Great Expectations

Happy New Year! Its hard to believe that 2014 is over and done with: it really seemed to zip by. Mother Nature provided some drama to finish out the year, but fortunately it seems as if most of Redwood City came through the heavy rains and winds pretty much unscathed. I did closely follow the reports of flooding in our bayside mobile home parks: those folks seem to have borne the brunt of our weather-related problems. Hopefully they’ve all recovered by now. I also wondered how our downtown tower cranes would handle the high winds, but they seem to have survived just fine.

Looking forward, it appears that the growth pattern that Redwood City exhibited over the past year or two will continue unabated. Not only will the projects currently underway continue, but you can expect new projects to break ground throughout 2015. And when they do, I’ll be here, letting you know what is going on. Incidentally, KQED radio recently did a story on how Redwood City is changing due to the influx of large technology companies such as Box and Google. You can read or listen to the story on their website.

Over the holiday I did a lot of thinking about the future of this blog. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done so far, but have concluded that I need to up my game somewhat. While I’m generally pleased with the content of my posts, I must admit that they have been both less regular and less frequent than I would like. Since my first blog post back in September of 2013, I’ve published a total of 35 posts; on average, about one post every two weeks. Although I intended to publish more often, because this blog is just me—with no editor and no one pushing me to meet a deadline—it has been easy for me to get lax. This year, however, I’m going to do something I rarely ever do: make a New Year’s resolution. And my resolution is to publish at least one new post every week. I’m going to aim for Friday, so that I have a clear deadline to meet. While that deadline is still self-imposed, and thus could still be missed, I’m going to try hard to keep to it. My posts may be a bit shorter than they have been (which might be a good thing!), but hopefully they’ll be a lot more regular and more timely. As well, I plan to do a bit of work on the website to make it easier to find old posts, and to find all the posts on a given subject. More on that as it happens.

Last Friday my wife Nancy and I decided to take a little lunchtime outing, so we hopped in the car and headed downtown to enjoy some of what makes Redwood City so special. I knew we were off to a good start when, as I approached Courthouse Square, I saw an open parking space on Hamilton, up against the square. I then had to pay, of course. Redwood City’s high-tech “pay by space” system has at least one parking meter on every block: you enter the number of your parking space, and then pay for as much time as you need. Most of the meters are brown, but every fourth meter or so is green. The brown meters accept both coins and credit cards, while the green meters accept coins, credit cards, and paper money. Because I had a couple of singles, I looked around for a green meter. Not seeing one nearby, we headed off down Broadway: I knew that there is a green one on Broadway across the street from the Century Theater building. Unfortunately, that meter didn’t seem to be accepting bills that day. Not wanting to spend any more time on this, I simply inserted a credit card and bought three hours worth of parking.


That chore done, we continued down Broadway past Jefferson to where cars can enter the Marshall Street parking garage. On the far corner was our first destination: the restaurant “Downtown.” Downtown occupies that space that, from 1995 to 2008, was MiMe’s Cafe (prior to that, it had been a See’s candy store). Serving California cuisine in a bright, airy space, the friendly staff has always been eager to please. Early on the restaurant had a fairly limited menu, but that has most definitely changed. If you haven’t been to this restaurant in a long time—or if you have never been—do give it a try. Downtown serves quality food for reasonable prices. And for now, while it remains relatively undiscovered, you’ll have a good chance of getting a nice window table, as we did that Friday.


Because it was lunch, we kept things light: Nancy had the “Gorgonzola & Red Wine Poach Pear Salad” (full order) while I had a bowl of their French Onion Soup and a half order of Downtown’s “Roasted Beets Salad”. Everything was delicious. And on that cold and clear day (the high was 50 degrees), we luxuriated in the warming rays of the sun streaming in through the restaurant’s large, clear windows.

After lunch we strolled back up Broadway to Courthouse Square. Although I had been to the San Mateo County History Museum relatively recently (and reported on it in my post Buried Treasure), my wife had not, so we decided to pay them a visit. I had forgotten that the museum is free on the first Friday of every month, and by coincidence the day we were there was indeed the first Friday. Although I would have happily paid the price of admission—a very reasonable $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, and free for children 5 and under—I won’t say no to free…

On our way to the museum we passed by a small project I’ve been watching and reporting on for some time now: the little two-story commercial building at 2114 Broadway.


