so we shot him.” The shell casing was found but no bullet actually penetrated Brooke’s body, police reported. Thurmond returned to San Francisco and called at 9.30, then again at 10:30 for the ransom. The plan was not going well, they had told Alex Hart to drive to Los Angeles with the money. Alex Hart could not drive.

The San Jose community went berserk when the news first broke about the kidnapping; one of their own beloved citizens had been taken for ransom and then when they heard about the murder, anger erupted. Everyone knew the family; they all shopped at the store, the Harts were part of their town and besides, people were still raw from the recent kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby.

Radio news broadcast the plot, told of the death—stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco spurted retaliation and the media composed a mob. Reporters and camera operators flocked to the city of 60,000, newsreel cameras were set up in St James Park across from the Courthouse. It was to be a show of shows.

When the Hart family was informed on November 14th by the police about Brooke’s death, Mr. Hart collapsed to the floor—the family went into mourning. Guards were removed from The Alameda home. The City of San Jose went into shock.

Thurmond and Holmes signed confessions, each blaming the other, and were jailed in the Santa Clara County police station across from St James Park near the Courthouse on November the 14th. When angry crowds gathered in the park, the pair was to be sent to the San Francisco Potrero Hill police station. Searchers dragged the San Francisco Bay for the body, rewards were offered for his discovery. Then on November the 26th, seventeen days after the November 9th kidnapping, two Redwood City duck hunters found Brooke’s partially-dressed crab-eaten decomposing body south of the bridge. Radios blared that a lynching would take place in St James Park across from the Courthouse at 9:00 p.m. on that Sunday and would be broadcast ‘live’. Scores of reporters staked out positions, and by sundown over 5,000 people, including children, had gathered for the event.

The fury had been fueled all week when the Santa Clara County District Attorney advised that unless the confessions could be corroborated by independent evidence of the crime, the confessions were not admissible in a court of law, hinting the murderers may be innocent, hinting they may not get the death penalty. The Court required that the kidnappers be inspected by psychiatrists to possibly plead not guilty by reason of insanity. The crowds went berserk—they wanted blood. Sheriff William Erig requested that Governor Rolph deploy the National Guard to protect the prisoners. He refused. Agnew State Hospital sent their psychiatric experts to preclude the insanity defense and found the pair to be sane, able to stand trial. Holmes’ father paid San Francisco attorney Vincent Hallinan $10,000 to defend his son and he also asked the governor to send out the Guards. He refused again. “I will pardon the lynchers.” He said.


By the evening of Sunday the 27th November, the park crowd had swelled to an estimated 5,000; some reported 10,000. Over 3,000 cars, some with motors still running, jammed the surrounding streets. Near midnight the heated crowd was chanting “Lynch them, lynch the murderers…” The police fired tear gas into the crowd, thus inflaming their already boiling fury. People ran to the Post Office—now the San Museum of Art—to get materials for a battering ram. The police, unable to control the mob, sought safety in the higher floors; the prisoners were in cells below. The mob broke down the doors, stormed the jail, dragged the kidnappers to the park, strung them up—Holmes on the elm and Thurmond on the mulberry tree—and hanged them. Jackie Coogan, the precocious child star, Brooke’s school chum pulled one rope. The hanged men swung half naked from the trees, photographed by the press, their corpses taunted and sworn at—people jockeying for position to get a close view, onlookers wanting to be present at the midnight hanging, perceived as justice for the death of one of the city’s most beloved.

When I lived in San Jose, I saw photographs and had heard many firsthand accounts forty odd years after the lynching by those who were present in 1933, men who lived a generation or two before me—reminiscing in a matter-of-fact manner, as if it were a film on a screen, like an outdoor movie played in the dark park at a midnight show. “After midnight it was all over, and then everyone left and we walked home to Hobson Street…” For decades people boasted of their presence in the park that historic night—the night that vigilantes got justice, the night that people took collective control, the night that amplified their madness and put pre-hyper grown San Jose on the map of notoriety.

The newspapers blasted the story, doubling issues to 1.2 million. When images of the half-naked hanging men made the front pages, faces in the crowd were purposely smudged so as not to identify the perpetrators. There is no doubt that the lynching was a media-fueled event with inflammatory reporting, protecting those who murdered the kidnappers without a fair trial. I read the reports in the original 1933 editions, devoid of neutrality, devoid of unbiased opinion—it is clear that the lynching was not subtly orchestrated—it was blatant; yellow journalism at its best.

