You Can Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel titled You Can’t Go Home Again that made famous the idea that places change, and that if you return to a place after having been gone for some time, you may find it so changed that the place from which you left might be considered to no longer exist. Bringing that idea home, the pace of change that Redwood City has experienced over the last decade likely makes it just such a place: a person returning to Redwood City today after having left it in the year 2010, say, might have a hard time recognizing it.

To my mind, what makes a place hard to recognize is not only the rate of change, but for how long you were gone. I’ve taken multi-week trips within the last decade after which I noticed a great deal of visible change within Redwood City. Recently, though, I took a 10-day trip, and although upon my return I found plenty of changes worth writing about, I wouldn’t say that the city is by any means “unrecognizable.” Thus, I’d say that one can go home again, as long as one hasn’t been gone too long.

The trip my wife and I recently took was what I like to think of as our “get out of jail, free” trip: it was something of a celebration for having gotten fully vaccinated. After essentially being locked to our local area for the past 15 months or so, we decided that our first major foray should be to visit a handful of relatives and close friends who live in Southern California. It turned out to be a great trip: I saw two of my brothers, along with their wives and a couple of their children; my father; and some close friends living in the LA area. Even though we are fully vaccinated (as are my brothers and their wives, my father, and the friends we saw) we still remained cautious and spent most of our “together” time outdoors. For an extra measure of protection, we took the trip in a rented RV, giving us not only a safe place to stay while we were away, but also giving us a bathroom and kitchen we could use while making the drive up and down I-5. While we stopped at rest stops to make use of our rolling facilities, the RV allowed us to avoid public bathrooms and restaurants.

The RV worked great; I can highly recommend it. Although RVs certainly cost more than rental cars, and use considerably more gas, if we had had to otherwise stay in hotels the RV would have ended up being the cheaper way to go. As it is, while we did have the option to stay with my relatives, for the most part we opted to sleep in the surprisingly comfortable RV. We rented ours from Road Bear RV in San Leandro; I can highly recommend them if I’ve managed to spark your interest.

Although our trip was only 10 days long, the timing was such that I experienced a nearly three-week gap in my Redwood City walking schedule. Once I managed to get back to pounding the pavement, I made it a point to walk to some of the far-flung corners of the city to see what I might have missed in the interim. That, plus some other things that have occurred in the past week or so, add up to a lot.

In a previous post (Signs and Portents) I wrote about a couple of doughnut-shaped electronic signs that had cropped up around a couple of downtown lampposts. Either the test was a success, or it is simply being expanded: there are quite a few more of them now. All of the ones I’ve seen are displaying the message “Test Device,” but they’re no longer confined to just a couple of spots on Broadway. For instance, here is one on Main Street, on the corner where Savers is located:

There is also one on Middlefield Road near Jefferson Avenue, by the entrance to the parking lot on the north side of the public library. And there is also one on Perry Street, by the entrance to the Perry Street parking lot (behind City Pub et al). Given their locations, I think it is safe to say that these signs are intended to indicate available capacity at nearby parking lots and garages, and to direct motorists to available parking.

Visible from the pole shown above, just this week the historic, long-empty “Holmquist Hardware” building at 114 Stambaugh St. has suddenly been covered up, presumably in preparation for a renovation of some sort:

This one took me by a bit of a surprise: the building has sat idle for pretty much as long as I can remember. The small, one-story brick building behind this new curtain was constructed in 1919, making it just over 100 years old. In the past it had been used as a grocery store and as a pharmacy, but it is best known for its use in the early 1960s through the mid 1970s as the machine shop for Holmquist Hardware, which operated primarily out of a building directly across Stambaugh Street, where Saver’s is today.

The so-called “Holmquist Hardware” building is an unreinforced masonry building, and one that has a history of asbestos. Thus, until now, at least, renovating the building has always been a non-trivial, and thus expensive, proposition. Thus, I’m very curious to know just what is going on with this place.