This project sits between the Dragon Theatre and the Bank of America parking lot, directly across the street from the Old Spaghetti Factory. It is divided into two separate spaces: 1750 square feet of retail on the ground floor and 8800 square feet of office space above. I had noticed some sort of logo on the glass doors to the right (which serve as the entrance to the upstairs office space) and wanted to take a closer look. Here is what we saw:


Shazam! Yes, the company that enables your iPhone or Android-powered smartphone to identify a song simply by listening to a brief clip is coming to Redwood City. Indeed, the corporate website for Shazam Entertainment Limited lists their office locations, and it is an impressive list: London, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Sydney, Detroit, San Diego; and now, Redwood City. While ours is likely to be one of their smaller offices, it seems to be the only one in the Silicon Valley. And given the prominence of Shazam in the music world, the fact that they chose little ‘ol Redwood City for their Silicon Valley office shows that Redwood City is being taken seriously out there.

As for the downstairs portion of this building, one reader had suggested that this might become a Starbucks, and although there is nothing yet to indicate exactly who is moving in to that space, judging by how the interior is being built out it very well could be a Starbucks, or a Peet’s, or some other such establishment. We should know the answer very soon, however, as the interior is coming together very quickly.


Onwards to the museum. We had a great time exploring the displays illustrating the history of the area. I particularly like the Journey to Work exhibit, which explores the history of transportation within the county, from stagecoaches to Caltrain and BART. We hopped into one of the stagecoaches (yes, you are allowed to) and marveled at how people must have been packed in like sardines. People rightly complain about the conditions on Caltrain these days, but check out that stagecoach and imagine what it would have been like with a full load: twelve passengers on three narrow bench seats. Now that is what I call crowded!

Other exhibits cover the life of the first peoples to occupy the area, the evolution of the suburban lifestyle, and the immigrant experience within the county. Of course, there is also the requisite exhibit on high-tech pioneers who lived and worked in San Mateo County. All were great, but we particularly enjoyed the immigrant experience exhibit. Thanks to the museum I can honestly say that I now know a lot more about the Basques than I did previously!

On a sunny day, as Friday was, the highlight (literally!) of any trip to the San Mateo County History Museum is the gorgeous stained glass dome. We lingered in the central hall for some time, looking up at the dome and admiring the way that the colored light played on the floor and walls of the hall. I’ve been in that hall in the evening, and there is just no comparison with how things look on an early sunny afternoon. That alone might be worth the trip!

Although somewhat sparse, no visit to the museum is complete without checking out Courtroom A. Apparently, back in 1910 this was the only courtroom in the entire county. I love that you can sit in the jury box, the witness box, or even the Judge’s seat. Pictures on the walls give some idea of the kinds of people who presided over trials there. Those, along with the period furnishings give you a real feel for what it might be like to participate in a real trial. And the courtroom has its own stained glass ceiling. They sure don’t make courtrooms like this one any more.

Although the museum does have some changing exhibits, I do wish that they could change a bit more frequently. As it is, unless there is a special event that calls me there, I can’t see going more than two or three times a year. Except for the gift shop—I do plan to drop in there more frequently just to see if they have any new and interesting historical resources for sale. As it was, after exploring the museum my wife and I did spend some time in the shop, and I was delighted to be able to pick up a copy of Sawmills in the Redwoods: Logging on the San Francisco Peninsula, 1849-1967, by Frank M Stanger. I’ve been reading a copy loaned to me by a friend, and I’m glad to now have my own.

