Tunneling Through

Pour one out for the Ampex sign along Highway 101. I was told by one of my new colleagues at the San Mateo Daily Journal (I’ve begun writing a weekend Opinion column for them) that Stanford, who owns the property upon which the sign stands, is taking down the Ampex sign. I went by to check, and it does indeed appear to be true. I last wrote about the sign, and the company, back in early 2016, in my post From Trees to Tech. Ampex played a prominent part in Redwood City’s history as part of Silicon Valley (they moved their headquarters here in 1951, and remained until moving to Hayward in April 2016). In 2013 the Historic Resources Advisory Committee, in a recommendation to the Planning Commission, noted that it “believes [the Ampex sign and two other related resources] are historic resources of aesthetic, educational, cultural, and architectural significance to the citizens of Redwood City.” However, if I’m reading things correctly, the deal Stanford made for the property that contained Ampex’s headquarters included the right, given certain conditions, to take down the sign, and they’re apparently exercising that right. I don’t yet know if the sign will be scrapped, or whether it might appear somewhere else, but given its rather large size there is a good chance won’t be preserved. The sign appears to be coming down piecemeal, though, so there is hope. As of Friday, August 10, the letters had been removed from the sign, but the body of the sign and the posts still remain:

In case you were wondering, the letters have indeed been removed: apparently the background of the original sign was dark blue, but the sign has faded to a light blue—except where the letters used to be.

I recently noticed that the Wheeler Plaza development’s public parking garage has opened, even though the building surrounding it still has a year or so to go before completion. I was curious about what the garage looked like and had planned to just drive over there and park inside, but I then decided to also make a close inspection of the various new parking options between El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks in San Carlos, an inspection that would be better done on foot. Accordingly, (and more appropriately, given the theme of this blog) I didn’t drive through the garage but instead walked through it.

The Wheeler Plaza development, in case you need reminding, is the five-story mixed-use building that is being constructed on the old surface parking lot that occupied much of the block defined by San Carlos Avenue, Walnut Street, Cherry Street, and Laurel Street. The upper three floors of the building will contain 109 “luxury” for-sale condominiums, while the first two floors will contain the public parking garage and, along San Carlos Avenue, a handful of retail spaces. The building will have one level of underground parking as well, but that is separate from the public garage and will only be for use by the residents of the top three floors.

This project looms over downtown San Carlos. At five stories, this building will be taller than every building that surrounds it (including the four-story building across San Carlos Avenue where the SamTrans offices are located). For now, the two giant construction cranes that are being used to put the building together are visible from almost anywhere within the city.

In preparation for my walk, I took a good look at the design drawings submitted to the city as part of the project application. In doing so, I discovered something interesting about the design that I had not noticed before. If you can picture the retail spaces that will be along San Carlos Avenue, this building has a tunnel (they call it a “retail alley,” but it isn’t open to the sky) that runs behind those shops: the tunnel starts on Walnut Street and runs all the way to the alley that runs behind the stores along Laurel Street. When you come out of the tunnel and cross the alley, you find yourself standing in the temporary parking lot that is located where Foodville once stood. From that parking lot, here is what the Wheeler Plaza building looks like today:

Look closely at the above picture (click it for a version you can enlarge), below the right-hand red sign: that is the tunnel. Right now there are some temporary construction lights in there; otherwise it would be pretty dark.

At the moment this tunnel is open only on the parking lot end. The other end will eventually be open, but not until the entire building is complete. For now, the tunnel simply provides a pedestrian entrance into the public parking garage: just after entering the tunnel you can only make a left through a metal door (shown below) into the garage:

In the above picture, the retail spaces that will face San Carlos Avenue are along the right-hand wall. Each retail space will have a door that opens into this tunnel, although I don’t yet know whether these doors will be for use by the public, or if they will merely be back doors through which the shop employees take in stock, haul trash, and the like. Walnut Street is straight ahead, and the garage is behind the left-hand wall.

The public garage is a conventional two-level parking garage, with a single vehicular entrance and exit roughly in the center of the building on the Walnut Street side:

If you are on Walnut you may notice a second garage entrance near the right-hand end of the building (the end towards Cherry Street): this is the entrance to the underground residential garage. The two garages are completely separate, and it does not appear that members of the public can get into the residential garage, either in a vehicle or on foot. In any case, on foot you can either enter or exit the public garage through the tunnel—through which you’ll be able to get to Walnut Street, to Laurel Street, or to San Carlos Avenue—or through a doorway that lines up with the alley alongside the Wells Fargo Bank. This latter entrance is a great way to get to Laurel Street from the garage.

