The Main Thing

Although over the last several years there has been little to lure people to Redwood City’s Main Street, I’ve been rooting for it, hoping that it will finally regain some of the respect that it once had as one of the key streets in downtown Redwood City. Although a walk along Main Street today will reveal that just about all of the storefronts are occupied, many are being used as offices, and thus hold nothing of interest to the passerby. Some time back the City Council recognized this fact and decreed that ground-floor storefronts along Main Street between Broadway and Middlefield Road be occupied by retail businesses (restaurants and stores), but existing offices in those spaces are allowed to remain under certain conditions. Thus, someday in the far future the primary downtown segment of Main Street may once again be a retail powerhouse — but it’ll take a while.

Fortunately, the big project currently underway at 851 Main Street should bring a rather nice-sized, high quality retail space to Main Street (previously there were a couple of somewhat tired-looking restaurants there). For that reason, and because the retail space will occupy the portion of the building that was deemed historic (and is therefore being preserved), I’ve been watching the building project with interest. All of the non-historic portions have been cleared away, and the historic storefront, back wall, and one side wall have been carefully preserved so as to not be damaged during construction.

I find the preservation aspect of this project particularly fascinating. Between the traffic barriers and the construction cloth covering the chain-link fencing above those barriers, if you just drive by the site it’s a bit hard to see just what is going on. Fortunately, pedestrian access along the front of the construction site has been maintained, allowing people like me to get a good look.

The above picture shows what the site looks like today. Notice how the glass windows and doors have been removed from the storefront, and how the remainder has been carefully covered with wood so as to protect the historic tile up top and the wooden wainscoting down below. Above the large openings there was a transom window that may or may not still be there beneath the protective wooden coverings; if the transom windows are not there, they likely are being restored and will be reinstalled later in the process.

Shifting to the back wall, note the plywood being used to protect the wall’s surfaces and the steel frames being used to ensure that the wall remains intact during the construction process. It appears that the white crane is being used to help hold up the back wall: two cables appear to run from the crane to anchor points on the wall’s free end. I can imagine that without the building’s fourth wall, and without rafters connecting this back wall to the one in the front, the back wall could easily be knocked over. Thus the crane, I presume.

I went around to the back side of the project to see how things look from there, and from across Walnut Street I could clearly see that the steel protective structures were on that side, too, embracing the wall in a protective metal sandwich:

Similar steel structures are being used to protect the remaining side wall, which stands up against the next-door IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) building.

As I was walking around the area, I noticed a somewhat hopeful development at a small retail space across Main Street: the small storefront at 816 Main Street, two doors down from Gambrel & Co. and, like that business, within the historic Sequoia Hotel building, now has brown paper covering its windows. As well, the previous tenant’s signage, which was simply painted on the storefront’s windows, has been removed. This is a significant development, I believe, because the previous business at this location — Deja Vu Antiques Dolls and Bears — closed more than six years ago, and since then the store has just remained as it was, with a handful of old dolls and bears in the window gathering dust. I have been walking by this store for years, and have never seen any signs of activity until now. Brown paper in the windows isn’t much, but it signals that someone is finally paying some attention to the space. Too, the space between this one and Gambrel & Co., which has been sitting idle for even longer — it was a bar called Sport Club, that closed at the end of 2008 — used to have a “for lease” sign in the window, but that sign is now gone. The white paper that for years has blocked up the Sport Club’s windows is still there, it seems, but I’m starting to wonder if someone is finally showing interest in either one or both of these two small storefronts along Main Street. Gambrel & Co. (a “craft butchery”) has been doing a good business in their 810 Main Street location for a couple of years now, so perhaps someone is taking notice. I would love to see retail businesses in one or both of these locations, which are just a couple of steps around the corner from Redwood City’s Broadway — which, thanks to a number of popular restaurants, is full of life most days and evenings.

[Click the above image for a view you can zoom in on]

In the above picture, the antique store was on the left, the bar was in the middle (where the windows have been covered with white paper) and Gambrel & Co is on the right (behind the white car). To the right of that, you can just see a bit of a small market and liquor store that is also within the Sequoia Hotel building (whose rooms are above).

Moving off of Main Street, like many I’m watching the construction of the four-story “Broadway Station” building at the corner of Broadway and Jefferson Street with interest. This building, too, will have a sizable amount of ground-floor retail (and, apparently, some additional space on the second floor). But what makes it particularly interesting is the tenant who has leased the office portion of the building: the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI for short), a company owned by founders Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. Although not a private foundation, it has been set up to support initiatives around the world that aim to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy.”

CZI was announced in late 2015, but the building that they hope to one day occupy — Broadway Station — won’t be ready for occupancy until 2019 at the earliest. (As you can see in the above picture, crews are just now forming the building’s third floor.) I hadn’t given much thought to where the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative might be until they moved into their new Redwood City digs, at least not until this week, when I walked by the recently completed building at 601 Marshall Street (across Marshall from the Bank of America) and saw this in the building’s secondary entrance at the corner of Marshall Street and Jefferson Avenue:

[click the image for a larger version]

It seems that The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is already up and running in Redwood City. I don’t know how large the company is at the moment or how much of the building at 601 Marshall Street they are currently leasing, but the sign affixed to the back wall of this lobby indicates that they now have a downtown Redwood City address. Presumably they will move from this building into Broadway Station once it is complete; my understanding is that CZI has already signed a lease for space in that building. The two are only one block apart, however, so if they do move at least it won’t be far.

Finally, while in the area I went by 603 Jefferson Avenue, the small one-story building at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Bradford Street that for a time was going to be replaced by a multi-story condominium building until a lawsuit made that building infeasible, financially. After the condominium project was officially shelved, the existing building, which had been used as a gym, was refurbished for office use:

Before it was occupied I speculated that perhaps a small tech firm would be moving in, and it turns out that I was right. Although there are no large signs on the building, one of the entrance doors (at the right end of the building in the above picture) displays the company name in small letters: UnifyID. UnifyID, which apparently had been based in San Francisco before moving to Redwood City, has developed smartphone software (for both iOS and Android) that authenticates users with, they claim, 99.999% accuracy.

The building at 603 Jefferson Avenue is not in an area where people typically walk, so it isn’t a problem having a tech company here instead of a retail establishment of some sort. I’m just glad to see that one or two (or three!) retail spaces may be coming online relatively soon along Main Street, bringing establishments that will lure more people to the area and thereby encouraging more landlords to restore their storefronts to retail use. Main Street has the potential to be as popular to nightlife-seekers as Broadway currently is in Redwood City, and I’m excited to see any activity that helps it move in that direction.

The Patch has put together a 2018 Halloween Event Guide that covers the entire peninsula, from San Francisco to San Jose. It lists several events in Redwood City, San Carlos and Woodside; if you are one who loves to celebrate Halloween, you might want to check out their list and see if any of the events appeal to you.

As a reminder, next week I’m hoping to write about some of the more interesting Halloween displays in Redwood City. If you know of any particularly memorable ones that are currently out there or that will be by Halloween, let me know by adding a comment to this post. I’m already aware that last year’s winner (in my book) for best display will apparently be making a reappearance (they already appear to be setting things up) at the corner of Whipple Avenue and Turnsworth Avenue, but given the size of Redwood City I just know that there are other notable displays out there. Do share…