Too Close For Comfort?

Back when I was commuting to a “normal” job, I was almost guaranteed a daily two mile walk: the distance from our home to the Redwood City Caltrain station is just over one mile each way. Except on the rare day when I needed to drive to the office (or on the slightly less rare day when I worked from home), I began my work day with the walk to the train. It was a great way to start the day: not only was the physical exercise a great way to get my blood pumping, but it also gave me a nice quiet bit of morning where I could get my head around the day’s upcoming tasks.

Along the way I would also keep an eye on the occasional home remodel or yard project that was occurring on my route. Due to the Caltrain station’s proximity to downtown Redwood City, I was also able to monitor numerous downtown revitalization projects, including the construction of the Century Theater building on Middlefield (now Theater Way). Occasionally I would start my walk a bit early so that I could go beyond the train station and loop around whichever downtown project was then being constructed, before returning to catch my regular train. Projects like these added a small bit of excitement to my day, and I quickly came to miss them once I no longer had a regular commute. Fortunately, I have even more time now to follow the many changes going on throughout the city, and I can go at whatever time is most convenient for me, rather than having to tie my explorations to the Caltrain schedule.

The walking part of my commute took me past the main entrance to Sequoia High School, and down Broadway towards El Camino. Nowadays, as I walk that way there is something new on the horizon, literally:

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[click this or any other image to see an enlarged version]

In the left half of the picture you can just see the framing of the new building at 201 Marshall rising towards the sky. Given that this building—which is on the corner of Broadway and Marshall, just east of the tracks at the Broadway railroad crossing—is kitty-corner from the Caltrain station, it is one that I have been very interested in for some time. By the time I had been laid off, it was merely a hole in the ground, where there once was an old bank building (that for a time housed Summit Preparatory High School). Depending upon the depth, digging either signifies a foundation or an underground parking garage. In this case, it was the latter: the new 116-unit apartment building going up at 201 Marshall has three levels of parking, one below ground level and two aboveground.

With the usual construction fencing in place, keeping an eye on this project was a little tricky until it rose to the second story, above the height of the fence. But if you walked up to the fence and peeked through the gaps, as I occasionally did, you could see the forms and the concrete being poured for the lower-level garage.

This is a big project: it occupies nearly the entire block. Curiously, though, it has to share the block with the little three-story building on the corner of Marshall and Warren (at 401 Warren). I have to think that the developer made a mighty effort to purchase this building and thus build out the entire block, but presumably the current owner wouldn’t sell for a price that made economic sense. Thus, 201 Marshall, which will be the height of an 8-story building, will loom over and partially surround the little medical office at 401 Warren. And the two buildings will look nothing like each other.

Here is a rendering of what the new building is planned to look like, when viewed from where Broadway crosses the railroad tracks:

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I have heard some speculation on just how high this building is going to be. There is a simple answer to this question, and a more complicated one. The simple answer is that the building will rise to 85 feet above ground level (and will extend a little over 9 feet below ground). But how many stories is it? That turns out to be a tougher question to answer. Look at the above illustration and count the number of stories. What number do you get? Six? Seven? Eight? In fact, there are five levels of apartments: the four reddish levels plus the grey level on top, which, although it looks to be two levels, is really only one double-height level (with some interior lofting; I’ll get to that in a bit). The ground level, which is visibly taller than the four above it, is one tall story when viewed from the street, but is actually two levels of parking faced with three high-ceilinged “live/work” units (i.e., retail), a fitness center, and the building’s lobby. So, how many stories is that? It depends upon how you count…

Although the building looks like a rectangular block with a chunk taken out for the little building at 401 Warren, in fact once you get above the level of the garage the building is closer to being L-shaped. In the center, above the garage, is an open center courtyard accessible only to residents and their guests. There is also a small roof deck in the open area shown at the top center of the above rendering, high above the lobby entrance (styled by the architect to give a bit of a “tower effect”).

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The above photo shows the building as it appears from Warren Street. To the left is the small 401 Warren Street building, and in the center of the photo is the entrance to 401 Warren’s underground garage (the entrance to 201 Marshall’s garage is on Bradford). The dark area in the center of the photo, above the parking garage entrance is a temporary covering for the two above-ground floors of 201 Marshall’s garage. Above that—where the yellow fiberglass panels are visible—is the inner courtyard where residents will be able to barbecue and otherwise enjoy the outdoors in secluded comfort. Its a bit hard to see from this photo, but the courtyard extends to the left—behind the Warren Street building—and to the right, where it tucks in behind the portion of the Marshall St. apartment that fronts onto Warren Street.