The elm and mulberry trees were later destroyed and removed by the City because souvenir hunters tore up the park ripping off branches, twigs and leaves and scraped bark from the infamous “gallows trees”. Seven lynchers were tried in court, but there were no convictions. The City could not afford to host another riot.

In tragic irony, 1934 was the first year that Nazis imprisoned Jews in concentration camps; Hitler used the images of the San Jose lynching in his despicable propaganda to show that ‘lawless mobs in California protected the Jews’. The ‘frontier justice’ lynching made international headlines and heated up telegraph wires. Lynching was not rare per se; public hangings victimized Blacks and Whites in the post-Civil War South, but there were near equal numbers of Whites lynched in New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado. In The West during the Gold Rush, White cattle rustlers and horse thieves were hanged as were Chinese in California and Mexicans in Texas— and in late 19th century New Orleans, 20 Italians were lynched.

Historians tell that lynchings happen mostly late at night and during colder winter months when crops are dormant, no agriculture revenue is coming in and money is scarce—in short, economic strife adds frustration and with no ethical qualms; mobs victimize the defenseless. Their awful unlawful actions may be defined by poverty, uncontrolled hate and volcanic anger as depicted in numerous films, including four about the San Jose incident; Fury, 1936; The Sound of Fury, 1950; Night Without Justice, 2004; Valley of Heart’s Delight, 2006.

Alex Hart, Brook’s younger brother, was 13 at the time of the kidnapping and was sent to San Rafael Military School and Santa Clara University, and then pursued a music career writing scores for Paramount Pictures. When his father died in 1943, Alex returned to head Hart’s Department store—switching from music composer to haberdasher. When I moved from Italy to San Jose, we shopped at Hart’s for shower gifts and children’s clothes and Alex often walked across the store just to say hello. We both supported St Elizabeth’s Day Home and he attended meetings. After Hart’s closed, Alex headed the I. Magnin fine jewelry department at Valley Fair where my mother-in-law, Marie worked in cosmetics. “The family sponsored San Jose’s first traffic light at Market and Santa Clara Streets, so customers could safely cross the street…” Marie told me.

It was the way things were in San Jose, nestled among blossoming orchards, The Valley of Heart’s Delight— before it burgeoned to The Valley of Silicon—times when people made phone calls, wrote letters, and chatted about family and unimportant things. Alex Hart was one of those Garden City people; always caring with elegant humility. Fame had come uninvited to the Hart family, and fame had come with great heartache—may I bid farewell to Mr. Panache, farewell to a forgotten era.

June Swoon

June Swoon

I have always loved the month of June. The sun is typically out and the temperatures are consistently warm in this geographic region. The daylight hours are peaking as we near the summer solstice (June 15th -26th) and summer officially begins June 21st. People tend to spend more time outside gardening, going to ballgames or just taking in a leisurely stroll. Around the neighborhood, families are BBQing, washing cars and the kids are playing in the yards or at the pool. There is somewhat of a buzz of excitement as the school year nears an end and anxious anticipation as summer vacations begin. From the time I was a child, I associate so many good feelings and fond memories to the month of June that it may in fact be my favorite month of the year.

Baseball’s June Swoon
– The term June Swoon typically refers to a professional baseball team that starts the season off extremely hot and then cools down come the start of summer. For almost my entire life, I watched the San Francisco Giants experience some type of swoon, not always in June, but at various stages of the season. There were even a few years when they were out of the division race by June. That was until last year, baby! El Gigantes stayed just close enough in the hunt during the regular season to peak at the right time and run the table in the National League playoffs and World Series. To experience the excitement of my home town team becoming World Champions was a boyhood dream come true. I only regret that my dad wasn’t alive to see it as a shared love for the Giants was a strong common bond between us.

June Weddings – Historically, June has always been the most popular month for weddings. That is where the term “June Bride” comes from. The month of June derives its name from Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. It was anciently thought that couples who married in June would be blessed with prosperity and happiness. Yea, right! There haven’t been any studies done that I’m aware of, but my guess is just as many couples end up in divorce court who were married in June as any other month of the year. However, I do love June weddings. Where else can a suburban man take his wife to an elegant show, dinner and dancing all for the cost of a crock pot or wok? I truly don’t mind getting all gussied-up, sitting through a ceremony that would cure a bad case of insomnia just to get to the open bar. What wedding is complete with unrealistic nuptials, bad music and an odd assortment of boorish friends and dysfunctional family members? It’s all good, if the bride’s family didn’t cut-costs on the food. Eating a wedding cake made by Buddy “The Cake Boss” is on my bucket list. Granted, there are usually a few self-indulgent toasts throughout the festivities, but one I get my groove around the dance floor it’s “Party-Time.” My wife loves it when I break out “The Running Man, Mr. Roboto or the Cabbage Patch. MC Hammer’s got nothing on me.

