With dwindling membership and old facilities, the Palo Alto Elks Lodge is slated to undergo demolition and arise phoenix-like as a modern recreational complex styled to attract new members. Its planned transformation received a generally positive response during its preliminary review in Thursday's Architectural Review Board meeting, but hit a possible snag toward the end.
"The design looks like a corporate headquarters, not a community space," Chair David Solnick said of the building proposed for El Camino Real. "I really can't support such an unfriendly plan."
The plans presented by the architectural firm Hoover Associates detailed the new 63,250 square-foot lodge and the pools, sports courts, and dining areas that the Elks hope will attract a younger generation of families. Also on display were four previous iterations of the layout, each reworked to address setback, height and noise issues.
Despite Solnick's closing criticism, the board's comments began positively. All members supported design enhance exceptions (DEEs) that would allow the structure to have a side setback of 12 feet from the curb, rather than the 25 mandated by zoning code, and to reach a maximum height of 40 feet with its sloping roofs, rather than the 35 usually required by south El Camino guidelines.
"I have no problem with the DEEs," said board member Heather Trossman.
Solnick called the DEE's "no-brainers," and praised the overall site plan as "excellent."
Some confusion about how many parking spots would be built was also cleared up with a projected 231 spots for the Elks hoped-for future membership of 1,500. Architects also promised to bring more exact figures, as well as fold-out images and a three-dimensional model to the final review, scheduled for Aug. 16.
Regulatory wrinkles aside, the real point of contention rest on aesthetics. Solnick seized upon the brick-and-glass structures, to be capped with dramatically sloping roofs, as "unfriendly modern, the sort people think of when they say they don't like modern."
Board member Grace Lee agreed.
"At the El Camino street level, two thirds of your building is solid brick wall and I think that's negative," she said. "Perhaps you could add punctured openings for more light and space."
Vice Chair Clare Malone-Prichard labeled the planned brick face, "harsh and a little bit foreboding."
Yet others felt that the bricks could be attractive.
"I'm from the East Coast and I miss brick buildings," board member Judith Wasserman said. "The issue is how it's detailed."
Malone-Prichard cited the SFMoMA as an example of attractive brickwork to which the architects could turn.
The Hoover architects were quick to highlight the many trees, benches and granite water fountains that will line the El Camino side of the structure, making it pedestrian-friendly, as well as an open entrance plaza. The plaza garnered praise from board members, who also suggested adding "an ice cream truck or coffee cart," as well as public artwork, to encourage plaza use beyond Elks members.
Another hurdle the project must clear is proving its environmental merit. Project consultant Jim Baer said that the design of sustainability features had been deliberately delayed until after the preliminary review, a notion Lee poo-pooed.
"Sustainability, making the buildings green, is something that should be thought out at the preliminary level, not just at construction time," she said.
Malone-Prichard said that green goals at the start have the opportunity to positively influence the design, but that, "it's not too late this time to work on sustainability." She suggested shading for interior glass walls to reduce energy needed to cool the building, as well as wondering if pool water could be cleaned and recycled.
Despite the Board's calls to temper the perhaps austere brick stretches of the fašade and to add green features to the plans, the overall message seemed positive.
"I will be ultimately delighted to support this," Wasserman said.
"It's a huge improvement over the existing conditions on the site," Malone-Prichard said.