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What is THAT being built at the corner of Seale and Cowper?

Original post made by Ted on Apr 19, 2008

What is being built at that corner? We thought that the city had some sort of rules that
new 'homes' must blend in with the neighborhood. How did this - what we think is a monstrosity - ever get by the ARB and the Planning Commission? It takes two lots, looks like a battleship or an aircraft carrier - or with the tiny windows maybe a prison. If this thing can be built in the prestigious, traditional 'Old Palo Alto" neighborhood, no neighborhood is safe from architectural chaos The site was discharging underground water down the drain for a long time. You gotta see it to believe it.

Comments (46)

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 19, 2008 at 12:54 pm

No neighborhood in PA is safe from carping neighbors, that's for certain. Sounds like modern architecture - good, it is nice to variety in our neighborhoods.

Posted by Sports lover, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 19, 2008 at 12:58 pm

THAT, my friend, is a really neat modern piece of architecture that is using rammed earth for the bottom facade. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OK, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 19, 2008 at 1:08 pm

There is definitely a generation gap in this City. No wonder my son chooses to live in Mnt Vw.

Posted by water table, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2008 at 9:11 am

"the site was discharging underground water down the drain for a long time."

I see the same thing happening all over, the water is being sucked out of the water table so that a basement can be built...and the basement will not count towards square footage of the home which means less property tax revenue.

Does anyone know if there are any impacts of having the water pumped out for weeks or months from all of the basement of the homes being built here in Palo Alto?

Posted by Ted, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2008 at 9:38 am

To "OK:How do you know WE have a generation gap. Could it be a 'taste' gap? Odds are
I'm younger than you are.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:36 am

It's weird, I live in Duveneck area (edge of the flood zone) and was told we are not permitted to have basements here because of the rather high water table. Ok - understood. Yet - in Old Palo Alto you are permitted to have basements even though it means a lot of pumping out of water?

Posted by kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 6:12 pm

Basements are not allowed in the FEMA-designated Flood Zone. They are allowed in the so-called X-Zone which is contiguous to the flood zone. However the city requires a qualified licensed hydrologist to assess the soil, the water table, etc. at the homeowner's expensve.

If the homeowner then chooses to build a basement, it must be of the evidently new 'floating basement' - a long building process. And yes, the ground water must be drained by flexible pipe to the nearest storm drain opening.

Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 8:20 pm

I have not yet seen this particular building but I've been shocked and dismayed at the way many of the houses are being built or remodeled in this town, as far as how much of the lot they can cover, how close they can come to the property lines, etc. I've lived here for 38 years and this didn't used to be seen here. I must assume that the building codes have been revised to allow this and, if so, it was a very bad idea for the quality of life here. I see houses which appear to nearly cover their entire lots. It looks awful no matter how fancy the house is or what style it is. If I wanted to live with cheek-by-jowl row houses I'd move to the East Coast. Proper proportion of house footprint to lot size seems to have gone by the wayside. Add to these lot-filling McMansions the rapid spread of ugly, imposing, rabbit warren housing projects and the result is a much less attractive city than it once was, one which seems to have jettisoned any idea of the value of esthetics or charm.

In the next few months I will be moving out of state after living in Palo Alto since 1970. I feel that I really won't miss Palo Alto all that much given the way it has developed the past 10 years or so. I never would have believed that the town I loved so much for so long, and never wanted to leave, would change so much that I would end up feeling this way. I have really been alienated by the way development has been managed. I no longer have any attachment to downtown or to Stanford or Town and Country Shopping Centers and rarely, if ever go to any of them. I used to shop at all three but all the businesses I patronized have been driven out by those catering to the rich. I no longer buy much of anything in Palo Alto except groceries and drug store items. It's a pity the town has become so much less livable, enjoyable and visually pleasing. I'm outa here!

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:58 pm

water table, the home in question does not have a basement.

Posted by Old Timer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 2:50 am

This home is really an eyesore in our quaint neighborhood.
Most of the neighbors think it should have been built in Atherton where you could mask it with trees.
Extremism to the max!
There is another eyesore in our neighborhood on Washington and Bryant - that one did pump out millions of gallons of water for a long time. I think this one is the home "Water Table" is referring to.

Posted by Litebug Don't Go, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 2:57 am

The building codes will be revised soon - too many people have been abusing our building codes (as you mentioned) over the years.
This will all change soon. Please don't leave!

Posted by Whats it for, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 9:41 am

I drove by Seale and Cowper. Mind boggling. It is worth a drive-by.
What do you suppose it is going to be used for? My guesses-
a bowling alley
a row of prison cells
a corridor of offices
a runner's track

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:02 am

Towns change. Tastes change. If you've lived here 40 years, no doubt there has been a lot of change - 100 years ago this was still mostly virgin land. One of the reasons I came to California is that I like the dynamism of the place, even though it makes some things harder and creates some conflict.

