Piling On

To me it seems like it was only yesterday, but it was actually back in 2014 that I wrote my post Cranes Flock to Redwood City. That post was about the “flock” of tower cranes (and other types of cranes) being used to construct a number of buildings in Redwood City. Back then, the buildings under construction were the Crossing 900 (“Box”) buildings, The Marston by Windsor, Indigo Redwood City, the Maple Street Correctional Center, 24-Hour Fitness (on Broadway, below Woodside Road), Franklin 299, and 201 Marshall. It was quite an impressive list, and the purpose of that post was both to talk about the use of tower cranes in high-rise construction and to give the reader some idea of the overall magnitude of the changes that Redwood City was experiencing at that time.

Five years later, the pace of construction seems to have hardly let up. Although we only have two tower cranes gracing our skyline at the moment, we now seem to have a glut of other construction devices; primarily, pile drivers and pier drills. Both seem to serve a similar purpose, which is to establish a deep foundation upon which a building or a bridge can then be constructed. Pile foundations consist of long, slender columnar elements, either reinforced concrete, steel, or, occasionally, timber. Piers, on the other hand, are large-diameter cylindrical columns, typically masonry or concrete. Pile foundations extend to a great depth, whereas pier foundations are much shallower. Which to use for a given construction project (or for part of a project; some projects employ both) is determined by a number of geologic factors. But both are a key element in the foundations of the various buildings we see going up in Redwood City.

Installing piers and piles involves either a pile driver, which hammers the pile home, or a huge drill which creates a hole into which piers and some piles can be inserted. This week I visited a number of construction sites around Redwood City, and many had pile driving equipment or pier drills either working or ready to start. Because this equipment is used to create the building’s foundation, it is employed early in the process, just after any site demolition and grading or excavation has taken place. Contrast this with the tower cranes I talked about back in 2014: back then, the many projects I mentioned in that blog post were all well along in the construction process. Most of the projects I paid a visit to this week are just getting started.

First up is the new parking garage that San Mateo County is constructing on the site of the jury member parking lot, at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Middlefield Road:

Here you can clearly see the large drill (in white) that will be used to create holes in the earth needed for the future garage’s foundation, which will be made up of aggregate piers. This will be a significant project: a seven-level, 1022-space parking garage. It will augment, and not replace, the existing garage that sits adjacent (I took the above picture from the top of the existing parking garage). Together the two garages will boast just over 2,000 parking spaces for the use of county employees, jurors, and anyone having business at the county’s Government Center. This project in total will take about a year and a half to complete, and should wrap up in the first quarter of the year 2021.

Some of the people parking in this new garage will be those working in the new County Office Building #3 (or COB3; catchy name, isn’t it?). This new building is also being constructed on the county’s property, at the corner of Marshall Street and Middlefield Road. It appears that the contractors here are also using drilling equipment to establish this building’s foundation:

The COB3 building will be five stories tall, although it has been architected as four curving floors of offices standing on six sculpted concrete piers. This will leave the ground level beneath the building largely open and available for other uses. That space beneath the building will consist of a large open plaza and a couple of enclosed pavilions, one of which will hold the chambers for the County Board of Supervisors. Some 600 people are expected to work in this 160,000 square foot building.

On a much smaller scale, the contractor for the six-story office building being constructed at the corner of Walnut and Bradford streets has a number of drills on site, all of which are presumably helping to establish the foundation that will sit beneath the building’s one underground parking level:

Similarly, there are a couple of drills positioned on the site of the future 3-story office building slated for 1180 Main Street.

This is the building that is going up on the oddly shaped parcel across Elm Street from the Main & Elm restaurant; it is also behind the Hopkins Acura dealership. In the above picture you can see the concrete channel holding Redwood Creek. This creek will be a prominent feature of the grounds in front of the new building: it will be spanned by a new pedestrian bridge which will use the concrete footing along the creek edge that you should just be able to just make out in the above picture.

Finally, although not being used to construct a building, I spent some time watching piles being installed that will presumably help hold back the soil beneath Highway 101 for the Highway 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing Project. Unlike with the above projects, the contractor here isn’t using a drill. Instead, they are driving the piles using a hydraulic pile driver — a giant hammer, essentially:

In the above picture, the large yellow piece of equipment is the pile driver, with the black vertical mechanism at the end of the machine’s “arm” being the hammer mechanism. Behind it you can just make out the piles themselves, which are lengths of steel pipe that are hammered into the ground. When a pipe section is sufficiently deep, another section is welded onto it and then the hammering continues. This allows the pile to be driven to a great depth. I don’t know how deep these piles will ultimately go, but I’ll just note that there are depth markings painted on those piles, markings that go above 65 feet. I don’t know if there are additional sections, or how much of the pile (if any) will extend above ground level, but either way, these piles are being driven through the soft soil on the banks of Redwood Creek, presumably down to the solid bedrock below.

That’s five projects (four buildings) that are just getting their foundations started. But we of course have a couple of other projects that are much further along, two of which are using tower cranes. The most prominent of those is the eight-story (over a multi-level subterranean garage) apartment building being constructed at 1409 El Camino Real:

As you can see, they have poured concrete for the building’s first three floors, and are building the structure for the fourth. Unlike some of the residential buildings that have gone up (or are going up) in Redwood City, it appears that concrete, not wood, will be used for the majority of the building’s structure. This has real advantages in that it makes the building very quiet. In a building such as this, it is very hard to hear your neighbors. In particular, you typically hear very little of the people stomping around on the floor above you when compared with a wood-framed building. For background, the Indigo and Marston luxury apartment buildings were built with a solid concrete structure, whereas the apartment building at 201 Marshall Street (the orange building at the corner of Marshall and the Caltrain tracks) and the former Elan Redwood City (now The Cardinal Apartments) building at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Franklin Street both use wood framing for the residential floors, on top of a couple of levels of parking garage, constructed from concrete.

