Engineer, Soldier, Musician

July/August 1997

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Engineer, Soldier, Musician

Courtesy of Grace Nino

According to Michael Antonacci's homespun philosophy, backbone and the funnybone. But while he stressed the importance of humor during his 35 years as San Jose's director of planning, he was serious about the way cities use their space, people, time and money. "Our use of space--or rather, in many instances, our misuse of it," he said in 1955, "has been the cause of some of the major ills of our civilization." The visionary engineer, who worked for 19 mayors and whose dream was to make San Jose "the Paris of America," died in his sleep in February of congestive heart failure. He was 94.

Born in 1902 in New York City, Antonacci began his career as a pint-sized newsboy. He was often the victim of bullies who tried to steal his newspapers--until he learned how to box at the local YMCA, a sport he continued throughout his life. The son of musical parents, Antonacci bought a cello in high school and taught himself to play. He attended Santa Clara University before transferring to Stanford, where he earned two civil engineering degrees. Antonacci started his career with San Jose as a draftsman in 1922, became the planning director in 1929 and pioneered standards in urban planning until his retirement.

During World War II, Antonacci served as chief planner for logistical commands, preceding the Allied troops as they land-hopped across the Pacific from the Philippines to Japan. He rose to the rank of full colonel.

After the war, he helped obtain land and buildings for two armories in San Jose. He was principal cellist for the San Jose Symphony from 1937 to 1941 and, after the war, played in the Mendelssohn String Quartet and the Payette-Hinman Trio, both in Saratoga.

A chief organizer of the Class of 1924, Antonacci presided over a number of class activities and assembled the first-ever Stanford 70th reunion in 1994. For many years he officiated at the induction of the 50th anniversary classes into the ranks of senior alumni.

In the early 1970s, he helped launch a conservative group called the New Founder's League, which criticized the University for a variety of perceived short comings. These included a demand for academic credit for military training on campus. "We used to get into some startling rhubarbs about this or that campus policy issue, but Michael was always the gentleman," says Stanford Alumni Association president Bill Stone.

Antonacci is survived by his brother, Henry; and many nephews and nieces, including Grace Nino. His wife, Muriel Antonacci, died in 1992.

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