Smoke Signals

Who can resist a column of smoke? Back in 2013 I was on a walk just a couple of blocks from the intersection of Woodside Road and El Camino Real, when one of the 1,000-gallon propane tanks at the U-Haul Moving & Storage caught fire. By the time I got there, traffic had been halted on both Woodside Road and El Camino Real, and the area was crawling with both police and fire personnel. It made for some interesting viewing, and of course provided some great fodder for this blog (see And to Think That I Saw it on El Camino for that story).

I’ve chased other fires, but usually I get there after all of the action has died down. Which, unfortunately, was the case this week. I was walking down Vera Avenue towards El Camino Real on Tuesday, taking pictures of a couple of projects going on along that street. When I reached El Camino, though, I saw this:

Before I saw the smoke I had planned to circle the blocks that make up the ELCO Yards project and record the current progress. However, that column of smoke proved to be too tempting to ignore, and so I changed my plans. Standing on the corner of El Camino Real and Vera Avenue I tried to estimate where the fire was. It appeared to be close to the railroad tracks, and I debated which side of the tracks it might be on. If it was on the east side, I would have to use Chestnut Street to cross over, and then aim for the column of smoke. I decided that it was probably on my side (the west side), and so decided to walk south on El Camino Real, hoping to find the source of the smoke. Unfortunately, I had barely gotten started when I noticed that the black smoke was turning white, indicating that the Fire Department was already on scene and dealing with the issue. After just a couple of blocks the column of smoke had turned entirely to steam. By the time I’d walked another block or two, it had entirely dissipated, leaving me without a beacon to home in on.

I frequently tout the advantages of exploring an area on foot: you miss so many things when you only see the world through the window of a moving vehicle. Times like this, though, highlight one of the key disadvantages. If I had been in a car, I would have been able to move quickly, and possibly use triangulation to estimate the source of the smoke. But because I was on foot, I could only guess. The fire appeared to be a block or two south of Woodside Road, so I kept walking south, to the Target shopping center. As I went I was keeping a close eye out for clues. One such clue took the form of a fire truck, which passed me heading south. It gave me confidence that not only was I headed in the right direction, but that the fire was indeed on my side of the tracks. But I lost sight of the truck before I could see where it turned, so I missed my best chance to figure out exactly where the fire had been.

When I reached the Target store without having notice any evidence of a fire, I decided to jog over to the tracks and follow Westmoreland Avenue (which parallels the tracks, on the west side) down to Berkshire Avenue. I didn’t really think that the fire had been that far south, but the corner of Berkshire Avenue and El Camino Real is where our area’s Planned Parenthood clinic is located, and given all of the recent furor around women’s reproductive rights, it didn’t seem out of the question that someone might have started a fire there. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case: all was quiet.

I never did actually find the source of the fire that day. Fortunately, our public service agencies publish all I needed on the internet. The next day I listened to fire department dispatches (did you know that someone puts the actual audio up on the web?) and poked around on CityProtect (like countless others, the Redwood City Police Department publicizes their call-outs and incidents on that site), which together led me to the location of the fire. As it turns out, it appears to have been another homeless camp, this one along Shasta Street beneath Woodside Road. I don’t know the specifics of what happened, but the evidence of the fire was pretty clear (but a little hard to photograph, it seems):

I’ve walked along this section of Shasta Street many times in the past, noted that people had been living up there and in a handful of places in the surrounding area. The recent fire and subsequent clean-up of the camps around the intersection of Woodside Road and El Camino Real had no effect on these camps; except for the one that appears to have burned in the fire I had been chasing, I believe the other nearby camps still remain.

Fruitlessly chasing the fire on Tuesday extended my walk beyond what I had planned, but after I gave up searching that day I headed back up El Camino Real and resumed my planned excursion. As usual, I found plenty to write about. One unexpected thing that particularly caught my eye was this banner:

You’ll find it mounted on the side of the W.L. Butler headquarters building, at the northeast corner of Woodside Road and El Camino Real. The banner faces Woodside Road, thereby reminding the many people traveling along that busy thoroughfare that Memorial Day is rapidly approaching (it is this Monday, May 30).

Not too far away, I noticed some changes across El Camino Real from Redwood City’s BevMo store:

The new white awning among the green really jumps out at you: what used to be a “Metro by T-Mobile” store is apparently now going to be something called Liana’s Galleria. I have no idea what Liana’s will be selling (from the name, I’m assuming that they’ll be a retailer), but I’ll peek in once they clearly are open for business. Next door, I noticed that the lights were on and something was happening inside the storefront where Casa Zamora Family Restaurant once operated. Casa Zamora shut down quite some time ago, and for a time “MA Kitchen” offered grab-and-go meals from there. I think that MA Kitchen shut down, too — their signs are gone — but either they or something new is now operating in the space. I’ll have to peek into this one, too, and find out what’s up.

