News

New future envisioned for shuttered Antonio's Nut House building

Property owner seeks to add courtyard, outdoor lounge

Antonio's Nut House in Palo Alto closed in August 2020 after 50 years in business. Photo taken Feb. 19, 2020 by Sammy Dallal.

The California Avenue building that for decades housed the beloved Antonio's Nut House bar would be partially demolished, reconstructed and furnished with a new dining pavilion under a plan recently submitted by the property owner.

Located at 321 California Ave., near Birch Street, the building has been vacant since the Nut House shuttered in August 2020 after nearly 50 years of serving beer, liquor and peanuts to an eclectic clientele that included local residents, employees and entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Store owner Jess Montooth, who operated the bar with his siblings after their father and the establishment's longtime proprietor Tony Montooth passed away in 2017, attributed the decision to close the bar to the financial losses that the business suffered because of COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining.

Now, the property owner has a new vision for the building, which was constructed in 1938 to serve as a drive-in Safeway grocery store and then expanded in 1969 with an addition at the rear of the property, according to a report from Page & Turnbull, the city's historic preservation consultants. The new project involves demolishing the 1969 concrete-block addition in the back of the building while creating a new dining area along Birch Street.

This rendering shows the proposed courtyard behind 321 California Ave., the former site of Antonio's Nut House, in Palo Alto. Rendering by Hayes Group Architects.

The building would retain restaurant use, though an operator has yet to be selected, according to the application that Ken Hayes, project architect, submitted on behalf of the property owner, Storm Land LLC.

The biggest changes to the structure would occur along Birch, with the building adding a second entrance to the outdoor dining pavilion, a portion of which would be covered with a roof, according to the renderings of the proposed remodel. The proposed pavilion "provides an all-weather gathering space connected internally to the existing building and externally to the new courtyard," Hayes wrote. The pavilion, the courtyard and a new outdoor lounge also would take over much of the area that has historically served as a parking lot. The outdoor lounge will be located at the northwest section of the site, near the current entrance, and it will provide "a place for guests to linger temporarily before moving on to the restaurant or courtyard," Hayes wrote.

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While the building at 321 California Ave. is not listed on the state or local registries of historic places, the original portion of building has "historical significance because of its original role as a Safeway drive-in store," according to Page & Turnbull. Safeway ultimately left the property in 1950.

"This type of drive-in grocery store, of which an off-street parking lot was a distinguishing characteristic, is a precursor to the strip mall and modern supermarket grocery store," the Page & Turnbull report states.

Since Safeway's departure, the building has housed numerous restaurants, including the Cal Hofbrau and Red Hat Restaurant in the 1960s, according to the report. In 1969, a restaurant called the Annex moved in and constructed the concrete-block addition in the rear for use as a cardroom. Two years later, Antonio's Nut House moved in.

This rendering shows the proposed courtyard behind 321 California Ave., the former site of Antonio's Nut House, in Palo Alto. Rendering by Hayes Group Architects.

To honor the building's historic significance as a drive-in grocery store, the consultant recommended retaining and restoring its original architectural features, including the awning, the storefront windows, the parapet walls and the decorative horizontal bands, as well as rehabilitating the side entrance that currently faces a parking lot. The consultant also recommends replacing the solid door at the side entrance with a glazed door to "restore the prominence and more welcoming character of this entry" and retaining open space near the side entrance to "convey (the) building's original design as a drive-in supermarket."

Under the proposed reconfiguration, the site around the building would include 11 parking spaces (down from 14 currently), which would be accessed through Jacaranda Lane, which is between the building and the city's newly constructed garage. Six of these would be in a "tandem arrangement," according to the plans, and one would be designated for "clean air vehicle" parking.

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The project is being pitched at a time of transition and uncertainty for California Avenue, long known as Palo Alto's "second downtown." The commercial strip received a major uplift nearly a decade ago, which included new streetscaping, public art and new plazas, and it has served as a popular destination for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the City Council chose to reopen University Avenue to traffic late last year following its experimental "Summer Streets" program, council members opted to keep the central portion of the California Avenue strip off-limits to cars in hopes of boosting the district's economic vitality.

But while outdoor dining has been a boon for some businesses, others have shuttered over the course of the pandemic. After the Nut House closed shop, Subway and The Counter followed suit. Bank of the West also has announced its plans to leave early this year.

