Coming up Empty

Because of this week’s weather I was limited to a single walk this week. Fortunately, I keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and knew that might be the case, so I planned accordingly. I assembled a list of places I wanted to go, and then chose from that list places that I could logically string together into a single walk. It ended up being something of a loop, and as it turns out the places I investigated were mostly  ones that are sitting empty.

First up, this place:

This waterless car wash (they used their own product, which you can buy on the internet) seems to have quietly closed up shop. From what I can see by peering into the windows, the place has been emptied out. I did a little checking on the internet and although I didn’t find anything that indicated why they’ve closed, their Yelp reviews tell an interesting story. When the car wash started out they received rave reviews: people seemed to love their product and, more importantly, their service. But according to some of the reviews it appears that the car wash was sold in early 2018, and that the new management didn’t seem able (or willing) to maintain the formerly high standards. Many of the reviews since the apparent sale are pretty damning; if they truly reflect what the typical customer experienced, this business may have closed simply because it was run into the ground.

I’ll be watching to see what happens there next. The car wash’s El Camino Real location is a prime piece of real estate, and the existing building is pretty tired looking, so I’m guessing that the site will eventually be redeveloped. It is especially interesting given the fact that the block building you can see in the background — which was formerly an Enterprise Rent-a-Car location, but is now closed — is scheduled to be torn down and replaced by an affordable housing project. Here is a closer look at that block building:

All of the permanent signage has been stripped from this building, and the interior has been cleared out. There is a rather prominent banner next to the door (visible in the above image; click for a version you can zoom in on) that says “We’re Moving” and gives a new address of 99 Beech St. That address, in case you are wondering, belongs to Towne Ford: it is the lot across Beech Street from the main dealership, at Lathrop Street (behind Hopkins Acura). Presumably Enterprise now has a relationship with Towne Ford; if you take your car in for service and need a rental, I assume that they point you across the street to where Enterprise has a desk. Or does it? Because I was on foot and thus could look closer, I read the signs affixed to the glass doors. Those signs tell a different story. They say that as of January 5, Enterprise has moved to Redwood City (the above building is beyond the city limits, in an unincorporated section of San Mateo County), and give Enterprise’s new address as 345 El Camino Real. That address is…an Enterprise Rent-a-Car facility. It has been one for many, many years now, so this “move,” at least according to the inkjet-printed signs someone has taped to the glass doors, is really just a closure of this particular location.

I mentioned that the now-empty Enterprise building is slated to be replaced by an affordable housing project. This is a project that has been in the works for some time, with little visible progress. I did some digging, though, and it appears that Palo Alto Housing Corporation — the people behind the project — have been working for more than two years now to line up funding. In August 2016 they obtained $1 million from Measure A, Housing Authority, and RDA funds. Then, in late 2017 they obtained a $3.5 million loan to purchase the property. Last November Palo Alto Housing confirmed that the project was on track, with a statement that the project will be breaking ground in February of this year, and the fact that Enterprise has left seems to back that up. As for what is being built, we’re looking at

67 studio and one-bedroom apartments for households with incomes between 30%-60% of the Area Median Income (AMI). Twenty-seven units will be reserved for homeless or at risk veterans and an additional six units will house homeless/at risk individuals with mental illness.

That seems like a lot for this .59 acre parcel. Of course, they’re shoehorning these 67 apartments (most of which are studios) and 53 parking stalls onto the lot by going back (the property is fairly deep) and up (the building will be four stories tall). Here is a rendering from the project brochure:

It’s a nice looking place, really, and will be a nice substitute for what is there today. It is just too bad that they can’t take over the next-door car wash property as well, and build a really large project.

Just one block further down I spent some time prowling around the former home of John Bentley’s restaurant and the single-story office building at the corner of El Camino Real and E. Selby Lane. These two parcels, along with three that are currently used as surface parking lots, plus a sixth parcel that adjoins in the rear and faces onto Markham Avenue (it currently has a house on it) are, according to plans, to be combined and developed as a Sunrise Senior Living facility. The combined site is roughly 1.4 acres in size, giving it plenty of room for a nice-sized development. The design calls for 90 units in a building that will be three stories high along El Camino Real, stepping back to two stories in the rear along Markham Avenue.