As for the ELCO Yards project, I did eventually make my way back to the site. After the main dealership buildings were removed from the two parcels out on El Camino Real, things have been fairly quiet until very recently. Late last week, though, heavy machinery was once again on site, pulling up the pavement and concrete foundations, and turning the two blocks on the east side of El Camino Real between Maple and Cedar streets back into dirt lots. Then, towards the end of the week, construction trailers were deposited on the block where Towne Ford’s new-car showroom and service center had been until recently:

On a related note, across El Camino and down closer to Jefferson Avenue, the six-story, 39-unit affordable apartment building (that is part of the ELCO Yards project) is quickly rising from the ground. This week, the concrete was poured for the structural elements of the building’s ground floor:

The above picture was taken on Tuesday; by Friday, the forms had been stripped off, exposing all of the poured concrete walls and columns. The building’s ground floor will house the building’s small internal parking garage (just 12 cars, using mechanical stackers), its lobby, and a community room. The five floors above will contain the building’s 39 apartments, which will be a mix of studio and one-bedroom units (there will also be a lone two-bedroom apartment on the second floor).

Later that same day, I got a treat: one of my readers, who lives with her husband on the top floor of the 10-story Indigo apartment building, invited me up to enjoy the marvelous view from their balcony. From there they’ve had a ring-side seat for the construction of the county’s “COB-3” office building project:

As you can see, the building’s fifth (top) floor is rapidly being completed.

My new friends’ balcony also has a rather unique view of the city’s newest Habitat for Humanity project, a six-story, 20-unit condominium building on Jefferson Avenue:

I was delighted to see the solar panels on the Habitat building’s roof. The project plans showed panels covering nearly the entire roof (all but the elevator tower; the building does not have a rooftop deck for the resident’s use), and I was glad to see that the panels actually got installed, and were not just wishful thinking on someone’s part.

That did it for Tuesday, but later in the week I visited some other parts of the city, to catch up on a couple of other projects. One that had not been on my radar, but now is thanks to an alert reader, is the transformation of the old Mobius Fit building at the corner of Woodside Road and Sequoia Avenue into a Safari Kid preschool:

One reason that this project slipped my notice is the fact that it is not technically in Redwood City. Instead, it is on unincorporated land and thus falls under the purview of the county. A quick check of building permits on the San Mateo County website pulled up the relevant ones, which indicate that the shell of the building will remain largely untouched (except for some new entry doors), with the bulk of the work being done entirely inside. The permit enabling the interior work was issued last November, so the contractor may have been working on this building for some time. Certainly, from the outside looking in they appear to be making great progress. I do note that a permit for new exterior signage was issued at the end of last month, so the signs — which often are installed relatively late in the process — may be going up very soon.

Down at the intersection of Woodside and Bay roads, the site where Redwood City’s newest CVS store is being built is getting new sidewalks and driveway aprons:

I was interested to note the new streetlights that have been recently installed; they are attractive, but don’t seem to fit the style of the area. Presumably, though, when the old CVS (visible just across Woodside Road in the above photo) is torn down and the Broadway Plaza project is built, it will have more of the same kind of streetlights — at which time these will no longer seem out-of-place.

Out on the other side of the freeway, the project to build the county’s new navigation center is going like gangbusters:

At the same time, the work to extend Blomquist Street across Maple Street and alongside the Police Department building is also well underway:

I’m guessing that the steel I-beams you can see in this picture will be part of a small bridge spanning the creek that runs through here (a creek that is mostly underground, apparently; the orange-vested worker in the left third of the picture is, with the help of a crane, pulling up the beams that form the top of an old culvert).

Finally, the old Tower Building on Kaiser Permanente’s Redwood City campus is now coming down quite rapidly:

For comparison, here is what it looked like before they started:

Not too long now…

Have a great (long) weekend! Monday is of course Memorial Day, and I’m hoping to make it to the hour-long Memorial Day Ceremony at Redwood City’s Union Cemetery (on Woodside Road, just west of El Camino Real), which begins at 10 a.m. I’ve never been to that particular ceremony, and have heard that it is rather special. Especially the “firing on the anvil”. Note that there is very little parking, so if you plan to go, plan accordingly.

2 thoughts on “Smoke Signals

  1. The next time you’re checking out the Elco Yards project, be sure to check out 1101 Main St. You’re always in tune with the latest businesses that are opening, and on 6/1, the Little Green Plant Bar will be open for business. If you don’t know what a plant bar is (which may be likely), just ask for Sharon and she’ll give you the rundown. Keep up the good reporting! (and walking).

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