Bounding Along Main

In case any of you were wondering, no, there was no blog post last week. I was in Colorado attending a family wedding. But if you are reading this on Friday, June 10, there will be a March for our Lives tomorrow to support the victims of the Uvalde shooting, and to bring more attention to gun violence in this country. Marches will be going on all across the country on Saturday, June 11: ours is scheduled to run from 9 – 11 a.m., beginning in front of the main branch of the Redwood City Public Library at 1044 Middlefield Road. There will be a short march that will start and end at the library, followed by a rally. If this is a cause you believe in, consider joining me at tomorrow’s event.

Many of the buildings along Redwood City’s Main Street were built between 1909 and 1925. Back then, it really was one of, if not the, main streets in Redwood City. Lately, although it has continued to be a useful street for vehicles trying to get from one part of town to another, it hasn’t been much of a destination for many of those vehicles. Fortunately, a number of projects that have recently wrapped up, along with a couple of others that are either in the works or have yet to get going, may well change that, and turn Main Street back into a destination in its own right.

Going in order, allow me to begin towards the northern end, with 353 Main St. This affordable housing project was originally proposed back in 2016, and went through some fundamental changes between then and when it was finally approved, in mid-2018. Work got underway on what then was to be a 125-unit fully affordable housing project, and continues today:

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Although the building is still cloaked in scaffolding and construction cloth, what is now being called 353 Main Street Family Apartments is truly nearing completion: they’re accepting applications for the project’s many studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, and anticipate being able to allow move-ins within a few short months. When completed, it, along with next-door neighbor Township (which consists of 115 market-rate apartments and 17 affordable ones) will solidly establish the part of Main Street north of Veterans Boulevard as a popular place to live.

Both 353 Main and Township stand alongside Redwood Creek, just across from the Peninsula Boardwalk shopping plaza (home to Kohl’s and Sports Basement, among other retailers). Among 353 Main’s amenities will be a segment of the Redwood Creek trail; that will join the very short segment that stands today behind the Township apartment building. Given that I don’t anticipate living in either of these projects, I personally am looking forward to those trail segments, not because they’ll go anywhere exciting in and of themselves — they won’t — but because I hope (and plan to continue advocating for!) additional segments will be connected to these to form a continuous path between the downtown branch of the Redwood City Public Library and a park we may someday get on the east side of Highway 101, at the northeast end of Maple Street.

Walking south along Main Street from 353 Main, you cross over Redwood Creek and pass The Marston by Windsor apartment building. Soon you reach Broadway, where the Sequoia Hotel stands.

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The project to modernize and expand this historic hotel is still in the planning stages. Although the plans have been tweaked multiple times since the original proposal was made in March 2021, the basic proposal to add four stories to this three-story hotel and expand its capacity to 82 rooms plus a ground-floor restaurant and a small Main Street-facing retail space appears unchanged. Process-wise, the project has been presented to the city’s Architectural Advisory Committee and the Historic Resources Advisory Committee, but so far both have merely provided feedback; neither has been asked to issue a formal recommendation as of yet. And given that neither the Planning Commission nor the City Council have yet to formally review this project, it’ll be some time before this project actually gets underway — if it ever does.

Across Main Street and down a bit, for the last couple of years we’ve been living through the construction of the 855 Main Street project, which resulted in a four-story office-and-retail building behind and next to the restored historic facade at 855 Main St. This building:

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Although the retail portion of the building remains un-leased and behind the papered-up windows you can see in the above photograph, the office portion of the project now has three tenants.

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Those tenants are:

  • Freshfields, a global law firm with offices in New York, Washington DC, and Silicon Valley. They occupy the top two floors of the building, taking up some 40,000 square feet. Until now they had temporary offices on Sand Hill Road, but they have (or are in the process of) relocated those folks to Redwood City.
  • Hogan Lovells, a massive law firm with headquarters in both London and Washington DC. Until now Hogan Lovells had their Silicon Valley offices in Menlo Park, but they now occupy the second floor of 855 Main Street in Redwood City.
  • Delphix, who is not a law firm but a database software company. Delphix has several office locations, but their company headquarters can now be found within the building at 855 Main Street.

A close look at the photograph above reveals that the building also contains an “art gallery.” As one of the conditions of approval for this building, the developer had to provide a public amenity or two, so they chose to turn their outer lobby into an art gallery. There are one or two paintings hanging there today that the public can step inside and enjoy between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., seven days a week. I believe that this building will also be making its underground parking garage (which is accessible from the rear of the building, off Walnut Street) available to the public during the evenings and on weekends, but I don’t believe that garage is fully operational (or even needed) as yet. Presumably it’ll get listed on the electronic parking signs that the city has scattered about downtown if and when it opens to the public.

A smaller, although somewhat similar, project was recently completed at 929 Main Street, just a block further down the way. Here, the developer transformed the single-story “Young’s Auto Parts” building (which was originally built in 1922 to house a grocery store) into a two-story structure. Here, too, the historic facade was preserved:

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This new building is on track to have two tenants, one upstairs and one down. SR One, a biotech venture capital firm, has taken the upper floor. Originally the venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), SR One was recently spun out to focus on building and investing in next-generation biotechnology companies. They have offices in London, Pennsylvania and, now, Redwood City.

