What is a Deadzone?

By | City Planning, Design, Walk Appeal | No Comments

There are an alarming amount of “deadzones” in Mtn View. This is a planning term used for areas that have no public interaction or service to the community. Here in black are the areas people are barred from entering in our downtown:Deadzones in black: Mountain View's downtown

 

    Deadzones harm the remaining businesses trying to survive because they hurt foot traffic numbers and the remaining businesses feel less interesting. Less retail concentration in proximity leads to less vibrancy and sustainability for the remaining businesses. Deadzones come in many forms:
    • Permanently closed shops
    • offices allowed on our main walking streets that block out the windows and don’t allow interactive use
    • buildings with blank walls feet from our main sidewalks on Castro,
    • buildings with temporary closures for remodels or even, as we found out interviewing shopkeeps, from lack of traffic that simply means they stay open very few hours.
    • Out of town developers come to make money on land they deem most profitable: office space, but contribute to the deterioration of our downtown by putting office buildings which are not interactive, closed to the street, and contain commercial kitchens that feed their employees for free, starving our downtown restaurants. A triple threat to our downtown.
      Quora offices at 605 Castro

      Quora’s office use creates a deadzone on Castro Street.

Here is an example, right on Castro: The Quora Building at 605. Note the closed shades, right on our main street, in the middle of the day. Surrounding retail businesses struggle when some areas on the main street are closed. Foot traffic decreases in these deadzone areas.

Combining Density and Livability

By | City Planning, Design, Historic Buildings, Livability, Walk Appeal | No Comments

Urban Grain and Vibrancy of Older Neighborhoods: Metrics and Measures is a new paper by Kathryn Rogers Merlino at University of Washington. It speaks to what Livable Mountain View has been saying we need for Mountain View’s downtown, which is to create density but with livability that includes a sense of place that is unique to Mountain View. One of the things we hear from Sunnyvale folks, both residents and their leaders, is that it was a huge mistake to tear out their historic downtown (all but two blocks). The 5 story boxy steel and glass buildings have tenants who live in them above, but the retail shops below aren’t all filled, and the sidewalks are deserted after 5pm. It’s not a place that is special or that people want to be. And we’ve heard that Sunnyvale is now looking to recreate that as an extension to the 2 blocks of Murphy Street so they can get it back.

We don’t want to see Mountain View lose our first three blocks (See our analysis of our Downtown Precise Plan which shows that every building, even ones that might one day be on the historic register, can be removed and bulldozed the next.) And frankly, we are concerned that without the preservation of the buildings that give us character we could end up just like Sunnyvale. Regretting it and not having the new development used as a downtown like it should be. We want density, but we want to use the lots and areas without special buildings to make it and leave the special buildings in tact and protected.

Current trends of urbanization across the country are focusing on increased density in our cities. While the idea of living at higher densities can combat sprawl, how does this affect existing, older neighborhoods? Many new buildings built for high density lack a sense of historic character and uniqueness of place, and cover entire blocks that don’t lend themselves to a quality pedestrian experience. Density must be combined with livability if we are to make quality cities that make successful places for people. This paper presents a study that suggests that a variety of age, texture and scale in buildings inherently assert a degree of richness in neighborhoods. Preliminary results of the study suggest that fine grain buildings in a block correlate with increased pedestrian activity and therefore urban vibrancy.

The study’s conclusion:

…preliminary results of the study provide quantifiable data that suggest a finer grain block with older building ages corresponds to increased pedestrian activity and street vibrancy. Higher ratings were found on blocks that had shorter average building widths that corresponded with older buildings and more durable materials. Blocks that had long, continuous building facades appeared to provide no interest or engagement for the pedestrian, nor did blocks that had open, empty lots, or buildings with poor material quality.

As the Merlino team at UW continues the study collecting data and analyzing the ways people react in different urban environments, we will keep you updated.

Historic Mountain View: Weilheimer History

By | Historic Buildings, Livability, Uncategorized, Walk Appeal | One Comment

Update Aug 12, 2017:  One of twho historical treasures that were slated to be destroyed . . .