Hopefully we don't try to stop change, experimentation, and evolution - it is one of the things that make this place interesting and special.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:30 am

I must agree with Me Too. I doubt if residents who lived here would expect Palo Alto to look exactly the same as it did then if they could look into the future of 2008 and at the same time, I don't think any of us expect it to look the same in 2058.

Neighborhoods change. What was once a modern town now looks old and shabby. Some will remodel to keep the old character alive and some will change the look altogether. This is what happens. We don't all drive 50s looking cars, wear 50s fashions, or eat 50s style (and many of us are pleased with that). In the same way, we shouldn't expect 50s style houses to remain in our town.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 24, 2008 at 2:32 pm

"What do you suppose it is going to be used for?"

That's the same question that Northern Manchurian nomads would ask about where you're living. You point?

Posted by Whats it for, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Sorry it is so hard for you to get the point, Mike. I'll try to be clearer for you.
The structure is overbearing, domineering, oversized. The owner clearly has money to burn and could have built in an area where this kind of monstrosity would not be unusual. The people who live in that neighborhood have a great variety of architectural styles. This one is way outside the bounds and I don't blame them if they are upset.
I don't know whether the Northern Manchurian nomads are knowledgable about architectural style, but some of us are.
Having money is no guarantee of having taste. Or judgment. Here is proof.

Posted by Old Timer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 10:57 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Alyssa, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2008 at 11:04 pm

"The people who live in that neighborhood have a great variety of architectural styles. This one is way outside the bounds and I don't blame them if they are upset."

I live on block from the house in question. And I am infinitely more "upset" about bigots like "What's it for" who think their sense of superiority when it comes to matter of taste priviliges them to hector and control others with less enlightened sensibilities.

There are lots of houses in the "great variety of styles" that what I would choose if I were building a house. But I can live with them pretty easily. It's more difficult to live in the same town with people like "What's it for" who want to get in their neighbors' faces about matters of taste (that are likely really motivated by envy).

Do we have such a shortage of real substantive issues and problems in town that we need to pick fights about architecture?

Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 25, 2008 at 2:21 am

I figured I'd get the type of stock responses I got from a couple of people like "Me Too" and, particularly, "Resident", making ridiculous assumptions that I expected things never to change. Totally untrue. Of course, change has been constant during the entire time I've lived here and is a natural and normal thing, but in the past 10 years it has become malignant, ugly, and poorly managed, in my opinion. Not all change is progress.

I am definitely leaving Palo Alto. We simply cannot afford to live here anymore.

Posted by Litebug Don't Go!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:23 am

Litebug, please don't move! The majority of residents feel exactly like you. This forum is by no means representative of how the majority of residents or council feels. Wait to see what happens.
People are fed up like you and I. Don't listen to the people here.
Write to council and tell them about these insane buildings, code violations, etc. They are rewriting the building codes. Send a note to council (not staff) on their email, or plan to speak during oral communications for 3 minutes about this insanity. Good luck and come to council. Call the city or check online for the study session.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 9:07 am

Litebug, didn't mean to offend, sorry my answer seemed "stock" and "ridiculous."

LB (and others) leaving should not be unduly mourned (though I am sure s/he is a fine person). Resident turnover is part of the necessary and natural evolution of towns and neighborhoods. In fact, Prop 13 has probably dampened healthy turnover in CA and PA since it gives homeowners a strong incentive not to sell their homes.

My primary sentiment is that I like some change and experimentation in the mix, even though it takes getting used to. Hopefully PA will retain that spirit.

Posted by Lived Here Long Enough, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:24 am

I am SO happy to someone address that hideous thing @ the corner of Seale & Cowper.
And I am SO happy to learn that other neighbors also feel that it is a visual affront to the neighbor, & does not in any way belong in such a historic neighborhood.

And for those who feel that it is just a generation gap of taste, allow me to inform you that my children, ranging in age from 15 - 24, ALL agree that it is "way too ugly!" And FYI, one of those children is studying architecture @ UCLA.

Posted by What a stink, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:26 am

Lived Here Long enough-- and I bet your s__t does not stink either.

Posted by Barney Morgan, a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2008 at 11:17 am

Haven't people in Palo Alto got more to do than criticize their neighbors' taste in houses?

What a bunch of elitist dilettantes.

Posted by Whats it for, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2008 at 11:30 am

The reason for the criticism is that we have to look at it every day. We have no choice. No one criticizes what people have inside their houses.
The outside is in the public eye and we have a right to be offended. There is plenty of leeway for people to build what they like without attracting this much criticism.
Even trees can't hide this structure.
Barney, you too have the time to read and write to this thread. Welcome to Elitist Dilettantes, Inc.