School gets Out in June
– As the master showman Alice Cooper once sang, “Schools Out for Summer!” Although in 1972, when that song was number one on Billboard’s chart, Alice was an androgynous, make-up wearing, boa constrictor toting, certifiable creepy guy that scared the snot out of me. Growing up, the last day of school ranked right up there with Christmas and my birthday as far as day’s I loved the most. Our last was typically June 8th which meant three uninterrupted months of blissful chillaxing. Our last day of school was often celebrated with water balloons, milkshakes, doorbell ditch and an over-night sleep out in the backyard with my bestest buddies. Granted, we had things to do, but nothing like the overloaded schedules our kids now keep. No wonder every nine year old in Danville has an iPhone. They need to text their peeps to coordinate carpools and manage their swim/dance/cheer/baseball/soccer/lacrosse schedules.

Father’s Day is in June
– Granted Father’s Day is not as grand a celebration as Mother’s Day, but I’m not complaining. While Mother’s day is really an entire weekend of pomp and circumstance filled with expensive dinners, formal brunches, elegant flower arrangements, Hallmark greeting cards, elaborate gifts (preferably jewelry), a lot of pampering, compliments and several hours of alone time, dads do typically get to pick the dinner menu on our special day (assuming it’s approved by our wives). I, myself, am a big fan of the homemade cards, paper-mache office supplies and burnt toast served in bed with a soggy newspaper. All kidding aside, as a child I looked forward to Father’s Day as a way of putting my dad up on a pedestal and letting him know how much I appreciated everything he did for us as a family. Now, as a father, I enjoy this annual day of heartfelt adulation. Being a dad is hard work, and as gratifying as it is Father’s Day is always very enjoyable.

Summer Vacations
– It didn’t matter if we were driving cross country (an agonizing form of incarceration and torture as a child) or just heading to the Santa Cruz beach for a few days, summer vacations were the best. Back when driving was an economical alternative to flying, the family vacation road trip was how virtually every family started their summer vacation. Now, when most SUVs get three gallons per mile and there’s a chance we could be paying $6.00 per gallon, air travel seems darn right affordable. As a kid, summer vacations often meant visiting family or friends. My parents apparently enjoyed the Bed and Breakfast ambiance of someone else’s house even if we only went across town. Unfortunately, living in an affluent community often dictates that you vacation in the Hawaiian Islands, the mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyoming or the theme parks of Orlando Florida. Sadly, given the economy, my children may have to settle for the Osage Theme Park of Danville with the exclusive five star camping accommodations of our very own backyard. I hope my HOA allows campfires.

On a side note, National Lampoon’s Family Vacation is a must have for any serious movie collector. Released in June of 1983, this brilliant madcap misadventure chronicles the Griswold family’s cross-country road trip to the Wally World theme park. Suffice it to say, the cross country car trip proves to be much more arduous than the Griswold’s ever anticipated, not unlike my highly anticipated drive-in movie date with the lovely Sandy Besthorn to see the movie when it was first released. Let’s just say that Miss Besthorn was much more interested in the Academy Award worthy acting of Chevy Chase than she was the smooth moves of one, Mike Copeland. Sadly, the virtually obsolete drive-in theaters were functionally terrible, but socially (and romantically) a wonderful summer time diversion.

As we enter June, the coolest month of the year (cool like awesome, not cool like put a jacket on), it’s time to kick-back in our hammocks and soak up the good vibrations (A song released by the Beach Boys in June of 1966). June Swoon’s are something to be embraced; like a cuddly Team Six Navy Seal, not dreaded, like Donald Trump running for President. June is the start of all of the summertime rituals; baseball, weddings, and family vacations to name just a few. Just don’t forget Father’s Day (June 19th), because if Dad’s not happy, it could be a long summer….starting in June.

Compassionately Connecting to One Another

Ever notice how our personal lives sometimes mirror challenges that are happening around us? After all, there is a unifying “thread of life” that connects us with all aspects of nature as well as with one another. So, when worldly relationships and natural disasters rumble around us, it makes sense that we might experience some reverberations in our psyches and in our homes. Can you relate?

