Belmont Stakes

I keep a shared list on my various digital devices (mainly, my laptop and my cell phone) of pictures I need to go out and take. That list grows and shrinks, but for the last year or so has never cleared out entirely. That is because I put some items on there that were relatively far away — in Belmont, for instance — and I don’t often walk up that way. This week I decided to do what I could to clear out that list, or at least whittle it down to a manageable size. To do that, I had to plan a walk that took me up to Belmont. On the way, I managed to hit a couple of items on the list in San Carlos as well. Although my list is still not entirely empty — it has a couple of items on it that are up in Emerald Hills, for instance, and although I tried to plan my trip as carefully as I could to reach all of the sites that are in Belmont, it turns out I missed one. But I did rather well, I think. But I’ll let you judge: in this post I’ll take you along and show you the various things I had on my list.

The walk was long, but it was a relatively easy one, being as most of it involved simply walking up El Camino Real (or Laurel Street, in San Carlos). I did need to cross over Highway 101, but because I reached the vicinity of Ralston Avenue, I was able to take advantage of the terrific bicycle/pedestrian overcrossing that Belmont installed just north of Ralston. I then returned to Redwood City by staying on the east side of the freeway for the most part.

Right off the bat, I have to confess to a slight bit of cheating. Normally, I begin my walks from my home near Sequoia Hospital. This week, though, my first goal was a building on El Camino Real in San Carlos, and as my wife had to drop in on Birder’s Garden (an excellent store for those of you who are birders) I hitched a ride with her, and had her drop me off at the corner of El Camino Real and Howard Avenue, in San Carlos. That is the closest corner to the building that formerly housed Zest Bakery (before that, this building was home to Thai Time, a Thai restaurant), which was my first stop on this week’s walk:

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Zest Bakery was a gluten free bakery that (I believe) started on Arroyo Avenue before moving to this building at 1240 El Camino Real. The business closed at the beginning of 2020, however, after ten years in San Carlos. When the bakery moved in they had been warned by the building’s owner that they were hoping to redevelop the space, but that the process would take a couple of years, at least. That plan recently became a reality — the San Carlos Planning Commission approved a project for this site in late October of 2019 — which triggered some serious thought as to Zest’s future. They had the option to move, of course, but given the state of things back in early 2020 they decided to close, instead. The building has thus been sitting empty for more than a year and a half now.

The project that was approved for this site will be a four-story building containing eight condominiums (one below market rate at the Moderate level) and a ground-floor commercial space. Parking for the building — 12 spaces — will apparently be within the building, on the ground floor. And based on the rendering, there will be a rooftop deck for the residents. Here is a rendering of what the building should look like:

1240 ECR render

From there, I headed back to Laurel Street. I took some pictures of the six-townhome project at 1040 and 1052 Laurel St. The two buildings that make up this project have been under construction for well over a year now, and they still have yet to receive their exterior skins:

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I was interested to note that if you look closely into the large second-floor window of the building on the left, you can see furniture. I don’t know if that unit has been staged, or whether someone is actually moving in. In addition to the exterior not being finished, a careful look from the outside shows reveals some of the interior electrical fixtures are not fully buttoned up, so I can’t imagine that anyone has been given permission to actually live there yet…

Continuing down Laurel, I reached the intersection of Laurel Street and Morse Boulevard. The project planned for the old “Headlines” hair salon has yet to make any visible progress, although a large sign advertising the future available space (the project is intended be a multi-story building, with office over retail) has been affixed to the existing building for some time. If and when this project ever gets going, I’ll write more about it. For now, let’s move on.

My next stop was the Walnut Studios project. This is a multi-story affordable housing project being built behind the Bianchini’s Market. The project faces onto Walnut Street, and consists of 23 studios (and one “staff unit”). Hence the name.

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This building replaced a two-story building that contained six affordable units, resulting in a net increase of 18 affordable units. Except for the staff unit, all of the units in this new building will be designated for those whose earnings fall into the Very Low income category.

Heading back out to El Camino Real, I next looked in on this building, which, thanks to its distinctive sign, will be familiar to most of you:

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In case you are wondering why I wanted to look in on this building, it underwent a serious remodel starting back in the beginning of 2019. Prior to that, it was “The Lighthouse,” a retailer specializing in lighting fixtures and supplies. The “The” has been dropped from the sign (along with a lightning bolt that used to fill most of the sign’s empty blue portion), and the building has been reconfigured as office space. The large glass windows that front the building are mostly frosted now, preventing passersby like myself from peering in. As to what is going on in there now, I have no idea. I presume that the sign was kept for sentimental and/or historical reasons, and is not the name of the business that is operating there now. Although if this building houses a startup of some sort, perhaps they took the name…

Back to Laurel Street. This time I needed to take a look at 765 Laurel St. Previously this was a dry cleaners, but now it is Faith & Spirits, a cocktail bar that has live music on Tuesdays through Saturdays.