Posted by Milty, a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 11:52 am

Didn't they have a discussion about that the city's motto should be a few months ago?

I think What's it for has hit on the perfect solution for our spoiled town:

"we have a right to be offended".

I hate to say it, but Barney M is right. We must look awful small-minded to people in other towns complaining about having to look at a neighbor's house whose style isn't what we would choose ourselves.

I wonder if Whats it for would like the rest of us to drive by his/her place and offer critical commentary.....

Posted by ol' lady, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2008 at 12:01 pm

God save us from the horror of being forced to please our neighbors in our architectural taste.

If you want that, move to a "planned community" where all the houses look alike and you pay your association fees so that everyone can look the same.

Posted by Bad Architects, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 25, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Many of these architects are not from California.
Use Google and check them out.

These homes basically scream "I'M NOT FROM HERE"

Write to council. Planning doesn't care and neither does Public Works.
Those guys are laughing at us go under because they don't live here, they don't like us, and they don't care.

Make sure letters are addressed to council or they will end up in lost in city hall with a generic answer.

For people with basements. They will fail. Settle in court with the architect, builder, and the city for allowing this.

Posted by Selfish Architects, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Since children are learning to appreciate trees, respect the environment, live modestly, and cut down water and electric use, it is likely that these kids will grow to really hate their parents for their excessiveness and selfishness.

No amount of money you donate to any environmental group can reverse this.

And any self proclaimed environmentalist who builds a home which claims to be Green that has pumped out millions of gallons of water to build a swimming pool on the bottom of our freshwater aquifer is a hypocrite.

Again, irresponsible architects from out of state.

Walk around. Note the names, and see how long they have lived in CA.
I only know of one architect who is a long time resident.

Another thing, swimming pools went out of style long ago.
A thing of the past. Most people with new pools are from out of state.

Good luck selling your homes with basements and pools.

Our neighborhood is already to give these new owners a cold welcome which will take years (if ever) to overcome.

Mike and Alyssa, if you dare write anything. I will reveal who you are and I have 23 studies to prove it.
Stay out of business that is not in your neighborhood. There is no one with the name of Alyssa in our neighborhood

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Boy, that's quite a welcome mat you roll out in Old PA! Is "being from here" a big feature there? One of the things I like about California is that so many people are from somewhere else, and bring their own values and view points into the mix.

Posted by CPA Employees hate us, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 2:20 pm

When in Rome do as the Romans do if you want to fit in and have people like you. Anyone who has seen good homes destroyed to put up a monstrosity and had to endure endless sleepness nights with a pump running and contractors trucks for a year are not going to have a warm welcome in any neighborhood.

Los Altos Hills is having huge problems too. Enormous homes painted and decorated like Indian temples or Mosques in the rolling oak filled hills of Los Altos. These people will never fully assimilate into that neighborhood. I know some of the neighbors and they are furious.

Again, take a walk through Crescent Park, Old Palo Alto, Professorville, and Midtown. Note the names of the architects and Spec home builders (on the cookie cutters) the answers will be found. Why are they here?

Many of new neighbors who are attorneys and physicians live in modest homes, and assimilated into our neighborhood immediately and were welcome with open arms, gifts of food, and immediate play dates for the kids.

The families with monster homes never really assimilated, although they some found other out of state people to become friends with, they are not close with people in the neighborhood even after several years.

Failed Basements? Take the city, architects, and builders to court for allowing them to be built when they fail.

They only look good for a few years, especially when sold as brand new.

Write to council, talk to a councilman. They are residents, and they do care. Do not deal with the city and never think that they are on your side. Take your concerns to council. Your phone call complaints never make it to the people who have the real control over our city.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Personally I judge people by their character, not their construction. I guess they don't care enough about "fitting in" for your taste - oh well. I guess they won't be your friends and probably won't mind it much. Over time, they will become part of the neighborhood and new neighbors will just take them for granted.

There's a "modern monster" in my neighborhood, I'm told the neighbors put them through the wringer when they built it. We moved in with no preconceptions and find the "monster family" to be nice people, with a lovely home (best landscaping in the neighborhood, though totally different from everyone else's), happy to be friends with people who take them as they are.

Some people want to fit in; others stick out; others just wanna do what they wanna do. God loves them all and I don't mind them much either.

Posted by Sue The Architects, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:08 pm

I know more people with great character and high self esteem who live in modest homes (which include Eichlers) who are Stanford professors, Deans, Directors in all departments at Stanford, and in the medical school. I know top executives who live in modest homes throughout the city. My husband is a Director of one of the top companies here, and we live modestly, our neighbor is one of the top surgeons at Stanford. They live modestly. Other neighbors are top attorneys and enjoy living modestly. We are all outraged at these homes in our neighborhood.