This new residential elderly care facility aims to replace the John Bentley’s restaurant as well as this 7,000 square foot office building, which apparently housed law offices and a property management firm:

The office building seems to be largely, if not completely, empty. As for the two-story ivy-covered John Bentley’s building (which sits adjacent to Planned Parenthood, on El Camino Real), that has been sitting empty since last April, when the restaurant closed after more than 22 years. Between and behind both buildings are some rather extensive surface parking lots: I’m not sure why someone thought that all of those spaces would be needed.

I walked through the covered driveway that runs along the side of the John Bentley’s building so that I could see inside. I was interested to note that the wall opposite the restaurant’s main entrance had been adorned with graffiti-style artwork:

It is nicely done, and actually signed (or labeled) “The Graffin Family” so perhaps this was done with someone’s permission? In any case, this “mural” will be torn down along with the building if and when the project gets underway. The project appears to have gotten the necessary approvals, so I do expect that this project will start either this year or next.

Walking between the two projects I passed this building, at 2875 El Camino Real:

This used to be home to the Redwood Pet Hospital, although it has been sitting empty for a couple of years. I always have to wonder about buildings like this; someone owns it, but isn’t making any income from it — and yet there is no “for lease” sign on it (that doesn’t mean that it isn’t for lease, of course, just that they don’t seem to be pushing it). And as you can probably see they aren’t keeping it up: the building appears to have been mouldering for years. Perhaps the owners are in some difficulty where they can’t pay attention to the building. But given what property goes for in our area, and given that the owner has to at least be paying property taxes on it, you would think that they would want to either sell it or spruce it up and try to lease it. It’s a mystery…

Speaking of animal hospitals, in order to get to and from all of the above properties I had to walk past the colorful buildings along El Camino Real that I’d recently reported were being remodeled into the Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital. Although the banner still has a large “Coming Soon” printed on it, don’t believe it: the hospital is very much open for business, as evidenced by the “Open” sign by the entry door.

They appear to be using the large building to the right as a parking garage. The Animal Hospital itself is located in the blue and the brick-red buildings. The main entrance is through the door in the blue building, beneath the banner; the doors on the old “Spin City” laundry building (the brick-red one; it still has the laundromat sign above it) have signs directing you to the main entrance in the center building.

On my way home I swung by Redwood City’s Cost Plus World Market, just to get some pictures of the signs advertising that store’s closure. Cost Plus appears to prefer keeping things close to the chest: they don’t seem to publicly comment on individual store closings, which this is: the chain itself appears to be OK. I’m guessing that the closing of our store is just part of an effort to prune away their low-performing stores. But that is just speculation on my part: I have yet to find anything that definitively says why our store is closing.

I also swung by Sequoia Station to peer inside the old Max’s restaurant location. Max’s closed in mid-December, and according to an article in Climate Magazine, they closed because their rent “almost doubled.” Hopefully the shopping center owner knows that they can lease out that space at their new, increased price: I would certainly hate to see that rather prominent storefront, which sits right on El Camino Real, go empty for long. As far as the company goes, Max’s appears to have been slowly closing stores over time. For instance, they closed their location in the Stanford Shopping Center at the end of last June, after some 30 years, also due to “lease issues.” The Stanford location is being replaced by another restaurant; perhaps that will happen here, as well. Regardless, if you miss Max’s, their original location in Burlingame still seems to be open, as is, I believe, their Max’s Opera Cafe in San Francisco, and their location in Auburn, California.

Enough with closings! Personally, I’m going to focus on the future, and what will possibly replace those now closed businesses. The affordable housing project that is slated to replace the Enterprise Rent-a-Car building, and the Sunrise Senior Living facility that is planned to replace the buildings down by E. Selby Lane are good examples of how unused, or underused properties can be put to more productive use. These days we shouldn’t have empty properties sitting around for long: the need to make them productive is simply too great.