Monday, October 23, 2006

Buildings in Search of a New Life and the Call to Action

I am going to hit on a few subjects here and steer off on a few tangents, so hang with me as I jump all over the place....

With the reincarnation of the Cal West Building into the Joie de Vivre Hospitality boutique hotel I'm am hoping people around Sacramento are starting to see the advantages of taking older historic buildings and creating new civic treasures.

I see so many great looking old buildings around downtown Sacramento that waste away as office space, and in some cases worse , Class C State office space, never to be fully enjoyed by the public.

These buildings are the architecture character, heart and soul of our city, but yet they lay waste in a sea of forgotten to most people.

Chip Conely from JDV commented many times how the Cal West Building just looks like it should be a hotel, not an office building. I agree 100%. There are many buildings to me that "just look like" they should be something else. I see a lot of these around Sacramento.

These buildings need new life, just like the Cal West building is seeing. The Elks Tower is seeing a nice make over with renovated office space and a new McCormick and Schmicks. Yes, it's a chain, but given the companies dedication to old buildings, I think we will see something unique done to the building and can't wait to see how it comes out.

With regard to the many other lower profile buildings in the city, how great would some of these look and feel seeing them transform into a Sacramento Concert Hall? Sacramento Art or Culinary Academy? How about Sacramento Museum of Modern Art? or Contemporary Art? Natural History? Asian Art Museum? Mexican Art Museum?

Now I know we have quite a few places that have these displays, such as the wing at the Crocker for Asian Art or La Raza Galeria Posada for Mexican art, but larger more dedicated museums would be great additions to this city.

Yes, the syphony and opera perform at the community center, but having a dedicated concert hall enhances those experiences and provides for better performances to come to Sacramento. The Memorial Auditorium acoustics have been well talked about as being poor. Maybe an upgrade is needed?

We have been seeing and hearing a lot of new developments in the city core, but to really make the central city livable and exciting for everyone we really really need to invest in more cultural amenities that bring the creative class into the city. Housing (still important), hotels, restaurants, and new retail only do so much. No one or two things will do it alone, and we are lacking this part of the equation to make it all work.

As I wrote in my very first blog post, I still want the city core to be the "entertainment, employment, arts, cultural, dining, shopping and urban living center for the region" While we are hitting on some of those points, it will take all of them to make the central city a place for everyone to enjoy. To do this, we need to improve our cultural offerings.

If you look around the country, large cities have many many of these cultural facilities in old historic buildings of interest.

For example:

- The Asian Art Museum in SF

- Chicago Symphony Center

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Here are a few buildings through out downtown that I think would be great as some of the civic and cultural facilities mentioned above:

-This is one of my favorite buildings downtown on 12th and K. It's a stunning building when you take a close look at it. Given the location in the "theatre district", it really makes sense (when I say sense, I don't necessarily mean financial sense) to turn it into something more than just office space. A concert hall or theatre would be great in that location next to the community center.

-I'm not sure what this building use to be, but I know I have seen receptions and banquets held. Looks likes a good candidate for a museum

- The old Hong Kong Bank Building, currently for sale. Chinese Art Museum or Chinese Performing Arts. How about the Fat family stepping up to do something in the community they have spent generations in?

- Masonic Temple. Currently used as a ballroom, but could be another candidate for reuse.

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- The Kress on K and 8th Street. Would be great if turned back into it's original form of a department store...but what about culinary academy or art academy space? The ground floor could be used for as a culinary institute restaurant or a gallery for the art academy students. Maybe a Thiebaud Art Academy...

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Now that sounds all great in theory, but in reality, it would take quite a bit of time and money to pull these things off. In order for this to happen, we really need to see three things: 1) Citizens in Sacramento Demanding It 2) City Leaders Commitment 3) Philanthropy

The 3rd item is probably the hardest to come by (some would say #2, and I would agree to a point).

Since Sacramento does not have the large corporate base other large cities have, we need to depend on the the people in this city to make these things happen. Other than the Wells Fargo Pavilion (Music Circus) I can't think of any other major projects funded by corporations. I know there are many that sponsor the arts and other things, but in terms of help building large civic facilities, I can't think of any. I could be wrong though.

The Friedman, Anderson/Lucchetti, Tsakopoulos (love him or hate him, he gives $$$$, even if part of it is self marketing), Setzer, and Ose families, and many others I know I am missing or are not aware of, have given tremendous amounts of money to The Crocker Expansion, Sutter Health Expansion, Childrens Theatre and Museum, and Unity Center efforts in Sacramento. While this is a great great start, we need more of this from more people to create these civic cultural gems.

Only recently have I really been hearing about these very large donations, hopefully it continues. We don't have as many of the ultra wealthy people places like San Franciso or LA may have, but Sacramento is no slouch either. There are wealthy people in this region.

Creating these facilites doesn't make money and doesn't make pure return on investment sense to do, but as I have said on other items it does make community, civic and quality of life sense for people in this region. Through the giving of people who have made lots of money in the Sacramento area and feel the need to give back, I see these as great great opportunities to give back while creating something of lasting quality for Sacramentians to enjoy for generations to come.

I would never tell someone they HAVE to give money, because I feel no one has the obligation to give anything to anyone, but at some point in my life, I plan to "walk the walk" on this. I feel I have worked hard my whole life and in turn am fortunate to be where I am at in life at this point. Once my family has become financial secure, one of my life goals is to significantly contribute money and effort to a similar cause and help bring something like this off the ground in my home city which I love. I would personally take great pride in doing something like this during my lifetime.