Incidentally, in the above photo the two buildings appear to be similar heights, but they most definitely aren’t. The illusion is due both to the fact that in this picture the Marshall Street building hasn’t yet topped out, and to the angle by which I am taking the picture. The Marshall Street apartment building should be a good 50 feet or so taller than the Warren Street building.

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This photo, taken from across the tracks near Peet’s Coffee, shows the final height of the building (other than what will be needed for the flat roof that goes on top). The plywood and framing above the four floors clad in yellow mark the double-height top floor. From the inside, the portion of these top floor apartments against the windows have 20 foot ceilings; presumably this is the “living room” portion of the apartment. Away from the windows, over the entry door, these apartments have a loft (on the plan, these are referred to as “mezzanines,” which I believe is a fancy name for “loft”). To make this clearer, here is the floor plan for the top level:

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[click to enlarge]

If you look closely, you’ll see dotted rectangles around the apartment doors; these represent the lofted area overhead. Although these plans aren’t detailed enough to show stairs, I presume that the loft is intended as a sleeping area or den, and that there will be a stair inside the apartment providing access to the loft. Note that the floor plan I’m showing here applies to the top level only; the four levels below are similar in layout but are single-height and thus don’t include lofts.

201 Marshall is a fairly modern looking building. The exterior materials are a mix of plaster, metal, and tile. In the rendering I shared earlier, the white and red portions are plaster (colored, presumably). The grey marking the topmost level is painted vertical metal siding, while the tan bits helping to provide the tower effect on the building’s corner are colored tile. Although attractive, the building isn’t really in keeping with a lot of the current downtown Redwood City architecture. However, I’ve taken a peek at some of the other residential projects either in the works or in the planning stages and they are similarly modern. Thus, when all is said and done the overall look of Redwood City’s downtown will be a blend of the old and the new. Hopefully, it’ll be a harmonious blend.

In watching this building go up, I watched it begin with poured concrete columns, beams, and floors, as you would expect in a commercial building. However, once it hit the first residential floor, 22 feet above ground level, I was a bit surprised to see the builder switch to conventional wood framing for the remaining 63 feet. All of the living space in this building is conventional wood construction. Seeing wood construction on top of a concrete parking garage seems unusual to me, but that is probably common practice. Certainly, it is more cost-effective than constructing the entire building from concrete and steel.

One thing I’m very curious about is how well this building will be insulated for sound. For safety Caltrain blasts their horns every time a train gets to an intersection, and also whenever a train starts up from a stop. Given that this building sits at a major crossing (Broadway) and is kitty-corner from the Redwood City Caltrain station, southbound trains approaching the crossing and the station will be blasting their horns when the engine is right in front of 201 Marshall. And northbound trains will be blasting their horns when they leave the station, which again is at a time when the engine is sitting very close to this building. On each weekday, some 90 commuter trains will be honking their horns almost directly in front of this building. And that doesn’t account for the occasional freight train! So far I’m not seeing any special sound insulation going into the side of the building facing the tracks, but then again its still early in the process. One note (since my friend Rich has been wondering): the yellow panels that you can see in the photo taken from Peets are not insulating panels and are not there to mitigate sound. Rather, they are simply fiberglass mat gypsum panels that are being installed to provide a flat, stable surface for the plaster outer layer.

I would hope that the builder has taken the sound issue into account, and will be adding extra insulation for soundproofing purposes; especially on the west wall, which is close—almost too close—to the tracks. Once the building is complete I hope to take a tour and see for myself how much of a problem this really is. As long as the sound is not a big deal, this is an attractive building and the location is great: close to Sequoia Station (but not too close), very close to mass transit (the Caltrain station is also a SamTrans hub), and very close to Redwood City’s newly revitalized downtown. Although I personally am not in the market, I am sure that there will be a lot of interest in the apartments in this building. I’m just dying to know what they’ll be charging for rent…

One thought on “Too Close For Comfort?

  1. Pingback: Making Progress, Slowly | Walking Redwood City

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