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From here, I cut back to Elm Street. There, I took a picture of an old house — 782 Elm St. — that, as you can see from the temporary power pole in the front yard, is about to be demolished. Amazingly, the developer is squeezing four townhouses onto this property:

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I should note that these townhouses won’t stand out all that much: as you can see, just next door (to the left) is a two-story apartment building. As well, directly across Elm Street are a couple of three-story buildings containing either apartments or condos. So it isn’t as if these four townhomes are going to stand amidst a sea of single-family homes. Then again, the townhouse building will take on a very modern style, and won’t look anything like the neighboring buildings, all of which look as if they were built in the 60s and 70s.

782 Elm render

I took a peek at a couple of other San Carlos projects on my way north, but then headed out to El Camino Real and set my sights on Belmont. After crossing the border, I headed straight for a project I’ve been meaning to visit for some time now: Firehouse Square. Firehouse Square is a good-sized housing project being built on a handful of properties, most of which have been empty for some time (but one of which contained a building that at one time was a firehouse, giving the project its name). Firehouse Square is (partially) on the corner of El Camino Real and O’Neill Avenue; it extends along O’Neill Avenue to Fifth Avenue, where it then runs back south all the way to Broadway, putting a portion of the development behind The Iron Gate restaurant. This project, which was approved in quick succession by the Planning Commission and then the City Council in May 2019, will consist of a large four-story building along O’Neill Avenue containing 66 affordable for-rent apartments and, on the end of the building facing El Camino Real, a 3,750-square-foot commercial space (for retail or a restaurant, presumably). On the portion of the property behind The Iron Gate, the project will also contain 15 market-rate townhouses.

The 66 affordable apartments are wonderful, of course, but what I was particularly intrigued with is the fact that the facade (but nothing else) of the old firehouse has been preserved and incorporated into the long face of the apartment building:

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If I’m reading things right, not only did they chop off and preserve the building’s face, they also slid it down the street somewhat. It appears that it used to be located closer to the intersection of O’Neill and Fifth avenues… In any case, this historic facade forms the exterior wall of the complex’s “community room.” The two large arched doorways, through which at one time fire trucks came and went, are now large windows looking out from that room. The windows in the two-story tower portion of the old building also provide light into the community room.

The large arch just to the left of the firehouse facade is actually to provide vehicular access to the alleyway (“Civic Lane,” apparently) that runs behind the buildings along El Camino Real. From there, residents of the apartment building will be able to gain access to the single-level, 47-space underground parking garage. Similarly, the southern end of Civic Lane — where it meets Broadway — is how residents of the 15 townhouses — which are not yet under construction — will get to the garages on the lowest level of their units.

Here is another picture of the apartment building, showing the view from El Camino Real. Note the ground-floor commercial space, which is located on what should be a very retail-friendly corner:

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The next project on my list is practically a stone’s throw from the above project. However, between the two lie the elevated Caltrain tracks. Thus, to get there I had to continue along El Camino Real to Ralston Avenue, where I was able to walk beneath the tracks. When I reached Old County Road on the other side, I turned south and walked back to O’Neill Avenue. Here, an even larger residential project is finally underway:

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This project, dubbed Artisan Crossing, is one I’ve been following closely for quite some time. In late 2018, back when the project was in the planning stages, a representative of the developer, Windy Hill Property Ventures, met with me to show me what they had in mind. I subsequently wrote about it in my column for The Daily Journal and then, in mid-2019, attended the Planning Commission meeting at which the project was reviewed and ultimately approved.

When built, Artisan Crossing will be a four-story apartment building featuring 250 apartments, 15% of which will be affordable at the Low income level (those making no more than 80% of the area’s median income level). The site is bordered by O’Neill Avenue, Karen Road and Elmer Street, and previously housed a mix of buildings and parking. The site is almost entirely surrounded by commercial buildings, although there is a good-sized pocket of single-family homes and apartments very close by.

In addition to Artisan Crossing’s 38 affordable units, one of the project’s community benefits is enabled by the building’s design, which is cut at an angle at the corner of Old County Road and O’Neill Avenue to leave a large triangular plaza. This plaza is envisioned as a public gathering space, and may also serve as a spillover area for one of the project’s other public benefits: a handful of rooms that the developer intends to be used, rent free, by the Community School of Music and Arts, a Mountain View-based organization that works to make the arts and art education accessible to all. The following rendering, courtesy of the project’s developer, Windy Hill Property Ventures, shows that plaza, and the building behind:

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Artisan Crossing was approved more than two years ago, but the only activity on the site since then occurred many months ago, when the buildings on the site were demolished. Since then, the site has been nothing but a large empty lot. Until recently, of course, when the project’s lead contractor, Redwood City’s own W. L. Butler, began work on the project’s massive underground garage (it’ll all be on one level, with 258 parking spaces).

From here, I needed to get to Redwood Shores, to check on the next item on my list. As I mentioned earlier, to get there I took the overpass just north of Ralston Avenue. This thing is terrific from the standpoint of providing a way to get across the freeway free from interference from cars. However, I was a little disappointed to see that the pathway has a single stripe down the center, marking half for traffic going in an easterly direction and half for traffic going in a westerly direction. I say “traffic” because there is no separation between pedestrians and cyclists; they are both expected to share the lane. In my case, heading east at 3:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, I had the thing mostly to myself, so I didn’t experience any problems. But I could see things becoming a bit uncomfortable for a pedestrian if they ran into a large number of cyclists — especially at the points where the bridge makes a tight curve, blocking the view around the corner.