The ground floor of 929 Main Street remains hidden behind paper, but not for long. Soon that space will be unveiled to reveal Whearley & Co., a combination realtor and interior design shop. The shop will offer home decor and furnishings, and will also offer styling consultations on everything from paint colors to pillow selections. Thus, there should be plenty to catch the eye of passersby behind the large windows you can see above, making this a far more interesting space than what we had previously. And as you can see, the building’s second floor is set well back from the first; a person standing on the sidewalk in front of the building will pretty much only see the historic facade. Of course, cross over Main Street and look at it from a distance and you’ll be able to get a glimpse of that second story. Or, head around to the building’s rear, on Walnut Street, where you’ll see that not only does the building have a small dedicated parking lot, but that the backside of the building looks quite different:

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A walk down Main Street doesn’t end at 929 Main, however. Continue on past Middlefield Road for another two blocks, and you reach yet another historic building at the corner of Middlefield Road and Maple Street. This building:

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This building was built in 1931 as a Dodge automobile dealership, and parts of the building are still being used to house automobiles today. The angled facade on the corner, however, at 1101 Main Street, now houses Little Green, a “plant bar.” I went by last week, but was there just one day early: they opened their doors on Wednesday, June 1. Fortunately, I went by again this week and saw that they were open, so I went inside.

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As you can see, the interior is an inviting space. The high ceilings and old block floors appear to have been beautifully maintained along with the rest of the space. Scattered throughout are comfortable groupings of eclectic furniture, making the place an ideal space in which to sit and enjoy a coffee or a pastry from Little Green’s wonderful little coffee bar:

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(Not being a coffee drinker myself, I brought my wife along; she loved her latte.)

Plants make up much of the decor, as you can probably see, but that isn’t what being a “plant bar” is all about. Instead, Little Green is a place where you can make your own succulent displays, using succulents, pots, soil, rocks, and other materials that Little Green provides (for a fee, of course). You can make them by yourself, as part of a group, or as a member of one of the classes that Little Green puts on.

In addition, Little Green is offering some of their space to other local vendors. At the moment, there is a rack of vintage clothing for sale, and a small room towards the back is currently home to “Vintage Impact,” which offers a variety of one-of-a-kind transformed, painted or repurposed vintage and antique items.

Given their location, Little Green is just a bit beyond the heart of downtown Redwood City, but I consider it worth the walk. I can certainly see myself stopping in from time-to-time, especially once they expand their coffee bar beyond drinks that contain coffee (they do plan to add to their menu; hopefully it will include iced tea or something like that). The folks are friendly, and the space has a quiet, restful air that makes it an ideal place to take a short break from a busy day.

If you continue on along Main Street you will pass the nearly complete three-story office building at 1180 Main Street (the exterior and landscaping are done; now the interior is being fitted out for, I believe, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative). After that, you find yourself surrounded by construction fencing and equipment. You’re now in the heart of the ELCO Yards project, which is pretty much in full swing now. Demolition continues, this week with the old Redwood Roller Rink building. Along with the small self-service carwash that was next door, the rink is now history:

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I expect that the few remaining buildings on the six-block ELCO Yards property will be coming down very soon now. Elsewhere on the project, actual construction activity is starting to take place. From the permits that have been issued thus far, the work may be limited to extending the needed utilities (including recycled water from our recycled water plant out near the end of Redwood Shores) to the various parcels. Although, this machine, in particular, sure looks like the kind of drill used for foundation work:

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In any case, the contractors are shifting from the demolition phase to the construction phase; expect to see a great deal of activity along both El Camino Real and Main Street (with some internal streets such as Beech Street being at least partly closed due to construction) for a number of years to come.

That’s it for an exploration of Redwood City’s Main Street this week. As you can see, Redwood City’s transformation from a sleepy little bedroom community near the heart of Silicon Valley into a modern, bustling place where you can comfortably live and work continues apace. With much of that transformation being centered on Main Street, that particular street likely won’t be just another road some of us use to get from one place to another for much longer, but instead will be an attractive destination in its own right. It’s about time…

4 thoughts on “Bounding Along Main

  1. It’s great to see the historic buildings being adapted for contemporary use. I’m curious to see how the Elco Yards developer will treat Redwood Creek; Graystar proposed a “riverwalk,” but the creek’s flow varies wildly – lots of fresh water when it rains, otherwise a few inches of saltwater at high tide or bare concrete when the tide is out. With the unpredictability of future sea levels, planning an attractive space along there seems like a real challenge.

  2. I’m sure we are late to the party but we recently discovered Venga! Empanadas downtown! They are located at 822 Main Street between Broadway and the driveway to the parking lot across from Savers. Of course, we discovered them first in San Francisco not realizing they have a location in Redwood City!

    Venga! offers many different flavors of empanadas along with soups and salads. We haven’t been to the local location yet but it looks like they have a few tables inside and a few tables outside.

    We tried six different flavors of empanadas and loved them all. The empanadas are pre-cooked so you can easily take them home and heat them up for dinner if you don’t want to eat downtown.

    We encourage you to try out Venga! Empanadas!

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