Mind you, I most likely won't have a million dollars to give, but if more people in Sacramento took the approach of giving something to the arts, theater, education or any other cause they care very much about along with some real volunteer effort, we can make things happen.

7 comments:

Jetrock said...

First building: Weinstock & Lubin's "uptown" location (original location three blocks north, still has the "W" on it.) Second building: D.O. Mills Bank. Currently a ballroom. Both buildings definitely underutilized and would make great public space. I'd add the Senator Hotel on 12th and L Street to that list, although apparently it is very financially successful as a state office building. It's also one of the few historic-preservation legacies of Marion "Buzz" Oates, otherwise known for knocking things down and putting ugly "Buzz Boxes" all over downtown. The Chinatown block is interesting--part has already been rehabbed (Ping Yuen Apts.) and the block itself is the legacy of Sacramento's erasing of the original Japanese and Chinese neighborhoods downtown.

Anonymous said...

Dear LivingInUrbanSac:

The stateley federaly-style building that you suggest could be a museum is the former Security Pacific National Bank building. Bank of America acquired SPNB some time ago and sold the building.

-A long time Sacramento resident-

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Thanks for the info on the buildings Jetrock and Anonymous. I had a feeling it was the Weinstock & Lubin's building, but wasn't positive

I had taken pictures of and was going to include The Senator, Berry, Marshall and Capitol Park Hotel as well, but I left it off to concentrate the post on buildings that seemed to make sense for cultural projects.

Those buildings would make interesting boutique hotels and residentials, if the city can find a way to fund newer and better SROs, which hasn't had much traction so far. (10 year plan my ass)

You are right about the success of the Senator though. Unfortunately, it's not going to be anything else other then an office building for a long time. At least from what I have seen, it's still in very good shape for the future. I haven't had much chance to see the details of the inside though.

"Buzz Boxes" is right. You almost tell by just looking at the building if Buzz developed it

jetrock said...

The Capitol Park and the Berry will probably be SROs for a long time: the Capitol Park is privately owned, and the owner pretty much sticks to the strategy that he knows. Both are full and often have waiting lists. As for the 10 year plan, that's only a plan to end CHRONIC homelessness (estimated at 10% of the homeless population) and it is done on a "housing first" model, so that 10 years won't even actually start until there are bricks and mortar for the targeted population to move into. Up until now the plan has been to knock down or close SROs and replace them with nothing, or point at the two buildings with very-low-income targeted rooms (both full, both with waiting lists) and claim that by replacing one unit in ten they are keeping their word. Maybe the new SRO ordinance will change that, but I won't be convinced until I see bricks and mortar.

The Marshall will be converted to a boutique or to apartments/condos in a few years.

Whenever I go to Union Square in San Francisco, the place is crowded with people but there are also homeless there, and SRO hotels in close proximity--somehow people show up anyhow.

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Yeah, I have heard the same plans for the Marshall as well. The new owners seem like they really want to turn it into something other than an SRO.

"Whenever I go to Union Square in San Francisco, the place is crowded with people but there are also homeless there, and SRO hotels in close proximity--somehow people show up anyhow."

That's funny, I always use Union Square when talking about the same thing. Union Sqaure has a much broader appeal than K Street, that's why people go there.

While I personaly have no problem with homeless or the "less than desirable" around me when I walk down K Street, but a lot of people do. Put more "normal" people on K Street, and the homeless will just mix in less noticeably like they do in Union Square.

I am not big on places like Joe Sun, Records, and Texas Mexican closing, but in the long run the 700 block project (and 800) will help accomplish that. People want to see the chains they know and love, even a lot of people who have lived in the grid for years. I don't have a problem with chains (chain restaurants is another story), as long as some independents are part of the mix as well to give it some flavor. In the short term, I'm not sure there will be too many of those though..at least a couple on that block would be nice.

I know those three have been offered less than ideal space which they haven't cared for (basement and 2nd story space), but I hope they stay can in the project somehow.

From the proforma I have seen for the 700 Block, the rents really aren't going to be very high, at least compared to other new projects retail space. I'd like to think it could work out for them given the assumed increase in customer traffic in the area.

Also - I meant to ask you. I thought the original Japanese and Chinese neighborhoods in downtown were bulldozed due to the freeway and Capitol Mall being built...was there more to it than that?

jetrock said...

The original Japanese neighborhood was in the path of Capitol Mall, but the Chinese neighborhood was along I and J Street. The old Lake Sutter, the swampy body of water where the Southern Pacific/Amtrak station now stands, was sometimes known as "China Slough" because the Chinese lived along its south bank. Both populations were shoved into Southside Park after Capitol Mall's urban renewal program, and the token city-block "Chinatown" in its spot stands in the center of the original razed Chinatown neighborhood.

There are a couple of businesses which are the legacy of that Chinese neighborhood--of which Joe Sun is one of the last holdouts. It seems kind of ridiculous that Joe Sun has to be forced out of their location. They're not a tenant--they own the building--and it seems like it would be practical to build around them, or otherwise get them in on the deal rather than forcing them out just so Joe Zeiden won't have to share any of his pie.

Remember that Bonehead Tattoo and Sub-Q are affected by this move too. Piercing and tattooing studios are far from "marginal" businesses in this century: most of my friends (mostly professional types in their twenties and thirties and forties) have at least one tattoo. They're also just the sort of business to give a neighborhood an "edgy" quality that it seems like Zeiden is shooting for: attracts college kids and evening foot traffic. They're not just for drunken sailors and bikers anymore...

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Thanks for the history lesson, Jetrock.

"and it seems like it would be practical to build around them"

Agreed.