The Weilheimer House — or Chez TJ, as it’s been known the past 30 years — was built in the 1890s by early Mountain View settlers and features Queen Anne architecture.

THE WEILHEIMER HOUSE or CHEZ TJ as it’s known today:

A walk along Mountain View’s Villa Street reveals a perfect example of Victorian Architecture from the late 1800’s. The Weilheimer House at 938 Villa Street remains at it’s original location on a grassy knoll with large Heritage Trees in front. Built in 1894, and having survived the 1906 Earthquake, it is one of the oldest buildings on the Peninsula. The Weilheimer House has a rich chronicle of Owners and is rooted in Mountain View’s Living History.

The Weilheimer House is on land that was originally part of Castro’s farm. When Castro died (around 1856), his sons hired the Lawyer Houghton to defend them against squatters and secure the land.

Weilheimer House circa 1894

From the State of California National Resources Agency:

“As payment for representing the Castro’s in court, Houghton was given land. A portion of the land Houghton received included the property. It was part of what he named “Villa Lands.” Circa 1869, Houghton sold a good portion of his land in Mountain View to Doctor Bowling (D.B) Bailey for $3,500 (he was not a medical doctor; his first name was Doctor). Over the next twenty years Bailey began developing Villa Lands and by 1887 had recorded a subdivision map.”

The Weilheimer House was built in the 1894 to be the residence of Julius Weilheimer and his young bride, Fanny. Julius was the son of Seligman Weilheimer, an early Mountain View pioneer who arrived in the city with his brother, Samual, during the California gold rush. The brothers owned a general store located on Castro St., which Julius would later operate.

The younger Weilheimer would go on to serve two terms as mayor of Mountain View.  He was a merchant, bank officer and member of the first Town Board.

FROM THE MV CITY STAFF REPORT:

“938 Villa Street, now Chez TJ, was built for Julius Weilheimer, one of Mountain View’s most prominent pioneer families. A property survey states that the Weilheimer home was built in 1894. According to the City’s 2003 Survey, “the house is an excellent example of a Queen Anne style cottage.”

It was built in an elaborate style for early Mountain View with Palladian windows, an ample porch, an open balustrade and sawtooth shingles on one of the gables. Julius was the son of Seligman Weilheimer a Jewish immigrant from Dossenheim, Baden, Germany, who built Mountain View’s first big general merchandise store in 1856. The Weilheimers also had established a general store in Old Mountain View on El Camino Real during the 1850s stagecoach era. They set up a new shop on Castro Street when the railroad opened.

“The building still stands today as one of the oldest commercial buildings in the North County. The family also ran a hotel, livery, and other businesses near the first block of Castro. Julius was very prominent in a critical era in the city’s history, when it voted to incorporate. Julius was one of our first City Council members, although the body was called the Board of Trustees at the time.  He was also Vice President of the Mountain View Farmers and Merchant’s Bank. The Weilheimer family moved to San Francisco in 1907 whereupon Arthur Free, city attorney and later Congressman had the house until 1914. The Chez TJ Restaurant, now run out of the house has long been advertised as “a contemporary French cuisine restaurant that is uniquely located in one of the most historic Victorian homes in Mountain View.”

The Weilheimer House has a rich chronicle of owners and is rooted in Mountain View’s living history.

The house is on land that had been part of the Mexican land grant of Rancho Pastoria de las Borregas.  This land grant was later passed on to Mariano Castro, who managed a farm on the land that is now Mountain View. When Castro died, around 1856, his sons hired Mr. Houghton, a lawyer, to defend them against squatters and secure the land.

FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA NATIONAL RESOURCES AGENCY:

“As payment for representing the Castros in court, Houghton was given land. A portion of the land Houghton received included the property. It was part of what he named “Villa Lands.” Circa 1869, Houghton sold a good portion of his land in Mountain View to Doctor Bowling (D.B.) Bailey for $3,500.  (He was not a medical doctor; his first name was Doctor.)  Over the next twenty years Bailey began developing Villa Lands and by 1887 had recorded a subdivision map.”