I’ll never forget, many years ago, the time period when my father was dying. As you can imagine…this was stressful on many levels for the entire family. I was a meditator at the time and had various stress-managing tools for myself (thank heavens), but even with solid tools, I struggled with painful emotions related to my father’s rapid decline.

Unfortunately, during this challenging period, my dear Sealyham Terrier regressed…to chewing again. He was no puppy, but low and behold, he began to destructively chew things. The finale came when he chewed a chunk off of his thick, hard-plastic, outdoor water bowl. My Sealy left no chunks strewn around the patio, so I knew he had swallowed pieces of the hard plastic.

As soon as I spotted the chewed water bowl, I rushed my little boy to the veterinarian’s office. After examining my Sealy, the vet calmly reassured me that my dog would most likely simply pass the plastic and that I should keep an eye on his “droppings” for the next few days. Oi vey… It was apparent to me that my little guy was “acting out” some of the stress I was experiencing. Thankfully, the vet was right, and my Sealy’s digestive system handled his “bowl-bingeing” episode without any problems. After my father passed away and my emotions began to quiet down, my Sealy’s chewing stopped. No surprise…in hindsight.

Meanwhile, since there are so many stressors in our world today, I want to share a resource with you. It’s a board game that encourages compassionately connecting to others. The game is called the Ungame*, and it’s titled as such because no one wins and no one loses.

I have the version that’s designed for people from 5 to 105 years old. I often play the Ungame for a few minutes with clients during sessions. Doing so allows them to experience it firsthand and see if they want to “gift” their families with this powerful game. As a result, many of my clients play the Ungame regularly with their family members to strengthen emotional connections.

When people play this game together they exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas. By doing so, they often gain a deeper understanding of themselves and one another. Sometimes, people are hesitant to play at first—not knowing what to expect—but many find it to be a RICH experience…once they give it a try.

The Ungame has questions to answer that encourage participants to express themselves. For example, one question asks, “What are the four most important things in your life?” Another asks you to share a hope about the future, then share a fear. A lighter question asks you to say what your favorite TV program was when you were younger and tell why you liked it.

At one gathering with friends, an Ungame card asked me to describe what my bedroom looked like when I was a teenager. As an adolescent, my bedroom had posters of the Bee Gees up on the walls. I must confess, like a zillion other young girls, I had a huge crush on Barry Gibb. In addition to posters, my bedroom had large, colorful flower decals stuck to the ceiling (since, after all, I was too young to own a VW bug to “flower up”).

Finally, sharing personal stories, thoughts, and feelings with one another can certainly serve as a healthy and fun way to connect. Then, you and your loved ones can trade in connecting to characters on TV for hours at a time…and compassionately connect to one another—for hours at a time.

*The Ungame:

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Her artwork and personal profile are included in Outstanding American Illustrators Today 2. She is the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

Everyday Style – Beyond the Fitting Room

Swimsuit 1

Photo 1

Swimwear. This word strikes fear in the hearts of women every summer. Not anymore! This season, be ready for the beach, the pool or even your backyard hot tub with a few simple tips to help you discover your inner “bathing beauty” and take her out for a dip.

The savvy swimwear shopper knows how to flatter her shape…with very little fabric. That’s where strategy comes in. Playing up your assets is first and foremost, but we want to ensure that your “not-so-favorite” parts are attended to. So, if you have…

Small busts and a full bottom: Try ruffles or gathering—anything that will pump up the volume. Demi-cups or pads will give the girls extra oomph. At the same time, a skirted bottom will provide coverage and comfort when chasing little ones or playing in the sand. (photo 1)

Swimsuit 2

Photo 2

A bit of a tummy: A one-piece suit (photo 2) with ruching (gathering down the sides) or a tankini (photo 3) will take care of that. Color-block suits with a light color up on top, and black on the bottom or an empire waist suit (with a band under the breasts) will draw the eye up. The result: What tummy?

Swimsuit 3

Photo 3

Big “girls”: Support your bust with a sturdy halter that won’t let them down. Underwire could be your best friend or a band under the breasts will maintain structure (photo 4). Flimsy triangles are not an option!

Swimsuit 4

Photo 4

There is a swimsuit out there for everyone…maybe even two! The same suit you wear to the neighborhood pool party may not be the one you wear at a Mexican resort or on a Caribbean cruise. Just save the thong for your next trip to Rio. Trust me, it’s for the best.

