Hoping to accommodate Palo Alto's rapidly rising senior population, Avenidas is moving ahead with an ambitious plan to build an addition to its heavily used Bryant Street facility.
While no one disputes the need to create space to accommodate more senior classes and programs, the details of the new proposal faced scrutiny and some criticism last week from the city's Historic Resources Board, which was reviewing the project.
Though the board did not take any votes at its July 23 discussion, members voiced deep concerns about the impact that the modernist addition would have on the historic, Mediterranean-style building designed by Palo Alto's beloved architect, Birge Clark.
Avenidas is proposing to renovate the main two-story building at 450 Bryant St., which was constructed in 1927, and a one-story addition that was built in 1950. It would also demolish a 1978 addition and build a new three-story, 10,100-square-foot addition next to the main building.
At the July 23 meeting, the board struggled to reconcile the modernist design of the proposed addition with the traditional Spanish Colonial look of the existing building, which includes an arcade on the ground floor, stucco walls and a roof made of red tiles.
The board was by and large sympathetic toward the project, with several members acknowledging that they will probably be using the facility themselves before too long. Yet they also called for a number of revisions to the project's design and urged the project architect to create a better transition between the old and the new.
The city's planning staff had similar concerns in its own review, ultimately determining that the proposed addition would not be consistent with the Secretary of Interior's Standards for historical preservation. The proposal, as designed, "lacks transitional connection between the proposed new building and the historic buildings, which could allow the mass and bulk of the proposed new addition to overwhelm the historic buildings," planner Matthew Weintraub wrote in a staff report. Furthermore, the design calls for removal of the existing building's historic eaves and roof sections to accommodate the addition.
Board member David Bower argued that this removal is unacceptable, saying, "I'd not be able to support the project if it takes away the eaves on backside. This building is so perfect in its construction right now that to remove that fabric would damage it forever."
The board had some disagreements with planning staff about what material should be used on the new addition, with Weintraub suggesting that stucco could be a better choice because it would be more compatible with the Birge Clark building and Bower favoring a different material, like limestone.
"It is a stucco building but it is not characterized by the stucco facades," Bower said of the existing Avenidas building. "I'd differ from staff in suggesting that the new walls be stucco. I think that would be a horrible addition to this particular building."
Other board members had different concerns. Martin Bernstein suggested that the addition be lowered by about two feet while Beth Bunnenberg wondered if it would possible to preserve the 1970s addition that is slated for demolition.
Margaret Wimmer said the addition of a "modern tower" would be "a departure from what's existing there."
"I think we have to make a choice about what's the most important thing," Wimmer said. "Is it the historic building, which I feel is the most important thing. I understand the needs of the building and the needs for more square footage. I think that that can still be achieved with a heck of a lot more sensitivity that I see here."
The most heated criticism came from Richard Elmore, an architect and member of Avenidas who attended the meeting to voice his own displeasure about the modernist addition, which he called "totally inappropriate" and "grossly incompatible with the existing Mediterranean style."
"You should not allow this modernist fungus to attach itself to this beautiful Mediterranean building," Elmore told the board.
Last week's discussion was a "preliminary review," a type of hearing in which the board gives early feedback on a project but does not take any votes. Kevin Jones, partner at Mountain View-based architecture firm Kenneth Rodrigues & Partners, said the design team continues to be "very positive" about the project.
"We're taking comments we're hearing from all different viewpoints and trying to insert them into something that's cohesive," Jones said.