Remember the Main (Street)!

Group Walk update: I haven’t forgotten about the group walk! Once our rainy weather is mostly behind us—and we seem to be just about there—I’ll select a date and time and will announce it at least two weeks in advance, in this blog. I will include the details prominently in at least two consecutive posts to ensure that as many of you who want to join in get the message. Stay tuned!

I have always been interested in street names. I wonder about their origins, and puzzle over names that don’t quite fit. In particular, “Main” Street is often not the most important street in town—as is the case these days in Redwood City. At one time it apparently was Redwood City’s true main street, but for many years now Broadway seems to have assumed that responsibility. Even though it isn’t our “main” street, Redwood City’s Main Street still has a lot to offer, and interest—from developers and from the City Council—has recently shifted to it. Perhaps one day soon the street will regain its proper place among Redwood City’s principal thoroughfares.

Back in 2002 our Historic Resources Advisory Committee and the Redwood City Planning Commission created the Main Street Historic District, including within it a number of buildings along that street. For instance, the old Alhambra Theater/Masonic Lodge Temple, which was built in 1895/1896, was included. Today that building is the home of Martin’s West Gastropub, downstairs, while Turn (an “advertising technology” company) has offices upstairs. Also included was the neighboring IOOF Building, which was built in 1882. Today that building is best known as the home of Ralph’s Vacuum and Sewing Center. Both of these buildings are in beautiful shape, and look just like what you’d expect to find in a Historic District.

Next door to the IOOF Building is another building that is part of the Historic District. This rather unassuming single-story building has three storefronts currently housing La Victoria Taqueria, Palermo Street Food (an Italian restaurant), and D. Tequila Lounge (a bar and restaurant serving Italian food):

Although the building doesn’t look like much, it was built in 1922 on the site of the old Pioneer Stables to house the Clifton Motor Company, a Chevrolet dealership. The building is special because it is an excellent example of a commercial building that still has its original shop fronts. Originally all one business, in 1929 the building was divided into the three storefronts that we see today. At that time one storefront housed the Fowler-Nash Motor Company and one was a furniture store, while the third sat empty.

At last Monday’s (March 14) City Council meeting one of the partners from The Acclaim Companies appeared before the City Council to present a development proposal for the site. Acclaim would like to take over this building, plus the non-historic one to the South (that houses Donna Salon, a nail salon and hair stylist, and, until recently, New Chin’s Restaurant—a Chinese and Vietnamese eatery) and construct an office building that would include roughly 7,000 square feet of retail in the restored historic space. The remainder of the office would sit behind and above the historic building, as well as beside it, consuming the non-historic next-door space and extending all the way back to Walnut Street, where the entrance to the building’s underground garage would be located.

The presentation was not aimed at project approval; its purpose was to formally introduce the project and to receive feedback from both the Council and the community, as well as to propose raising the caps on office space specified in the Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) and the city’s General Plan. Because the DTPP (and the General Plan) placed limits on the amount of office space that can be built in the downtown area, and because those limits have already been met by a handful of other projects, projects like this cannot be built until those caps are raised. Which the City Council declined to do at this time, citing among other things the need for a comprehensive traffic survey to be completed first. This survey will help the city better understand the impact of the various projects that have been, and are being, built under the DTPP.

More than one council member expressed regret that this project didn’t make it in under the existing caps, noting that the project’s design was exactly the kind of thing that they were looking for in our downtown area. And the 200+ parking spaces in the new building’s garage—spaces that would be available on nights and weekends to patrons of downtown Redwood City businesses—would sure be nice to have. But taking the time to understand the ramifications of constructing yet another new building in our downtown does make sense. It’ll be interesting to see what actions the City Council takes once the traffic study has been completed, and whether Acclaim will be willing to wait.

Incidentally, The Acclaim Companies developed the housing project located at 488 Winslow Street (at the corner of Winslow and Brewster Avenue). That project was formerly called The Palacio, but now that it is ready for leasing it has been given its final name: “Locale.” For more information you can check out their website, or you can drop by their temporary leasing office, which is in the old New Chin’s spot, right next door to the historic Clifton Motors building:

Just down Main, and around the corner on Stambaugh Street, is another historic building.  This one is just crying out for revitalization:

No one is proposing anything for this site; indeed, it has been sitting empty for years, slowly deteriorating all the while. Numerous people have taken pictures of it (it’s rather picturesque, isn’t it?) and just about all of them identify it as the “Holmquist Hardware” building. But I did some research and learned that this building wasn’t actually the hardware store. Instead, for nearly all of its operation the hardware store was just across the street, at the corner of Stambaugh and Main. Here, in fact:

While I couldn’t find a picture of the old building that I had the rights to share, I did find one in a book that I can point you to: the lower photo on page 15 of Redwood City (Images of America: California) shows a picture of the old Bell Theater (where Angelica’s stands today) and, to its immediate right, the Holmquist Hardware building at 875 Main Street. Not in that photo is the little brick building that still stands today; it was the Holmquist Hardware machine shop.