The Weilheimer House was built in the 1894 to be the residence of Julius Weilheimer and his young bride, Fanny.  Julius was the son of Seligman Weilheimer, an early Mountain View pioneer who arrived in the city with his brother, Samual, during the California gold rush.  The brothers owned a general store located on Castro St., which Julius would later operate.

The younger Weilheimer would go on to serve two terms as mayor of Mountain View. He was a merchant, bank officer and member of the first Town Board of Trustees. His father and brother owned a general store on El Camino and another downtown, which still stands at 124-8 Castro.

The home’s other notable past residents include Arthur M. Free, Mountain View’s postmaster and city attorney, who went on to become the only U.S. Congressman from Mountain View.

Congressman Arthur Monroe Free

Arthur Monroe Free (January 15, 1879 – April 1, 1953) was a United States Representative from California. He was born in San Jose, California. His birthplace at 66 South 14th Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Santa Clara County. He graduated from the Stanford University law department in 1903 and commenced practice in San Jose. Free moved to Mountain View and was a city attorney from 1904 to 1910. He was the District Attorney of Santa Clara County from 1907 to 1919. He voluntarily retired and resumed the practice of law at San Jose.

Congressman Arthur Monroe Free

Free was a delegate to the Republican state conventions in 1914 and from 1920 to 1936. He was elected as a Republican to the Sixty-seventh and to the five succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1921 – March 3, 1933).

Lloyd A. Free (29 September 1908 — 11 November 1996) was Arthur Free’s son.  Born in the Weilheimer House, he was a founder of the Institute for International Social Research.  In the war against Hitler, Free joined the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service. He counted references to specific military units mentioned in propaganda broadcasts and made accurate inferences about enemy offensive movements.

After the war, he assisted UNESCO in their communication operations before continuing similarly with the State Department. He helped establish the Institute for International Social Research which did opinion polling in France, Nigeria, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines, publishing the results, frequently as an Institute publication.  Free was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the World Association for Public Opinion Research.

The Weilheimer House has maintained its handsome Victorian-era character over the years. Technically, it can be classified as a “Painted Lady” because it uses three or more paint colors to highlight its architectural features.

EXTERIOR CHARACTERISTICS TYPICALLY FOUND IN A VICTORIAN STYLE HOMES IN SAN FRANCISCO AT THIS TIME:

  •       ASYMMETRICAL HOUSE DESIGN.
  •       OVERHANGING EAVES
  •       GINGERBREAD-STYLE GABLES
  •       DECORATIVE TRIM
  •       CUTAWAY BAY WINDOWS
  •       PALLADIAN WINDOWS
  •       AMPLE PORCH COVERING THE PRIMARY ENTRANCE AREA
  •       BUILT-IN CABINETRY
  •      SAWTOOTH PATTERNED WOOD SINGLES

THE INTERIOR BOASTS VICTORIAN PERIOD FEATURES THAT INCLUDE:

  •      WIDE TRIM BOARDS AND ARCHITECTURAL CROWN MOULDING.
  •       WAINSCOTING
  •       BUILT-IN CABINETRY
  •       LARGE PANELED WOOD POCKET DOORS
  •       WORKING TILED FIREPLACE

This historic house is currently home to the award-winning restaurant Chez TJ, a Mountain View favorite.  Chez TJ has long been advertised as “a contemporary French cuisine restaurant that is uniquely located in one of the most historic Victorian homes in Mountain View.”

 

WHAT IS A LAND TRUST AND WHY DOES IT WORK TO CREATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING?

By | Affordable Housing, City Planning, Livability | No Comments

An old idea is making a comeback as Bay Area Cities invest in Land Trusts. Why hasn’t Mountain View considered this option? Read this article about how it’s working in Oakland.

A home you can afford: How land trusts are changing Bay Area home ownership – July 30, 2018, SJ Merc.

Also take a look at the Oakland Community Land Trust‘s site which explains more about their work.

Palo Alto Proposes Limiting Office Development

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The Daily Post reports that Backers of initiative to limit office space growth collect more than enough signatures to make ballot. (PDF)

UPDATE: PALO ALTO HAS CAPPED OFFICE DEVELOPMENT, WHY NOT MV?, July 30 2018.