Fitting room confidential:
A three-way mirror can really be annoying, but in this case, it’s a lifesaver. Take this opportunity to view yourself from the front and back. Move. Squat; bend; jump—all within the privacy of your fitting room where no one can see. The suit should fit your body in motion, as you will be when you’re wearing it.


Photo 5

Finally, ditch the oversized t-shirt or shapeless dress and spring for a coordinating beach cover-up—a tied sarong, a skirt, or a tunic (photo 5)—so many choices, and none of them are spelled “M-U-M-U”.

Gifted Hands – The Ben Carson Story: ALIVE at the Movies

Gifted Hands - Movie Review
Sometimes you just have to shout about something or someone good. Well, here’s my shout-out about Dr. Ben Carson, the man and Gifted Hands that tells his story. Gifted Hands is a Johnson and Johnson Spotlight Presentation that was originally aired on TNT. Thank you Johnson and Johnson! Gifted Hands is based on the true story of Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr. whose lifelong journey led him to become Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

Dr. Carson had a childhood dream of becoming a physician, but he grew up in a single-parent home, with dire poverty, poor grades, a horrible temper and low self-esteem. Struggling to help her sons, Sonja Carson, Ben’s mother did everything in her power to help pull her family out of their circumstances. When kids at school labeled Ben the “Dummy,” Sonja got his eyes checked (yes, he needed glasses!), turned off the television and took the boys to the Detroit Public Library. They embarked on a journey of learning. Later in life the boys would realize that their mother, who had only a third grade education, could not read but that hadn’t stopped her from looking earnestly at their two mother-required weekly book reports.

Dr. Carson attended Yale and University of Michigan Medical School. At 33 years old he became the youngest major division director at Johns Hopkins. Early in his career he led a team that was the first to successfully separate conjoined (Siamese) twins. His list of accomplishments is incredible from bestselling author to winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite actors, Cuba Gooding, Jr. was chosen to play the part of Ben Carson. Cuba is distinguished and versatile. He often shows his “chops” by taking on roles that are diverse and eclectic, as exhibited by his turns in both independent comedies and gritty dramas. It is rare to find an actor that will tackle both Men of Honor and Cool Running’s, yet both are worthy movies in their own right. Sonja was played by Kimberly Elise, herself a two time NAACP Image Award winner.

Once I had viewed Gifted Hands, I wanted to know more about Ben Carson, the doctor and the man. After 25 years he is still the department head at Johns Hopkins as well as having been awarded 50 honorary doctorates. He has also achieved the status of Living Legend given by the Library of Congress.

One of his most admirable accomplishments was founding Carson Scholars Fund which has awarded more than 4800 scholarships and is still growing. This man is not only a “Legend” he is a devoted husband, father and yes, son. His mother, Sonja is still alive and well.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story is a wonderful movie that can be enjoyed by the whole family, but I have to warn you, you’ll want to hit the internet to see what else you can learn about the man with the gifted hands. As always, I enjoy your comments at

Legal Lines – Guardianship

Who is going to take care of my child if I cannot? That is the first and foremost consideration of Estate Planning for parents with children under the age of 18. This brings up the question of Guardianship. There are two types of Guardianships in California.

A Guardian of the Person is someone who is appointed by the Court to be responsible for the child’s physical well being. Parents typically nominate the guardian in their Wills. If there is no Will, the family member who wishes Guardianship will apply to the Court. Either way, the Court does an independent investigation, and makes the appointment. Interestingly, the guardian and the caregiver can actually be separate people. The guardian decides what is the best living situation for the child, which may or may not be with the guardian. For example, I have named my 22 year old daughter as guardian for her 13 year old brother. She may decide that he would be better off living with his grandparents or family friends, depending on life circumstances at that time. The choice would be likely be different at age 13 than age 16.

A Guardian of the Estate is someone appointed by the Court to be responsible for the child’s money. It is unusual for children to have or receive money in their own names, as most people hold funds for children in custodial accounts. It is also extremely undesirable; therefore most people leave inheritances to children in a Trust. If funds are held under a Court Guardianship, the Guardian must report to the Court each year, and the child receives the funds outright at when reaching the age of adulthood (18 in California). Going to Court is always expensive, eating away at the funds, which are limited to investing in Money Markets or CDs. Another point to consider: How many 18 year olds are capable of making good choices when faced with a large sum of money? It is important to be educated when making choices to protect your children. I’d be happy to discuss these matters with you.

2011 Jaguar XKR Prowling Power!

Passing Lane - Jaguar XKR

There are few times that a car rolls across my roadway that is too hot to let lay on the shelf. This review is just that. I had the opportunity to spend a week bathed in the beauty and power of the 2011 Jaguar XKR. We are talking about a car that is stunning in every way.