While I was away, plenty of progress was made on the various projects in and around Redwood City’s downtown. For instance, the four-story office building (with a medium-sized ground-floor retail space) being constructed at 851 Main St. continues to make progress towards what I can only guess will be completion before the end of the year. More dramatically, the eight-story, 350-unit apartment building under construction at 1409 El Camino Real — Highwater — has finally been unwrapped. Thus, we can now get a real feel for what this building will truly look like, and how it will affect the look and feel of that section of El Camino Real:

Looking at this building from the El Camino Real side, you can see where the apartment complex’s pool is located: on the eighth floor, above the lobby. In the above photo, those short vertical poles you see at the top of the building’s center support a glass safety wall that protects residents and guests up on the top-floor pool deck. Incidentally, it wasn’t until recently that it occurred to me that this building is most likely named for that pool: “high-water.”

Although the scaffolding and protective curtains have been taken down, as you can see from the above photo there is still a construction fence blocking access to the front of the building. Fortunately, the orange barriers you can also see stand out from that fencing, providing a temporary walkway while work continues to go on along the building’s front face. Naturally, I walked along that temporary walkway and took some pictures over the fence. In front, the ground has mostly been prepped for a sidewalk, but the forms for the concrete have yet to be put into place:

The two openings you can see in the above photo, incidentally, are where the entrance(s) to the building’s one retail space will be located. This space faces onto El Camino Real, but, as you can see, also has windows facing onto Diller Street. Looking farther down the building along the El Camino Real side (to the right), you can just make out the front stoops for the four ground-level residences on the building’s El Camino Real facade. Here is a closer view of those stoops:

Unlike many, this apartment building actually has a number of residential units on the ground floor, with a handful of them — four on the El Camino Real side, three on the Diller Street side, and three on the Franklin Street side — having private exterior entrances.

Around back, progress on the sidewalk is moving much more quickly:

Note the short stairwells marking the entrances to the three units along this street that can be accessed without having to go through one of the building’s common entrances.

That’s about it for this building, other than to note that the building’s main entrance still needs some work. Further progress on that part of the building just may be waiting for the concrete to be poured out front.

Not far from this project, a much smaller residential project is now making good progress: the ten-unit townhouse development at 211 (and 217) Vera St. This project is well into the framing stage, at least for five of the complex’s ten units:

This complex has been laid out with a central driveway flanked by a single building on either side, each containing five townhouses. As you can see, the developer is in the process of framing the buildings one at a time. The foundations for both were poured, but the foundation for the second building appears to be waiting until the first is framed up.

What you see above, plus a roof, is what there will be: these are three-story townhouses. Each will have a two-car garage plus a “study,” the laundry facilities, and a bathroom on the ground floor; the unit’s main entrance plus its kitchen, dining room, living room, and a half-bath on the middle floor; and three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the top floor. Although the garages are pretty much level with the street (the central driveway being accessed from Adams Street), the outer edges of the property, which is where each unit’s front door will be located, will be raised up somewhat, as shown in this rendering:

Look closely (click the above image if you want to zoom in) and you can just make out the “ground floor” windows (with the way that the ground has been raised, these windows will be pretty much right on the ground!), mostly hidden by landscaping, that look into that garage-level study.

If you continue to walk west on Vera Avenue, as I did, you eventually dead-end into Red Morton Park. Walk all the way through the park, and you get to the Magical Bridge Playground, which recently was closed for a couple of days so that new shade structures could be installed. With the warm weather we’ve been having, these arrived just in time:

In addition to these rather substantial structures, the “tot lot” also got a more conventional looking shade:

All in all, a very welcome addition to this special part of Red Morton Park.

Finally, two other small things. First off, the Chase Bank that is taking the place of the Max’s Café restaurant at the corner of El Camino Real and James Avenue in Sequoia Station finally, at long last, appears to be complete:

Although it is complete, it isn’t actually open just yet (at least, it wasn’t as of Wednesday, when I went by). Signs on the door indicated that it would be opening soon, without giving a specific date. And the ATM is not yet usable, although it is powered up.