In any case, the so-called “Children’s Bridge” dropped me in the middle of the Belmont Sports Complex (& Conference Center!) on the east side of Highway 101. I followed paths to Island Parkway and headed south. When I got to Marine Parkway (which is Ralston Avenue, on the east side of the freeway) I had a surprisingly easy time crossing over, and then crossing Island Parkway heading east. From the southeastern side of the intersection I did follow a heavily overgrown path that took me to Shoreway Road; I felt a lot safer walking along Shoreway Road than I did along Marine Parkway (less traffic there). But not long after I got onto Shoreway Road, I reached a path that followed the waterway stretching south from Belmont Slough:

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Consulting my trusty smartphone map, I saw that this path would lead me right to where I needed to go: to the intersection of Twin Dolphin Drive and Shoreline Drive. Thus, I followed it, and finally got to the final destination on my list (although not my last stop, as it turns out):

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The handful of single-story brick buildings that today make up the “Westshore Office Park” are not long for this world, it seems. The project slated for this site has gone through a number of changes throughout the planning process, starting with two four-story buildings totaling about 203,000 square feet of office space plus a four-story, 546-space parking garage. The project then became a single five-story, 204,000-square-foot office building and a five-level parking garage with 701 spaces. Finally, today’s design is a slightly smaller variant, with 202,000 square feet in an 85-foot-tall (5-story) building accompanied by a five-live, 655-space parking garage that should look something like this when viewed from high above the intersection:

240 Twin Dolphin render

The rounded contours and glass facade of the building’s signature corner are presumably intended to echo the nearby Oracle buildings, which are largely glass cylinders. Personally I’m not that wild about this building’s looks, but then again that’s just me — and I don’t have to look at it regularly anyway. Redwood City’s Planning Commission approved the project on a 5-0 vote (with two members recused) at their March 16, 2021 meeting, so this project likely won’t get underway until next year at the earliest.

That completed most of my list, so I contemplated my choices for getting back home. My initial inclination was to cross over Highway 101 at Holly Street, so I could check on the progress of the hotel project that should be soon underway at the corner of Holly Street and Industrial Road (where the Bayshore Lighting building currently stands). As I approached the freeway, though, I had a change of heart. After trying to get a peek at the drilling project operating from the northwest corner of Holly Street (Redwood Shores Parkway, technically) and Shoreway Road — unsuccessfully, given all of the fencing around the operations on that corner — I then remembered that there is a large building going up along the San Carlos Airport. Thus, I decided to instead walk through the airport and take the path paralleling the freeway down to Whipple Avenue.

After turning towards the airport on Airport Way, I turned on Skyway Road to skirt the runway and parallel it on the western side. I had previously noticed that the Burger King had closed up some time ago, and indeed that building is a bit of a ghost town now, with weeds sprouting up in all sorts of interesting places around the building. What I hadn’t realized, though, is that the next-door Fairfield Inn & Suites also appears to be closed, at least for normal public use. Although the large sign by the freeway has been blacked out, there were a few cars and people around the hotel, leading me to wonder if it is perhaps being used as a hotel for homeless persons, or to house construction workers from out of the area. The Marriott hotel website appears to let me still make a reservation there, though (only $99/night, for a king bed on a Saturday!), so perhaps the sign has been blacked-out for some other reason.

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At least Izzy’s is still operating — and they have constructed a large outdoor dining space for those of us who aren’t yet ready to be dining indoors at restaurants.

As I passed to the south of the Hiller Aviation Museum, the steel framing for the large building under construction at the airport came fully into view:

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At least, the bit facing the street did. I had to walk down the road between the museum and this development (towards the airport runway) to really see the extent of this building, which is just fascinating:

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This project, at 655 Skyway Road, is going to be a “new multi-hangar aviation facility.” The hangars appear to be those single-story things hanging off the back of the two-story portion of the structure. It will be some 71,000 square feet in size, and will have 90 parking spaces dedicated to it.

So that’s it for my somewhat long walk this week. I cleared a lot of items off my list, although I still have one or two that I didn’t manage to get to, including a couple in San Carlos on (or just off of) Industrial Road, and of course a handful in Redwood City. These all are not as far as Belmont, though, so I’ll have an easier time getting to them. Some of which I’ll likely showcase next week…

9 thoughts on “Belmont Stakes

  1. Pingback: Lower Stakes | Walking Redwood City

  2. I drove by the old Lighthouse building on El Camino this evening and saw the sign is beautifully lit up; it really catches your eye. So it seems whoever is using the space is keeping the name and the sign. Now if we could only get the old Carlos Club sign to light up again…

  3. Hi Greg. You may have covered this before, but what’s happening at the former Kelly Moore site? It had been a while since I went that way and I saw the Kelly Moore bldg is gone.

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