Going, Going, Gone!

On August 28 our City Council spent the majority of their council meeting in a “Study session regarding retail and hotel opportunities for the Downtown Precise Plan Area”. I was unable to attend the meeting in person, but after watching it last week I must say the presentation and the subsequent discussion were fascinating. The city had hired MJB Consulting and Greensfelder Commercial Real Estate LLC to work together on an analysis of available opportunities for both retail and hotels in Redwood City’s downtown, and at the Council meeting representatives from those firms presented their findings. Somewhat regrettably, Mayor Seybert had to request that the presentation be cut short: it was running long, and he really wanted to allow sufficient time for Council discussion of the findings. In any case, the presentation that was given is worth watching for anyone interested in seeing our downtown become more than just restaurants, offices, and apartments. You can watch a recording of the meeting here. (To skip to the presentation and subsequent discussion, scroll down in the agenda displayed below the video window and click on item 9.)

The Council discussion following the presentation showed me that our City Council has a genuine interest in bringing more retail—and, if possible, a hotel or two—to the downtown core. But I was interested to see the consultants downplay the idea that simply bringing one popular brand-name store to the area (Anthropologie was mentioned) would be a “magic bullet” that would suddenly make other retailers flock to Redwood City. Such a store would be nice, of course, but the consultants urged the city to first develop a better understanding of the size and makeup of the customer base such a store requires, and to see how well that truly matches with our city’s demographics. And rather than focus on one particular store, they suggested that the city first decide just what kind of retail environment the city wants to create, and allow that vision to guide the effort to attract retailers. Do we want to have big-name stores, or would we rather have smaller independent retailers? And what does (or should) make us different from nearby communities when it comes to retail?

There was some good discussion around the desire to make use of our various historic resources for retail or hotels. I suspect that most residents would like to see our historic buildings preserved and used in those ways, rather than for offices, and the Council seemed to agree. But I noted that the Council made no mention of the Hotel Sequoia, a historic gem that sits at the heart of our downtown.

I’ve photographed the Sequoia many times, but it was only this week, when I was investigating a nearby project from which I could see the back side of the hotel, that I noticed something amusing about the large “Hotel” sign on the roof: from the back you can clearly see that at one time, below the word “Hotel”, it advertised a room rate of “$2.00”. I could also see that a metal plate had been placed over the numeral 2, so I endeavored to get a view of that part of the sign from the front. As you can see in the above picture, the trees and the edge of the hotel roof make a view of the entire sign a bit tricky. Nevertheless, I managed to get a fairly clear shot. If you look closely at the above (click the photo for a larger version that you can zoom into), you’ll see that the metal plate covering the numeral 2 has the numeral 3 painted on it. Apparently at some point the room rates were raised, and you could get a room for $3.00. I’m not sure how much rooms at the Hotel Sequoia go for these days, but I’m guessing that they’re more than $3.00!

Getting back to the discussion during the City Council meeting, amidst the somewhat tongue-in-cheek requests for an Anthropologie store there were some more serious requests for a bowling alley somewhere within Redwood City’s downtown. This struck me as somewhat ironic, given that over the last couple of years Redwood City has lost its bowling alley, its miniature golf and go-kart complex, its laser tag center (Q-ZAR) and now, its roller rink.

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend picking up the September 2017 issue of The Spectrum Magazine, a free print publication that is focused on Redwood City (and is available at numerous locations around the city). The Spectrum publishes some of my articles, but that isn’t why I’m recommending September’s issue. Instead, I suggest you read the cover article. It is a delightful reminiscence about the Redwood Roller Rink, which, after 65 years, is scheduled to close at the end of September.

Suzie Pollard, who along with her late husband Jim has owned and operated the rink for many years now, has at long last decided to retire, so at least the reason for the closing is a good one. A few years ago the Pollards sold the property to Butler Realty LLC, and since then they’ve been leasing the building from Butler. With its closing the rink site will be ripe for redevelopment, if Butler so chooses. And not just the property on which the rink sits: Butler also owns the self-service car wash property next door, and, according to the Spectrum article, the property just across Cedar Street that sits in line with the rink and the car wash. This third property contains a fenced-in lot that appears to be used by our local Ford dealership for storage of commercial vehicles, plus the old Perry Feed building:

Because the part of Cedar Street that separates the car wash property from the Perry Feed property dead-ends at the railroad tracks, and because that street section only serves those two properties, it is ripe for abandonment: Butler could request that this portion of Cedar be abandoned and sold to Butler. If they did that, Butler would then have a contiguous piece of property of roughly 2.3 acres in size that runs from the Main Street Dog Agility Park on one end to Chestnut Street on the other, fronting onto Main Street and backing up to the railroad tracks. As you might guess, such a parcel would be extremely desirable as a potential site for a large residential or office development. Whether Butler would choose to develop the parcel themselves, or whether they would pass it on to another developer such as Greystar, I don’t know, but I can’t imagine that this property will remain undeveloped for long.

