I Have Returned!

I’m back! Did you miss me? Probably not, given that I never publicly mentioned that I was going anywhere. But I recently got back from a two-week trip to Europe, a trip in which my wife and I, along with my brother and his wife, took one of those Viking river cruises down the Rhine River that you may have seen advertised on PBS. We flew into Amsterdam, where we spent almost three full days getting over jet lag and exploring the historic city. We then got on the ship and spent about eight days cruising up the Rhine and exploring various cities and towns along the way. We ultimately disembarked in Basel, Switzerland but immediately transferred to Lucerne, where we spent two days again exploring the area, including the Alps. Finally, we flew home last Friday from Zurich.

The trip was great. If you’ve been giving the idea of a Viking River Cruise some thought, I definitely can recommend it. They take excellent care of you, from the time you land to the time you finally take off, and we saw and did a lot. Our room on the ship was very comfortable, as were the rooms we had at the hotels in Amsterdam and Lucerne (rooms that were arranged for by Viking). As for the ship (a Viking “Longship”), it seemed just the right size. With only 95 staterooms, it was not so large that you weren’t able to find people, but large enough that there was room to get comfortable and enjoy oneself. As you can see in the above picture, nearly the entire top deck of the ship was flat and open to passengers, and a decent-sized portion of it was covered, giving us protection from the sun during the day. That top deck proved to be an excellent place from which to watch the ship navigate the numerous locks that the ship had to go through on its journey up the Rhine, and an excellent place from which to spot the many castles that dot the banks of the Rhine.

Amsterdam proved to be an eye opener. I’ll definitely be writing more about it in future articles, as I think that we here in Redwood City can learn a thing or two from Amsterdam. For one thing, they bill themselves as the bicycle capital of Europe, and from what I’ve seen, I believe them. The way they view bicycles in Amsterdam, as well as the way that they handle automobiles and parking, is really quite interesting.

Upon our return we laid low for a couple of days to get over jet lag, and then I spent a bit of time running (not literally, of course; I walk) around Redwood City to see what had occurred during my absence. Thanks to the heat we experienced this past week, I didn’t get nearly as far as I would have liked. And although it had been slightly more than two weeks since I had last been able to walk through Redwood City, I still had to look closely to notice the changes. I didn’t stumble across anything really new; most of what I saw was the expected progress on existing projects. Of course, we have so many of those that there was plenty to see…

One ongoing project that is currently exhibiting some in-your-face progress is the building at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson Avenue. This building, which will soon be home to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (along with a yet-to-be-confirmed retail operation of some sort on the ground floor) is rapidly nearing completion. At the moment, they have the section of Broadway adjacent to the building blocked off to traffic (that’s the “in your face” part) while they form and pour new sidewalks:

Annoying as it is to have the street closed to traffic, I’m guessing that the city has encouraged them to do their work quickly so that the street can be reopened as soon as possible.

I looked in on the recently relocated Lathrop House and noted that it hasn’t yet been settled onto its foundation. The building continues to hover above the new poured concrete foundation while contractors build the short stem-walls that will connect the concrete foundation to the Lathrop House’s wooden walls. Once these stem walls are in place, and, I presume, once all the plumbing and electrical work that needs to be done beneath the house is ready, the house should finally be lowered into place. It shouldn’t be much longer, from all appearances.

Across the street, I’m curious about what is going on. Before I left I noted that the entire block had been surrounded by construction fencing, presumably in preparation for the demolition of the handful of buildings that remain on the block. I had thought that when I got back the demolition might have started, but no. Instead, I watched workers erecting a scaffolding of sorts around the Broadway end of the block, at least:

I presume that they are constructing one of those temporary pedestrian tunnels that you sometimes see around high-rise construction. Why it is needed here, at least at this point in the project, I’m not so sure. The white one-story buildings you see in the above picture will soon be coming down, and to me a covered pedestrian walkway seems like overkill for that. But perhaps it is needed for the construction phase of the project — the county is clearing of the entire block in anticipation of building a new five-story office building on the site — and maybe it makes sense to put a protective walkway up now along with the construction fencing that was already there. We’ll see…

Speaking of construction fencing, The Sobrato Organization, the development company who will be constructing the giant mixed-use project on the Broadway Plaza site (at the corner of Broadway and Woodside Road) wasted almost no time after receiving City Council approval for their project in putting up construction fencing around that portion of the shopping center that is soon to be demolished. All of the shopping center other than the CVS drug store — which will remain in its current location until its new building is erected across Woodside Road — will soon be torn down so that the necessary soil remediation can begin.

