A Sign of the Times

Back in early 2014 I wrote a blog post called Walking Back in Time that talked about downtown Redwood City’s “Path of History.” That post includes links to the self-guided tour brochure, links that no longer work. Fortunately, you can find the brochure here. The Path of History takes you to a number of freestanding signs that you’ve undoubtedly seen around downtown, that look like this:

Hopefully you’ve read them; they are chock-full of great information about the history of Redwood City. But they aren’t the only signs you find around the city that contain historic information. Throughout the city you can find metal plaques, mounted either on the side of buildings, on a concrete pedestal, or on the ground. They’re much harder to spot, and I suspect that most people just walk right by them without paying them any attention, so I thought I’d use this post to highlight some of the more interesting ones I’ve found.

This plaque is mounted on the Marshall Street side of the Hall of Justice and Records. It notes that the Hall of Justice and Records stands on what until 1959 was California Square, a good-sized public plaza.

You’ll find the above on the face of the small building at 726 Main St. that was built in 1859 as the Diller-Chamberlain store. Apparently this is the oldest commercial building still standing in San Mateo County. At one time Redwood Creek ran behind this building (it still does, actually, but now it is underground, beneath the multi-level Marshall Street parking garage).

This plaque commemorates the fact that “Sequoia Union High School” (today’s Sequoia High) had its first free-standing building on the site where Redwood City’s downtown Century Theatres now stand. You’ll find it on the Broadway face of the building where Five Guys is located today.

This delightful little plaque is mounted in the ground between the Caltrain tracks and Broadway, across the street from Orenchi Ramen. I suspect that very few people notice this particular one. It reads:

First Train
On October 18, 1863, the first train of the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad Co. came to Redwood City. Regular daily service began the following day. In 1870, it became part of the Southern Pacific System.

The above plaque is a bit hard to read — time and graffiti have taken their toll — but it notes that Red Morton Community Park is dedicated to one Alfred “Red” Morton, who was the city’s first recreation director. This plaque is located in Red Morton park, naturally, and is mounted on a pedestal located on the Madison Avenue side of the park, along the path near the skate park. It sits within a neat little tree-shaded mini-plaza:

It isn’t just ancient history that is commemorated by plaques such as these. For instance, there’s this one:

This plaque — which includes a color picture! — is located beneath the underpass, on the Sequoia Station side. You’ll go right by it if you walk along the sidewalk that follows Jefferson Avenue beneath the tracks. It honors the opening of the then-new underpass, on July 24, 1999.

Similarly, the above plaque is mounted on a pedestal in Courthouse Square, and, not surprisingly, dedicates the square to the residents of Redwood City and San Mateo County. The dedication of the square took place on February 27, 2007. Like the Jefferson Avenue Underpass plaque, this one lists the members of the City Council at the time of the dedication (this one also identifies the members of the council at the time the project was started, in 2005).

The above plaque, which is probably the newest of them all, is located on the Wilson Street side of the Cardinal Apartments building, near the intersection of Franklin and Wilson streets. Reading this one makes me a bit sad; the city tried to basically give away the little house that this plaque refers to. If you were willing to haul the house away, it was yours for only $1, but it seems that there were no takers. Next, the city thought they’d move the house to a lot the city owns on Heller Street, and make it available to a low-income family. But that plan also fell through, and the house ended up being demolished. For the record, here is one last picture of that house, taken back in 2014 when, as you can see, the “Box” buildings were still under construction:

There are more plaques around the city, I’m sure, so keep an eye out for them! You can learn a lot about the city and its history just by reading the many signs and plaques that are scattered throughout.

Yummly is back! You may recall that for years Yummly had their headquarters in a small two-story office building adjacent to the Kaiser campus (in fact, the building was owned by Kaiser and had been used for medical purposes prior to Yummly moving in). But that building, which shared a block with the Marston Apartments building, was recently torn down, to be replaced by the six-story office building known as 610 Walnut St. Because the building was being torn down, Yummly had to move, and they did: to Palo Alto. I wasn’t sure that they were coming back, but they have. Their headquarters are now located on Main Street, in the historic Alhambra building:

Their entrance shares the ground floor with the Alhambra Irish House (which I still need to check out!), but the offices are really on the upper two floors (if you look closely at the center windows on the top floor, you’ll see a large Yummly sign inside).

Over on Winslow Street, the building that most recently was home to Pizza and Pints has been totally remodeled, and is now an office building. Someone has moved in, although there is no signage yet so I don’t know exactly who it is. The remodel resulted in a nice-looking building, though, with some great floor-to-ceiling windows on the Winslow Street side. Unfortunately, whoever moved in doesn’t seem to want to take advantage of them; take a close look at the following picture (click it for a version you can enlarge) and you’ll see that they’ve put low cubicle walls right in front of those windows, effectively cutting them in half:

Finally, I was over on Perry Street earlier today and was happy to see that work continues on a similar kind of remodel, this one turning the old Elgin’s Auto Supply building into offices:

As you can see, this building has some great skylights that are being preserved (the Pizza and Pints building also has skylights, for the record), which should make for a really nice workspace. In truth this is two buildings: the smaller building on the left side (with the “Elgin’s Custom Grinding Crank & Camshafts” sign) is a separate, but connected building. But both are being remodeled and I believe that they will be leased as a single space.

Here is a recent shot of the larger building’s interior, which shows the skylights and which just barely shows a door leading into the smaller building:

I’m enjoying watching this project, and will be interested to see who finally moves in. I wonder if a plaque will be mounted on the side of this particular building? Although it isn’t strictly historic — it seems to have been built around 1933, as the Sequoia Laundry & Dry Cleaners — it still might be worthy of some recognition.

4 thoughts on “A Sign of the Times

  1. Thanks for the great article, Greg. Unfortunately, the Path of History brochures are impossible to keep replenished. We only have one brochure box placed downtown and it’s at the kiosk at the corner of Broadway and Main. I’ve tried to keep it stocked, but they disappear as fast as I can fill it. I’ve tried asking a Wells Fargo Bank employee to refill it regularly, but with employee turnover the job doesn’t get passed down. There should be brochures at the front desk at City Hall if anyone is downtown during business hours and wants to pick one up.

    I appreciate your sending out the link to the walking tour. I’ve been working with the City to get new plaques with QR codes but we are very low on their list of priorities. The plaques are showing wear and tear from exposure and vandalism and I’m hoping we can get them replaced this year. I don’t think there’s a budget for it so that’s part of the hangup. That was my project several years ago when I served on the Historic Resources Advisory Committee and was asked by then Councilmember/Mayor Barbara Pierce to do a downtown walking tour. I hope to get the plaques replaced and make the tour more widely available. Stay tuned!

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