The attorneys suggest people who have been taken by false promises from architects and builders take the architects, builders, and city to court for allowing these homes to be built.

Additionally, if your foundation has been damaged by an excavation, take the city to court for allowing them to built on small lots and violating the adjacent set backs. People are arming themselves with photos of these excavations right up to the lot line, and the city does nothing.

Did your beloved tree die after a neighbor built his monster home?

The city allowed it - sue them, the architect, and the builder.

Many spec home builders are taking advantage of newcomers to this area who are not familiar with the area. The houses look okay when they are new. Wait a few years and see what happens.

Posted by Sue The Architects, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Insurance companies are wary of insuring homes with basements that float in water. Good luck in insuring them, and reselling them with a basement, or a pool. It will be near impossible.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Wow, those are classy friends! And your husband a Director of a top company! Very impressive!

Personally, I don't care much whether people live modestly or not - really a personal choice and pretty subjective. I'm more interested in how people behave and what they are like. Jerks and saints can both be found in small and big houses, fancy and plain neighborhoods.

I'm not sure how I feel about someone who rails against her neighbor's architecture, brags about her friends, and urges all and sundry to "sue the city."

Posted by Sue the Architects, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:25 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Its for Me Me Me, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 25, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Me too says God loves them (the people who offend their neighbors).
That is not true. God does NOT love them, he thinks it is not good to offend your neighbors or to aggrandize yourself. My God is very clear about that.
It's apparent that the people who are defending this thing have not seen it. They are just posting meaningless platitudes.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 25, 2008 at 5:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Peter, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Why don't we all take a deep breath, calm down, and wait until we see what the finished structure looks like, all comfy on the lot with plantings and such. We don't even know what color it's going to be yet.

Posted by New 2 PA, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 25, 2008 at 6:49 pm

We moved here a few years ago and bought a single story home.
I think our home was damaged when an oversized house was recently built on the lot next to ours. We recently spent quite a bit of money remodeling the interior, and my husband and I think that our home is sloping. Since we purchased our home we have had many "McMansions" built on our street with full basements. They did pump out groundwater. We can't afford to fix our foundation since we are still paying off the mortgage and the loan for the remodel. Can we really take this to court? We did not know about the legal requirements for side spaces. The house next to ours dug their hole almost to our property line. Is this legal? My husband called the city and spoke with someone who told him that we needed to contact the owner. We are not sure how to get our foundation fixed. The only tree we had in our yard died and we had to pay to have it removed.
Who is responsible here?

Posted by Sue the Architects, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 7:16 pm

The city
The owner
The architect

Posted by Resident in old PA, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Both of the homes mentioned in this post are being constructed in my neighborhood. Their construction and design is more commercial in nature, than residential. My neighbors wonder why the the city did not notify us about the magnitude of either of these constructions. Neither one qualifies as a normal home construction. I was wondering why they did not have to complete somekind of environmental impact review or architectural review before proceeding. The home on Seale is an eyesore to the neighborhood which will be with us forever. If you do not live in this neighborhood you can not understand how a home like this detracts from the charm of the neighborhood. It is similar to having an electronics store built right next door to you.
The homes that were originally on both of these properties were beautiful homes, and did not need to demolished. With all the talk about recycling, why would people do this? And the question arises why the city allows these types of commercial level constructions to be permitted into an old established residential area without a full and thorough environmental and architectural review.

Posted by Ordinances!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2008 at 11:09 pm

Don't we have ordinances against these commercial type constructions within established neighborhoods?

There must be something within our codes to prohibit this type of construction and another one like it in our neighborhood.

Posted by Carrie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Palo Alto Online Staff
You have missed an offensive post from "What a stink" that should be deleted.

Posted by Funny, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2008 at 7:40 pm

I drove by to see what all the fuss was about. It is a biggish modern house. Style (big rectangular boxes) is similar to several other new houses in town, including one on Santa Rita I think, and another in Barron Park. It's big, but I assume it meets the zoning regs for the lot. As others have pointed out, it is pretty hard to judge the final appearance by how it looks now - it is a construction site.

As for being some kind of abomination that should be outlawed - that I don't understand. It is a modern house - not everybody's taste, but nothing to get upset about.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2008 at 12:29 am

There is no home in our neighborhood which is like this. Not on on Santa Rita. This kind of sturcture would not be allowed into any other established neighborhood. The only place for these kinds of homes is out on 100 acres somewhere. A lot of people are moving away this summer (all over the city). They are getting sick of the abuses.
The city allows anything, as long as you know the right people and donate a lot of bucks.

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