Rudolph Holmquist established his hardware store back in 1895 and operated it for some 45 years, when he passed the business on to his son, H. E.  “Rowdy” Holmquist. Rowdy operated the business until 1954, when a fire broke out which destroyed most of the building’s interior. Some two years later, having torn down the original building (along with the Holmquist residence which had been located behind it, at Stambaugh and Walnut), Rowdy Holmquist constructed a new building—the one that today houses Savers—and reopened for business. However, he was apparently unable to survive the recession of 1958. Holmquist continued to do some business out of the small machine shop for a couple more years, but closed for good in the early sixties.

The machine shop is a small building (the lot on which it stands is only about 2,000 square feet). Unfortunately the building at 909 Main that today houses The Patty Shack extends behind the shop, meaning that the historic building cannot be expanded to either the sides or the rear. As well, it is an unreinforced masonry building, and has a history of asbestos, meaning that rehabilitating the structure and making it safe for occupancy would be a non-trivial affair. Finally, it is a historic building, meaning that much of the building would have to be preserved. All of which likely accounts for the fact that it continues to just sit there, unoccupied.

Switching back to the City Council meeting for a moment, the historic Clifton Motor Company building revitalization wasn’t the only development project with which the Council was presented. That project was paired with another in a single agenda item titled “Study Session for Consideration of Proposed Development Requiring General Plan,  Zoning Code and/or Downtown Precise Plan Amendments.” The other project was this one, on the site where our former Century Park 12 theaters still sit, at 557 East Bayshore Road. Today this property is nothing more than a car storage lot being used by various automobile dealerships. But the developer envisions some 550 apartments in four L-shaped buildings plus a 100,000 square-foot sports club. I wrote about this project in my post A New Century so I won’t go into it again here. But here, too, the developer was looking for both feedback from the Council and from the community, and was hoping that the City Council would consider amendments to the General Plan and to the Zoning Map needed to make the project possible. And once again the City Council declined to make the amendments, again indicating that they would like to see the results of the city-wide traffic survey before considering a project of such magnitude.

Redwood City’s Main Street is slowly regaining some of its former glory: today it boasts some of our best restaurants (Martin’s West, Angelica’s, Aly’s on Main, The Striped Pig) and some really great merchants (including Ralph’s Vacuum and Sewing and Gambrel & Co. meat market).  Soon the City Council will be considering an ordinance to preserve and encourage more retail on Main Street, which will only accelerate the process. Whether or not Main Street will experience the crowds that Broadway does today, I’m looking forward to seeing Main Street be once again worthy of the name.

Earlier on during Monday’s meeting the City Council selected a new member of the Planning Commission to fill the vacancy left by Janet Borgens (who is now on the City Council). I was pleased to watch the Council elect a long-time friend of mine, Rick Hunter, to the post. His new position opens up a slot on the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission. But that is not the only open commission slot: the Council announced that there are currently some twenty open seats on various boards, commissions, or committees. The drive to fill those seats will be done in two phases: recruitment for one set of commissions is open now and will run through April 20, 2016, while the other set will open on April 27 and run through June 1. All interested residents of Redwood City are encouraged to apply! For the list of open seats and details on the recruitment dates, see the city’s press release. Note that there will be two open houses to provide information for people who are interested but are not yet sure that they want to apply.

11 thoughts on “Remember the Main (Street)!

  1. Pingback: Undercover | Walking Redwood City

  2. In the late 1970’s, I got to know an old fellow in the refrigeration business who finally retired…a few times. Before the last time, he worked with or for Thomas Holmquist, a grandson, in the Modesto area, IIRC. I did some machining for Tom through that old friend, and may still have a phone number for Thomas in my file.

    • I’m planning to be there! I’ve been waiting for this one to come up on a City Council meeting agenda, and as you note, now it has. Thanks for the reminder, though!

  3. I have an Arizona address for Barbara Holmquist Weymouth if anyone wants to asked her questions about the building or the family. I don’t know if she will answer questions but it’s worth a try. We were in the same class at Sequoia.

  4. Great post, I always wondered why that lovely old brick building hasn’t been snapped up. It certainly could be a very cool space, albeit a small(er) one.

    • Yep, I’ve been fantasizing about doing something with that building for a long time, along with others, I suspect! But I’m no developer, so I’ll leave that to others.

    • I have no idea about the nickname. As for the machine shop, that is confirmed by multiple people, including one of Rudolph Carl Holmquist’s great-granddaughters, and by someone who worked for Rowdy in the late 1950’s.

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