Jaguar, which was recently acquired by India’s Tata Motors, is continuing its efforts to bring us the sexiest and sportiest vehicles under one hundred grand. The 2011 Jaguar XKR is not only designed as a stunning work of art, it also has the power to accelerate to the league of pure performance driving wonders. The 2011 XKR is sleek, elegant, and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

For the 2011 model year, all Jaguar models come standard with Jaguar Platinum Coverage that includes 5 years or 50,000 miles complimentary scheduled maintenance, no cost replacement of basic wear and tear items, and 24/7 roadside assistance. Also, new is a special edition XKR175, 75th Anniversary Coupe with a limited production run of 175.

The 75th Anniversary Coupe offered only in Ultimate Black and with a less restrictive governor allowing for a top speed of 174 mph vs.155 mph. Aerodynamic enhancements to help distinguish this special edition includes red brake calipers – visible through the 20-inch “Kasuga” spoke wheels, new front and rear spoilers, rear diffuser, and side-sill extensions. Effects on the interior include charcoal leather accented with Cranberry stitching and piano black veneer trim, plus doorsill tread plates inscribed with “XKR175 – 1 of 175.”

The model lineup for the 2010 Jaguar XK consists of the following: XK Coupe, XK Convertible, XKR Coupe, XKR Convertible, and the XKR175 Coupe.

The XK series is designed by Ian Callum who previously designed for Aston Martin. This latest generation of XKs sports an Aston Martin flare for sure. The Jaguar XKR is built using an advanced aluminum architecture that creates a light, yet rigid and strong body. This helps reduce overall weight and optimize fuel economy. The flowing body lines rise up to voluptuous fenders that form the basis of the XKR’s powerful stance. The frontend of the XKR is cat-like, with the headlights focusing on you like cat eyes. The oval grille renders a nose and the lower spoiler vent and side vents, representing the mouth and fangs. The twin vents mounted on the hood completes the aggressive face.

From the rear the large hips are exaggerated by the outline of the small tailgate. The deep red tail-lights share space in both the rear fenders and tailgate. Chrome tipped exhaust pipes are fitted around a raised rear fascia. A rear spoiler is molded into the rear tailgate with an embedded third brake light. This is one beautiful sports car!

Sliding into the cool leather bucket seats is just the first step of becoming one with the cockpit of the 2011 XKR. The front seats hold you in place like a hand in a glove. The feel is a perfect blend of luxury and performance. You are surrounded by elements of wood, aluminum, and leather. At the push of a button the XKR engine roars and the shift control knob, trademarked as JaguarDrive Selector, raises from the center dash in preparation of being positioned to one of the drive settings.

On paper the XK series states it can hold up to four people. The reality is it is a two seater. My son’s child seat would not fit in the back seat. The rear legroom is a mere 27.6 inches – a fraction of a normal back seat. However, if you are buying an XKR its not about how many people you can carry, it’s about the performance. My XKR had heating and cooling front seats with the ability to adjust the front seat up to 16 different positions. The center stack houses a large LCD touch-screen that was not as easy to use as you might expect. The built-in navigation system worked fine and kept us on track. Adjusting the radio took a few more steps than I would have liked, but I did get used to the procedure. Despite the small hatch, the XKR actually has a very large trunk area.

Under the hood lies a 5.0-liter all-aluminum, 32-valve supercharged V8 featuring direct injection and 510 massive, wild horses with 461 ft lb. of torque. It maybe a carryover from the 2010 model but perfection is perfection. To say that the XKR flies when you press the accelerator is a true understatement. I had “one” occasion where I needed to accelerate quickly and the rush was more than exhilarating.

The XKR engine is the third generation 5.0-liter and the most advanced engine ever built by Jaguar. Even the naturally aspirated version in the XK produces 385-hp and 380 ft-lb of torque. The XKR Coupe can sprint from stop to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds, thanks to the help of a twin vortex supercharger system with twin water intercoolers. Mated to the 5.0-liter power house is an electronically controlled, fully adaptive six-speed automatic transmission with Sequential Shift ™, which allows you to manually shift by operating steering-wheel shift paddles. The transmission is designed to be maintenance-free with “filled-for-life” fluid.