The other tower crane is located at the senior housing development being constructed at 707 Bradford Street:

This is going to be a seven-story building, in which the first two stories (visible in the above photograph) will primarily contain the building’s two-level parking garage and its daycare center. The parking garage is of course being built out of concrete, but I’m betting that the upper five floors, where the residents live, will be entirely wood-framed.

Just to round out the list of major buildings under construction in Redwood City right now, I should mention the two other buildings going up on Main Street. 851 Main Street (next to Angelicas) is now going up extremely rapidly. With the two-level underground parking structure complete, the rest of the building’s structure, which appears to be entirely made of steel, is just a matter of bolting and welding the pre-formed steel girders together — and that goes very rapidly:

As you can see they are using a crane to lift the steel girders into place. This building is only going to be four stories tall (and in fact the building has already reached its ultimate height), so an expensive tower crane is not necessary.

Down the street, the former Young’s Auto Parts building, at 929 Main Street, has been completely hollowed out and a new steel skeleton has been installed to both help support the walls of the historic building and to provide support for the second story, which as you can see has yet to be installed:

[click the image for a version you can zoom in on]

The above photograph was taken from the rear, from Walnut Street. The building’s facade, on Main Street, is almost entirely covered up, making it difficult to observe the progress of construction.

That’s it for the large construction projects in and around downtown Redwood City, but as you can see, that’s quite a lot. I count eight residential or office buildings under construction right now (plus the freeway underpass), most of which are really just getting started. And that doesn’t count the handful of townhouse projects that are going on elsewhere in the city, nor does it count the number of large projects that are either approved or proposed — including the gigantic mixed-used project that is underway on the former site of the Broadway Plaza shopping center. That site is undergoing soil testing and remediation; actual construction of that project’s three large office and three large residential buildings should commence sometime next year.

Redwood City may not have a lot of tower cranes filling our skies at the moment, but don’t let that fool you: Redwood City’s transformation continues unabated, with no real end in sight. For now we’ve traded those cranes for pier drills and pile drivers, but rest assured — if that’s the right word — the cranes will be back, and soon.


It is billed as the “Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s 2nd Annual Family Holiday Light Show,” although in fact it might just be one man’s desire to put on an over-the-top light show gone amok. Regardless of its origin, the nightly light-and-music show that can be found along Valota Road both in Red Morton Park and on a house across the street appears to be worth a visit if that kind of thing helps you get into the holiday spirit. The 15-20 minute show runs each night through December 31, and kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. Expect crowds: as word has spread, this thing has gotten extremely popular. I was over that way during the daytime, and got just a glimpse of what is involved:

Yes, that appears to be a lighted tunnel through which you can walk, behind a giant star-topped Christmas tree made entirely from lights (LEDs, presumably). You probably can’t tell, but the trees on either side are covered in lights as well, as is the house behind me as I took the above photograph. For those wanting to visit, the nearest parking is in the Armory parking lot off Valota Road, but I expect that’ll fill up quickly. If you can’t find nearby street parking, try the parking lot by the Veterans Memorial Senior Center, off Madison Avenue, or the Community Activities Building’s parking lot at 1400 Roosevelt Avenue.


Because this is my last blog post before Christmas, allow me to leave you with this year’s bit of holiday whimsy. Walking back home from Red Morton Park, I passed this little guy, at the corner of James Avenue and Nevada Street:

Merry Christmas!

11 thoughts on “Piling On

  1. Today I noticed inflatable menorah and dreidel at a house on Topaz, a first for me.
    Also wondering what’s happening with all those Thomas James houses sitting empty and idle in the neighborhood. One thing to buy them to redurbish, but having them sit with no residents or improvements doesn’t make sense to me
    Finally, any chance of a shout-out for Ron Gariffo Orchestra gig at Angelica’s on 1/12/20 7-9 pm?

    • >Today I noticed inflatable menorah and dreidel at a house on Topaz, a first for me.

      I haven’t seen that one yet. I’ll have to look for it.

      > Also wondering what’s happening with all those Thomas James houses sitting empty and idle in the neighborhood. One thing to buy them to refurbish, but having them sit with no residents or improvements doesn’t make sense to me

      I agree; it seems weird that they put up the construction fences so quickly, before they even obtained city approval (something that in some cases they are having trouble doing, considering the size of some of the houses that they are proposing). With so many of them around the city, and with their name so prominently on them, I would think that they aren’t getting the goodwill that they were hoping for.

      > Finally, any chance of a shout-out for Ron Gariffo Orchestra gig at Angelica’s on 1/12/20 7-9 pm?

      I think you just did that. 😎 😎 Certainly I’ve put it on my calendar…

  2. Thank you for your blogs all year around! Keep ’em coming! Merry Christmas and we will enjoy your articles next year too! Kinda like a Christmas gift all year long!

  3. And yet what has been done for any traffic alleviation, infrastructure improvements – seems like nothing but building without thinking this through – each day gets harder to navigate the clogged roads

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