As for parking itself, the public garage has a total of 252 spaces spread across the two floors, which is about 65 more than the parking lot that originally stood here had. Most days we are limited to two hours of parking between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.; after 6 and on Sundays and holidays the two-hour limit will not be in force. And as is the case for all of San Carlos’s other public parking spaces, parking is free.

On the day I visited there were very few cars in the garage. This came as no surprise to me: I suspect that very few people are aware that the garage is already open and available to the public. Because the pedestrian exits currently only lead to Laurel Street, depending upon where you are going you may need to do some walking. The old parking lot made it easy to get to Walnut, San Carlos Avenue, Laurel, or Cherry. This new garage doesn’t have a pedestrian exit on the Cherry Street side, and to get to Walnut it appears you are supposed to use the tunnel (although many will probably just walk out the vehicular entrance). This will take a bit of getting used to, but I suspect that people will adjust.

I walked the entire block just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and I was glad I did: San Carlos has already put up a couple of signs directing motorists to the new garage. For instance, this one stands at the corner of Walnut and Cherry:

That about covers the garage itself, but I wanted to mention two related items. First, I believe that the city still hopes to convert the lot where Foodville once stood—where today there is a small temporary parking lot—into a park or public plaza. As you can see from my first picture, above, this will align nicely with the tunnel that leads into the Wheeler Plaza building. Thus, instead of coming out of the tunnel and having to cross an alley and then a parking lot in order to get to Laurel Street, you’ll instead cross that alley and walk through a park (or plaza). That should make for a much nicer experience than what you get today.

Secondly, about that alley. There has always been an alleyway along the rear of the Laurel Street shops; previously it was treated as one of the aisles of the parking lot. Now, with the Wheeler Plaza building in place, this has become a true alley. And that alley has been extended so that it now will emerge on San Carlos Avenue, after passing beneath an archway that supports a protruding portion of the Wheeler Plaza building:

That protruding part of the building is also still under construction; don’t expect the San Carlos Avenue end of the alley to be opened until the Wheeler Plaza building is complete.

For about 18 months now San Carlos residents and visitors have had to make do without the large parking lot in the center of the block defined by Laurel Street, San Carlos Avenue, Walnut Street, and Cherry Street. The city arranged temporary parking elsewhere, but it was not nearly as convenient as this popular parking lot once was. At long last, however, the true replacement for that parking lot is in place and open for business. For those of us who parked in that lot, and for anyone new who needs to park within a couple of blocks of the intersection of Laurel and San Carlos Avenue, I suggest that you give this new parking garage a try. The ongoing construction means that it still has a few minor inconveniences, but the large number of spaces in the well-lit garage make this an attractive option, even while the rest of the building remains under construction.

Shakespeare in the Park kicks off this Saturday, August 11 at 7 p.m., with a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show will be presented on the Sequoia High School campus, on the partially forested lawn at the corner of El Camino Real and Broadway. The 2-1/2 hour show is completely free: just bring a blanket or lawn chair (they also recommend bringing a flashlight to simplify things when leaving). Bring food if you like, but leave your dogs at home: they are not allowed.

If you cannot make it to this Saturday’s performance, there are several other opportunities. The play will be presented on three consecutive Saturdays: August 11, 18, and 25, all at 7 p.m.; and on three consecutive Sundays: August 12, 19, and 26, all at 4 p.m.

I can speak from experience: Shakespeare in the Park at Sequoia High is a fantastic way to see a high-quality Shakespeare production—and did I mention that it is completely free?

2 thoughts on “Tunneling Through

  1. Greg,
    Do you have information or previous posts on the rationale/plans for the chain link parking lots running south on the east side of El Camino from the San Carlos CalTrain Station?
    It’s hard to imaging parking there and safely crossing El Camino to get to Trader Joe’s or Walgreens without a cross walk / traffic light.
    Thanks and keep up the good work … your articles are always of interest.

    • Great minds think alike! I spent a number of hours over there about two weeks ago, and I plan to ask around at San Carlos City Hall (and possibly at Caltrain), after which I’ll write up an article on those chain link fenced areas. Keep an eye out for it!

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