Room for improvement:

  • Very limited rear legroom
  • Touch screen usability

Cool Features:

  • 510-HP Supercharged V8 engine
  • JaguarDrive Selector
  • Roll-over protection system deploys instantly (on convertible models)
    • Cat-like reflexes is how I would describe the suspension on the XKR. Both the XK and XKR models incorporate Jaguars Adaptive Dynamics active-damping system which optimizes handling agility and ride comfort. The system monitors body movement 100 times per second and wheel position 500 times per second. Also, automatically adjusts the suspension to provide the smoothest ride and best handling. The JaguarDrive control interface allows the driver to select from different driving modes including Normal, Winter, Track DSC, and DSC OFF. The result of all this technology and tech-talk is that the XK and the XKR feels like it can anticipate the road ahead, feeling solid and planted. The chassis is stiff, the steering is responsive, and the XKR maneuvers around corners with ease.

      The 2011 Jaguar XKR isn’t just fast, it is also incredibly safe. All XK models are equipped with front, front side, and thorax airbags. To help prevent whiplash, the front head restraint system is designed to protect against your head bouncing back in the event of a rear impact. Other safety features include adaptive cruise control and advanced emergency brake assist which uses radar to help calculate distance of approach to the vehicle ahead. On the convertible models, the hidden roll-over protection system deploys instantly if sensors identify a risk.

      In Summary – The 2011 Jaguar XKR is an icon in the automobile industry. Its ancestry began in the 1960’s with the XKE and was reborn with the XK series. The XKR is the ultimate model in the XK series and has a perfect blend of extraordinary performance, style, and luxury. If you are in the market for jet-rocket acceleration with tight handling and an incredible ride, the XKR needs to be on the top of your short list.

      2011 Jaguar XKR Coupe

      Base price: $96,000 as driven: $101,000 (including destination)
      Engine: 5.0-Liter 8-cylinder
      Horsepower: 510 @ 6,000
      Torque: 461 foot lb @ 2,500 rpm
      Transmission: 6-speed automatic with steering wheel mounted paddles
      Drive: Rear Wheel-Drive
      Seating: 4-passenger
      Turning circle: 36.51 feet (coupe) 37.39 feet (convertible)
      Cargo space: 11.7 cubic feet (coupe) 7.1 cubic feet (convertible)
      Curb weight: 4,034 pounds
      Fuel capacity: 16.1 gallons
      EPA mileage: 22 highway, 15 city
      Wheel Base: 108.3 inches
      Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper
      Also consider: BMW 6-Series, Corvette ZR1, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Carrera

Trivial Matters

We had our annual tournament at WPLJ in Walnut Creek in April. Since I did the questions, I have some I can use on you nice folks.

Here are this month’s questions:

  1. When hearing the Star Spangled Banner being played before a game, why did famous baseball flake Rocky Bridges say “I hate that song”?
  2. What 1977 war movie included in its cast 4 actors who were recipients at one time of Best Actor Oscars and who were they?
  3. Who wrote the lyrics to “Bill,” the famous song from “Show Boat”? (Hint: It was not Oscar Hammerstein
  4. Who played Vincente Minnelli in the TV movie “Life with Judy Garland-Me and My Shadows”?
  5. What was the name of the store on the radio show “Lum and Abner”?
  6. What famous couple bought the famous mansion Grey Gardens?

May answers

  • Judy Garland
  • “Happy” Felsch
  • “Happy Days Are Here Again”
  • Barbra Streisand
  • “Happy” Chandler
  • Garry Marshall

The first person to email or mail, no calls please, the correct answers to all of the above questions will win a $25 gift certificate at The Uptown Cafe in downtown Danville, compliments of Ben Fernandez!
Entries must be received by June 20, 2011. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 199 East Linda Mesa Avenue, Suite 10, Danville, CA 94526. Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible.
Restaurant may be changed without notice.

Market Watch – Time to Rebalance?

Investor optimism has greatly improved over the last two years and it is easy to see why. The world’s equity and commodity markets have enjoyed a dramatic charge upward since the darkest days of the financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009. While such positive sentiment is by no means unanimous, optimism clearly has climbed and many investors have been chasing these strong returns by moving back into the equity markets and increasing exposure to hot investments like small cap stocks, emerging market stocks, precious metals and other commodities. This is hardly a surprise given the aforementioned strong period of gains. At that same time this new found comfort with so called “risk assets” may not be an entirely welcome development. I am still a believer in owning “risk assets” for the long term. However, I do think now would be a good time to see how the last two years of strong performance have changed the risk profile of your portfolio.