The Broadway Plaza project buildings will sit on top of a huge mostly underground parking garage that will take up nearly the entire block. Before the existing shopping center was built, much of this site was the location of a “shim and oil seal manufacturing facility” (originally the National Motor Bearing Company, which then became Federal-Mogul Corporation Bower Bearings). According to the project Environmental Impact Report (EIR):

Federal-Mogul operated at the site until 1970 and used chemicals including oil, fuels, cleaners, pesticides, paints, etc. Chemicals used included methyl ethyl ketone, vinyl chloride, PCE, and toluene. In 1966, based on a chemical inventory, methyl ethyl ketone and methanol were the only solvents stored on site in quantities greater than 1,000 gallons.

I presume that when the shopping center was built (in 1972) the site wasn’t cleaned to today’s standards. Thus, the need for the soil remediation project, which is expected to take a year to complete. Because CVS must remain in operation until their new location is ready, Sobrato will do as much remediation as they can on the remainder of the site, and will remediate the portion beneath the CVS store once CVS has moved. So although there won’t be any new construction on the Broadway Plaza site for at least a year, there will be plenty of activity as demolition and site cleanup takes place.

I next took a peek at two other projects I’ve been eagerly awaiting. One, the Habitat for Humanity project that is slated for the tiny lot at 612 Jefferson — and which is listed as “Under Construction” on the city’s Development Projects web page — still shows absolutely no signs of activity:

On the other hand, the nearby Bradford Street project — now officially named “Arroyo Green” — has been full steam ahead since its groundbreaking last month:

The site has been cleared and leveled, and contractors appear to be drilling, presumably for pilings that will support the 117-unit affordable apartment building for seniors (the building will also include an 8,000-square-foot childcare center). This project has been in the planning stages for a number of years, and I am as delighted as the city is to see this project finally get off the ground. Both the housing and the childcare center are desperately needed, of course. But I’m also pleased that this project will result in a new section of public creek trail, one which will follow Redwood Creek from where it emerges from beneath Bradford Street over to where it passes under Main Street, near Veterans Boulevard. I expect that in addition to the trail itself, there will also be a bench or two on which we members of the public can sit and gaze at what I presume will be a revitalized section of the creek. I look forward to the day when I can walk along that section of the creek, and enjoy the birds and plants that will presumably live there.

My last topic is one that shows no visible activity yet, but — finally! — should soon. If you’ve ever had occasion to park in the Caltrain parking lot on the north side of Broadway, or in the Perry Street parking lot (the one behind City Pub), you’ve likely wondered about this building:

I believe I’ve written a bit about it before, but only to note that it appeared to be tied up in legal proceedings. Whatever the issues surrounding this building, though, it appears that they’ve been worked through. Based on recent building permit applications, later this summer this building should begin the process of being converted from its current light industrial use to office use. The building will receive a new roof of some sort, and the historic building will receive exterior changes.

The “Elgin’s” building was built in the early 1930s, as Sequoia Laundry & Dry Cleaners. That business remained in operation at this site for about 30 years, until at least 1962. It eventually became Elgin’s Custom Grinding (in the smaller portion on the left) and Elgin’s Auto Supply & Machine Shop Service. As you can see from the above photo, Elgin’s was the building’s most recent occupant. The building has been boarded up and unused for a handful of years now, though, and I was beginning to despair of it ever being put to a practical use again. Given how this building is a bit off the beaten path, downtown-wise (something that was actually deemed an asset back when it was used as a large-scale laundry), turning it into offices seems a good use for the building. From the permits, it appears that the building will not be altered too drastically; it won’t be replaced by a modern glass high-rise, for instance. All in all, this has the potential to be a great project, and a great little update for Redwood City.

There is more going on around Redwood City, of course, and I’ll report on some of that next week. But as you can see, I have returned! I have a lot to write about, so stay tuned… Oh, and if you have been thinking about one of Viking’s river cruises and have questions, fire away!