After the museum we headed back down Broadway for our last, and final stop on our Friday afternoon outing: Cafe Zoë. Cafe Zoë is squeezed between the Russian Family Restaurant and the Retreat Salon, across Broadway from Powerhouse Gym:


Much to my wife’s dismay, I am not a coffee drinker. She is, however, and Cafe Zoë is one of her current favorites. In addition to coffee and a range of other hot and iced drinks, Cafe Zoë serves some breakfast items plus a range of salads, sandwiches, and Paninis for lunch (their menu is here). Having had lunch not too long before, we stopped in so Nancy could have an afternoon coffee. We were delighted to see that the couch and soft chairs toward the front of the restaurant were available: I promptly plopped myself down while she went to order. I amused myself by checking out the latest in high-tech ordering that seems to be coming to the Bay Area: sitting on each of the tables at Cafe Zoë is a small plexiglas box containing a small printed circuit board. These little gizmos are from a company called Downtown (yes, we went downtown, ate at a restaurant called Downtown, and I now found myself examining an electronic gadget from a company called Downtown!). They contain iBeacons that allow your iPhone to determine no only which restaurant you are in, but at which table you are sitting. Using Downtown’s app, you can order and pay for anything from Cafe Zoë’s menu right from your seat, without having to stand in line or even approach the counter. We’ll see if this catches on—so far the app only works in a handful of restaurants in Palo Alto, one in Menlo Park, and Cafe Zoë in Redwood City—but it is an interesting idea. Of course, you don’t have to use the app if you don’t want to: indeed, my wife had no trouble getting her latte the old fashioned way, while I waited. And then we sat there, comfortably, while she enjoyed it.

That was it for our little outing. January 2nd was a pretty quiet day in downtown Redwood City, which made for a delightful afternoon. Not having to fight any crowds, either in the restaurants, on the sidewalks, or in the History Museum, was a nice bonus. While I would very much like to see the Bay Area get more rain, there is little we can do about that (besides saving water, of course!). Instead, we might as well get out and enjoy the sunny days that California is famous for. Although we don’t all have the luxury of being able to do  so on a weekday like my wife and I just did, there is the occasional holiday, and of course you can expect most restaurants and shops (and the museum!) to be open on weekends. Might I suggest that you spend some time one of these fine weekends exploring our downtown? Our downtown is transforming from a place most of us paid little attention to into a place that is actually worth spending some real time in. Its one of the things that makes Redwood City such a great place to live in. And hopefully it’ll get even better over the new year. Here’s to 2015!


4 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. Great Posts. I’m looking forward to listening to the KQED clip. Cafe Zoe is a great addition to our downtown. Their coffee is quite good and I really like the atmosphere. They have quite the following at their Willows location in MP, hopefully they can establish a similiar following here. I’m not 100% positive but I’m pretty sure the Shazam US HQ used to be on Oak Groove in downtown Menlo Park. Actually it could still be there but given that a MP location is not listed on their website I’m going to assume it’s not. I take it as a good sign that a well regarded company wanted to move from Menlo Park to Redwood City. I used to work on Oak Grove…DT Redwood City is a far more exciting location, especially if they’re looking to attract young talent.

    It looks like Turn is vacating their building at 808 Winslow, I’m guessing Banji next door is expanding into the old Turn space. This was a couple weeks ago, it may have already happened. No idea what either company does though I do remember reading somewhere that Turn was looking to consolidate their offices. Assuming all goes as planed they’ll have plenty of office space to chose from soon. I checked on the permit for 701 El Camino, looks like at least part of the building will be occupied by an attorneys office.

    I’m still not sure on the Starbucks at 2114 Broadway. It certainly does appear something of that nature is going in. A permit was submitted on 11/23/13 for tenant improvements for a Starbucks but the status is listed as canceled. Personally I hope it’s something other than a Starbucks…actually something other than coffee would be nice given we now have a fair assortment of choices including the soon to open Borrone spot. I do like the idea of street side seating at that location though, it would add some nice interest. Assuming all the proposed office buildings get built we’ll probably land a Philz Coffee at some point given it’s popularity with the tech crowd and Philz stated desire to expand. I think DT Redwood City is going to start attracting a similiar crowd as DT Mountain View. Now that Mountain View is only slightly less expansive than Palo Alto I’m hoping Redwood City becomes the new spot for local restaurants to expand. We already have lots of good options but with all the new people soon to be living in downtown a few more options wouldn’t hurt!

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