Markets are frequently most at risk of a decline when the majority of investors are feeling very comfortable. Changes in the level of investors’ optimism or pessimism towards the future can often be the cause of market volatility. When times are good the natural reaction to such strong gains may be to “let it ride” or even increase exposure to the things that have done the best. This can often times be detrimental to portfolio returns and risk level.

A good example of this was in the year 2000. If you recall, there was very high levels of optimism about the future of the stock market. We were in a “new era” where the old rules regarding stock valuations did not apply. This elevated level of optimism tempted many investors to increase their allocations to stocks even though the monumental gains in the market had already done this for them. The “New Economy” train was leaving the station and you didn’t want to get left behind! We could say the same thing about the housing boom and bust we have experienced recently. Prior to the bust, investing in housing became much too popular and it felt like the good times where never going to end. As we now know, the greatest boom ever in housing ended with the biggest bust ever. Presently, the love affair with precious metals seems to have gotten a bit too strong and, at this writing in early May, we are seeing a sharp correction in silver prices.

These examples illustrate the importance of reviewing your mix of assets from time to time. Rebalancing the mix back to an appropriate risk level will help an investor guard against being overexposed to asset classes that may have become overvalued. This is especially important at moments like now when we have had an extended run of positive returns in many types of investments. I do not advocate trying to time the market and I am not recommending you get out of top performers completely. My advice is to take some profits from the areas that have grown the most and reallocate those profits to the asset classes that have lagged.

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

Realtor Practices Have Changed. Thankfully!

Q. Tom, we are planning to sell our Alamo home. We have lived here for over 15 years so we have no recent experience working directly with a Realtor. My recollection from years ago is that the interview process used to meet and select an agent was tortuous in that the agents just went on and on about themselves, their companies and their marketing plans. What should we really look for in an agent this time around?

Great question! You’re right about the old listing interview process. When I first got into the business in 1989, agents were actually taught to talk endlessly for hours and hours about ourselves and our firms. Essentially, we tried to persuasively exhaust the seller into making a decision to sign a listing contract that night at the kitchen table. Thank goodness times and practices have changed. A professional Realtor should listen more than talk (how else could he/she understand what is important to you), be able to prove a recent track record of successful sales, exhibit strong negotiating and presentation skills, be organized and aggressive in their marketing approach for your home and possess a high degree of integrity as it pertains to representing your best interests. Also, your agent should be well versed in real estate contracts and risk management issues (we are in a highly litigious environment), be excited yet realistic about the saleable features of your home, convey the importance and benefit of pricing your home appropriately for today’s market and finally be someone who after you’ve spoken to for five minutes gives you a feeling of trust and dependability. I absolutely advise you to ask enough questions to verify the agent’s skills, successes and work ethic—remember, you are hiring them to protect one of your largest financial assets so don’t shy away from asking the hard questions that will confirm your best choice. The most qualified agents will, in fact, answer your queries completely and appreciate your diligence in understanding their credentials; the least qualified ones will appear uneasy and provide vague answers. So, get your checklist of questions ready and then trust your gut.

Q. How do you see the summer market shaping up – stronger, weaker or about the same as the last few months?

Right now it appears that the market is getting incrementally stronger which is a good sign for both buyers and sellers. A strengthening job market is not only adding to the number of prospective homebuyers but it’s also giving confidence to local homeowners that now may be a good time to ‘trade up’. Also, mortgage interest rates remain very attractive and some lenders are starting to relax stringent loan approval underwriting requirements. Home sellers whose properties are in above-average condition and premium locations are being rewarded with strong purchase offers from qualified buyers who recognize the long term value of investing in a great neighborhood that is nestled in an award-winning school district. If I’m a seller, I’d get my home on the market pronto because most buyers want to move in before the start of school in August. If I’m a buyer, I’d take the advice of my trusted Realtor and ‘step up’ with a strong offer if the right home in the right location at the right price pops onto the market. Keep in mind that our East Bay real estate market is far stronger than other regions of the state and country. Premium homes are actually selling fairly briskly and at what appears to be sustainable prices, too. As always, seek the best counsel available and get moving!

Tom Hart

Tom Hart

Tom Hart is a practicing Real Estate Broker and a partner at Empire Realty Associates in Danville. He is a Certified Master Negotiator by the University of San Francisco and a Certified Master Strategist by HSM Harvard Program on Negotiation. He is past president of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors (2005) and past president of the Realtors’ Marketing Association of the San Ramon Valley. Tom is in high demand as a speaker & trainer inside & outside the real estate industry.