Of course, Butler could find someone else to reopen the Redwood Roller Rink, but that seems unlikely. Just look at the fate of our former miniature golf and go-kart complex: Jay Paul Co., the owner of that property and others upon which they propose to build their enormous Harbor View Place office development, shut down each of the businesses on those properties just as soon as was practicable, even though the project at that time was years from even being considered by the city. Thus, we’ve had to watch the former entertainment site sit idle, when we could have instead  been enjoying Malibu’s many attractions.

Incidentally, if you don’t know Butler Realty, they along with sister company W. L. Butler Construction, are behind a number of projects throughout the city, including the renovation of the fire-damaged apartments at 926 Woodside Road (not to be confused with the stalled Hallmark House apartments) and the construction of Sequoia High’s newest gymnasium. The also are the folks building their own new headquarters building behind Broadway Cleaners, near the El Camino Real and Woodside Road intersection:

Getting back to the roller rink, if the site is indeed slated for development then we can add the rink to the list of entertainments that Redwood City used to have. It will fade into memory along with Malibu Golf and Games, Malibu Grand Prix, and, of course, Mel’s Bowl.

For those of you who are relatively new to Redwood City, we used to have the very thing that multiple City Council members expressed a desire for in their August 28 meeting: a great bowling alley. It was located on El Camino Real a couple of blocks south of Woodside Road. When Mel’s closed, it was torn down and replaced with an apartment complex that originally was named “The Lane on the Boulevard,” giving some credit to the site’s long-time use. Shortly after it was completed the apartment complex was sold, however, and today it is simply called “Oakwood Redwood City.” The only remaining evidence of the old bowling alley is a plaque on the side of the building, and the Mel’s Bowl sign, which was relocated to the car wash on El Camino just north of Whipple Avenue.

Sad to say, although Redwood City has a great movie theater and some great live theater options, when it comes to active, non-team-oriented pursuits the pickings are getting pretty slim. We can still go ice skating thanks to Nazareth Ice Oasis (at 3140 Bay Road). We have a few public tennis courts (mostly at Red Morton Park) and of course various sports fields, but when I think about two people going out on a date, other than dinner and a movie—and ice skating, if they are into that—what is there to do within the city limits? And unfortunately, the losses aren’t just happening within Redwood City. San Carlos lost their own bowling alley (San Carlos Bowl, also on El Camino Real) back in 1996, so for that one would have to go to San Mateo. As for miniature golf, the nearest course these days appears to be in Sunnyvale. Roller skating? I can’t find a single remaining roller rink on the peninsula.

Land is valuable, housing is tight, and I get that how we use certain properties will always change with the times. But when I hear City Council members asking for bowling alleys in a public meeting, I find myself wishing that they could have done something to keep us from losing the one we already had.

The City Council is planning to appoint a “stakeholder group” (a commission of interested parties, really) to provide some guidance on our vision for downtown retail and hotels. I would suggest that we create a parallel commission to consider what amenities Redwood City should have, city-wide. We’ve lost a lot of them over the years, but perhaps there is a way we can regain one or two. And for heaven’s sake, let’s make sure that we retain our ice rink, at least! I’m not aware that it is under any threat at this time—but let’s keep it that way. We certainly don’t want to have to go through what San Mateo did to preserve the ice rink at the Bridgepointe shopping center.

7 thoughts on “Going, Going, Gone!

  1. Pingback: Broadway Revue | Walking Redwood City

  2. Climate Magazine’s May 2016 issue had a good read about the rink and the roller derby teams there. Unfortunately Climate, as well as the rink, is no more. The last issue was literally the last issue. Sad. No one seemed to notice. I had a good time writing its history column. I will miss it. So should Redwood CIty.

  3. Thanks for the great article. The problem is that bowling or roller skates just don’t generate enough money these days compared to other development possibilities. There are so many other entertainment options, starting with what’s on your phone. As far as the date goes, Netflix and chill might be more palatable than the roller rink to modern sensibilities. Times change. I feel sad for my childhood fun as well, but there’s good with the bad.

  4. Hi Greg, Very thoughtful article. Thanks for doing that research for us all. Redwood City used to have another bowling alley, too. Redwood Bowl, up on the plaza, where Lucky is today. Too bad that developers don’t consider putting a bowling alley into one of the new buildings… there is a really slick one down in Cupertino, Bowlmor… it has fun lights, a bocce court, a stage– really an entertainment venue. That sort of thing would be attractive and modern.

  5. Greg, excellent column as always. You’re very informative and I appreciate this recent effort and some of the hard questions. Our City Council has succumbed to the seduction of market rate housing and office development with little regard for impacts, the loss of family activities and the quality of life that comes with it. It’s about time that our Council starts to ask some of the tough questions that come with unbridled developer-driven development. Sadly, there will be no 2017 election for residents to have their voices heard and it will be up to our existing pro-development Council to change their tune.

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