Not far from Sequoia Station, signs in the window indicate that at long last, the final, largest retail space in the building at 889 Middlefield Rd. (the multi-story brick building that was constructed immediately behind the Fox Theatre) has been leased:

The new tenant will be Mobius Fit, a “full-function workout facility dedicated to improving your life.” These folks appear to focus on small-group training, providing limited class sizes with personal attention. Mobius Fit currently has a Redwood City location at 1709 Woodside Rd.; presumably this is a second location for them (but just maybe they’ll be moving?). In any case, I’m happy to see this space finally get leased, although I should note that work to build out the space for this new tenant has just begun, and will undoubtedly take a while:

This is by no means all that has gone on in Redwood City over the last three or so weeks; the Hopkins Avenue Traffic Calming project has taken a couple of large steps towards its final installation, and a large housing project proposed for 150 Charter St. (next to Target) was recently approved. However, I’ll hold those for a future post.

Given all of the above, I cannot deny that Redwood City certainly changed while we were off visiting relatives and friends. However, after only a couple of weeks it still looks very much like home to me. And, of course, my literal home — my house — was no different from how we left it. Thus, based on my most recent trip, I feel confident that if Thomas Wolfe were alive today, I’d be able to tell him that, for some of us, you certainly can go home again.

Encore Books on the Square, the terrific used bookstore beneath the San Mateo County History Museum (on Courthouse Square) has been closed for the duration of the pandemic. At long last, however, they’re going to be reopening. They’re starting slow, by opening only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the months of June and July. Based upon how things go, they’ll update their opening days and hours for the following months. If you’ve missed them as much as I have, or if you’ve never before given them a visit, do check them out starting on Saturday, June 5. I certainly plan to be there!

Now that the 2020 US Census has taken place, Redwood City needs to redraw the boundaries for its seven City Council Election Districts. This work will be done by an “Advisory Redistricting Committee,” an eleven-member body that will be made up of fair-minded citizens like you and me. The city expects that the committee will meet approximately 15 times, and notes that the work must be completed no later than April 17, 2022. According to the city, the ideal candidate “may have knowledge or experience in, though not limited to, the following areas: data and analysis, GIS and mapping, Redwood City’s diverse communities, working collaboratively to achieve a common goal, and community engagement strategies. An ideal candidate is fair-minded and committed to ensuring fair representation.”

If this sounds like something you or someone you know might be interested in, applications are being accepted up until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 6, 2021. For more information, and to apply (either in English or in Spanish), head over to the process webpage.

3 thoughts on “You Can Go Home Again

  1. Hi, Like you we enjoy walking in Redwood City. I am interested to know what is planned to be able to access the east side of 1:01. We enjoy walking from Eagle hill to the end of Seaport Boulevard. Thank you for your reply.

    On Fri, May 14, 2021 at 5:25 PM Walking Redwood City wrote:

    > Greg Wilson posted: “Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel titled You Can’t Go Home > Again that made famous the idea that places change, and that if you return > to a place after having been gone for some time, you may find it so changed > that the place from which you left might be consider” >

    • As it turns out, I just got back from a walk in which I checked on the progress of the Highway 101 Pedestrian Underpass project. It continues to make slow but steady progress. The most recent completion date for the project was supposed to be June (this month!) and while that could happen, I’m putting my money on July. In any case, sometime this summer we should have a much easier time making our way out to the bay. No more using Whipple, Maple, or having to brave the height-challenged dirt path beneath the freeway…

  2. I think the existing Mobius fit on Woodside road is relocating. While it’s still open there’s a prominent for lease (or maybe it’s a for sale) sign out front. It looks like the new Mobius fit space downtown will encompass the Joe & the Juice space which appears to have closed. I’m excited for the next 6months, I’m willing to bet we’re going to see a handful of new restaurants opening downtown. I finally made it to Zareen’s which was excellent.

    Glad you had a good trip down south…I’ve often toyed with the idea of renting an RV.

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