While the city council in Palo Alto just voted to limit development, if the referendum passes it would mean,

 “The stricter cap would also be permanent: any increase would have to be approved by voters, not City Council. Council has already decided to revisit its 50,000-square-foot annual limit within two to four years. Office cap opponents say it allows commercial landlords to raise rents, scaring away businesses that would bring tax revenue to the city.”

Why are cities considering this?

“The initiative seeks to curb the housing, traffic and parking impacts of new employees.”

Santa Clara Wants to Reclaim Its Downtown

By | City Planning, Historic Buildings, Livability, Walk Appeal | One Comment

Santa Clara, which tore down its downtown in the 60’s, wants to rebuild it as a central walking, meeting and human scaled space.

Old Santa Clara downtown, demolished in the 60s.

 

New vision for Santa Clara

 

 

 

 

 

Last November, ABC News covered Reclaiming our Downtown’s efforts. For more on their vision, see the group’s webpage.

 

Click on the image to watch the video: ABC News on Santa Clara Downtown rebuild

CBS Video on “Mountain View City Council Rejects Boxy Architecture, Seeks More Organic Designs”

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KPIX in SF (CBS) posted a video titled “Mountain View City Council Rejects Boxy Architecture, Seeks More Organic Designs

Boxy design reminds me of the proletariat 60s design that went out of style fast.. within 10 years in fact. Those old 60s buildings quickly became eyesores.. and I suspect the buildings we are putting up that benefit developers (every inch of the box can be sold and building them is cheap) will not stand the test of time either, leading to more ugly reputation for Mountain View. When I moved here, people had horrified looks on their faces, when I told them. I asked why, as Old Mountain View is lovely and I hadn’t seen anything ugly. They replied that the proletariat 60s apartment buildings were all over the rest of it, and I live in one of two nice neighborhoods. The rest was awful, as I quickly discovered. But still I’d hoped we’d learned from those old design mistakes. However, we appear to want to repeat history and do it all again. And the community will suffer while the developers and architects will live elsewhere, no need to live with the bad buildings they leave us with.

I’m happy to see our City Council of Mountain View is recognizing that these new boxy slightly refreshed but still 60s-proletariat buildings aren’t cutting it. But can developers think of anything to come up with truly livable designs?

Today in the Downtown Committee, Robert Green of The Robert Green Company presented a hotel and office, and said to us, “Mountain View doesn’t have a style.” And then “We are trying to find it….” And this is what he presented (along with Rob Zirkle of brick. who presented the Villa proposal):

Hotel and Offices proposals

Where is the livability in that?

Mountain View does have a style. Neither of these guys live here, so they don’t even realize our style. But it’s west coast craftsman arts and crafts, Queen Anne, Victorian, along with Spanish Mission (Tied House uses this with a mixture of that and Hamberg Warehouse style). Just because developers have ripped out and ruined some of our heritage and mostly put up garbage design that’s boxy, doesn’t mean we don’t have some remaining style left in our town. We want to save the stylish parts and build where we aren’t removing our heritage, with design that makes sense and is beautiful, with quality.

Other more imaginative developers have been able to muster that sense of quality and design. See these View Street Condos (just off Villa and Dana) for reference. In fact I would prefer to see the City ask the Hotel, and offices all be built in this style and quality:

Villa Condos Example of Mountain View Style

What makes the View Condos a great development isn’t just the design but good quality materials, attention to detail and a variety of special spaces such as the balconies, entries and courtyard, different heights and varying levels of facade. It’s still a very large building and yet standing at the front at street level it feels very human and livable. Also, high quality troweled stucco instead of popcorn pin point stucco is used, as is great thick wooden treatments for balconies and trims, doors and windows. No flimsy vinyl window divides here.. it’s a highly desirable building.

We need more of this.. and no more boxy proletariat buildings. These proposed hotel and offices are $100 million each buildings. Amazing that Green and Zirkle would propose such short sighted construction and design for Mountain View that won’t stand the test of time.