While Local Kitchens, a food pavilion, has since filled the space left behind by The Counter, the district continues to be beset by vacancies. More than a dozen buildings displayed "For Lease" signs at the end of 2021.

The council, for its part, has yet to decide on the long-term fate of the city's only car-free promenade. In September, council members agreed to keep California Avenue closed to cars until June 30, 2022. They also agreed, however, to consider early this year the prospect of keeping the street closed permanently.

Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

New future envisioned for shuttered Antonio's Nut House building

Property owner seeks to add courtyard, outdoor lounge

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jan 5, 2022, 12:28 pm

The California Avenue building that for decades housed the beloved Antonio's Nut House bar would be partially demolished, reconstructed and furnished with a new dining pavilion under a plan recently submitted by the property owner.

Located at 321 California Ave., near Birch Street, the building has been vacant since the Nut House shuttered in August 2020 after nearly 50 years of serving beer, liquor and peanuts to an eclectic clientele that included local residents, employees and entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. Store owner Jess Montooth, who operated the bar with his siblings after their father and the establishment's longtime proprietor Tony Montooth passed away in 2017, attributed the decision to close the bar to the financial losses that the business suffered because of COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining.

Now, the property owner has a new vision for the building, which was constructed in 1938 to serve as a drive-in Safeway grocery store and then expanded in 1969 with an addition at the rear of the property, according to a report from Page & Turnbull, the city's historic preservation consultants. The new project involves demolishing the 1969 concrete-block addition in the back of the building while creating a new dining area along Birch Street.

The building would retain restaurant use, though an operator has yet to be selected, according to the application that Ken Hayes, project architect, submitted on behalf of the property owner, Storm Land LLC.

The biggest changes to the structure would occur along Birch, with the building adding a second entrance to the outdoor dining pavilion, a portion of which would be covered with a roof, according to the renderings of the proposed remodel. The proposed pavilion "provides an all-weather gathering space connected internally to the existing building and externally to the new courtyard," Hayes wrote. The pavilion, the courtyard and a new outdoor lounge also would take over much of the area that has historically served as a parking lot. The outdoor lounge will be located at the northwest section of the site, near the current entrance, and it will provide "a place for guests to linger temporarily before moving on to the restaurant or courtyard," Hayes wrote.

While the building at 321 California Ave. is not listed on the state or local registries of historic places, the original portion of building has "historical significance because of its original role as a Safeway drive-in store," according to Page & Turnbull. Safeway ultimately left the property in 1950.

"This type of drive-in grocery store, of which an off-street parking lot was a distinguishing characteristic, is a precursor to the strip mall and modern supermarket grocery store," the Page & Turnbull report states.

Since Safeway's departure, the building has housed numerous restaurants, including the Cal Hofbrau and Red Hat Restaurant in the 1960s, according to the report. In 1969, a restaurant called the Annex moved in and constructed the concrete-block addition in the rear for use as a cardroom. Two years later, Antonio's Nut House moved in.

To honor the building's historic significance as a drive-in grocery store, the consultant recommended retaining and restoring its original architectural features, including the awning, the storefront windows, the parapet walls and the decorative horizontal bands, as well as rehabilitating the side entrance that currently faces a parking lot. The consultant also recommends replacing the solid door at the side entrance with a glazed door to "restore the prominence and more welcoming character of this entry" and retaining open space near the side entrance to "convey (the) building's original design as a drive-in supermarket."

Under the proposed reconfiguration, the site around the building would include 11 parking spaces (down from 14 currently), which would be accessed through Jacaranda Lane, which is between the building and the city's newly constructed garage. Six of these would be in a "tandem arrangement," according to the plans, and one would be designated for "clean air vehicle" parking.

The project is being pitched at a time of transition and uncertainty for California Avenue, long known as Palo Alto's "second downtown." The commercial strip received a major uplift nearly a decade ago, which included new streetscaping, public art and new plazas, and it has served as a popular destination for outdoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the City Council chose to reopen University Avenue to traffic late last year following its experimental "Summer Streets" program, council members opted to keep the central portion of the California Avenue strip off-limits to cars in hopes of boosting the district's economic vitality.

But while outdoor dining has been a boon for some businesses, others have shuttered over the course of the pandemic. After the Nut House closed shop, Subway and The Counter followed suit. Bank of the West also has announced its plans to leave early this year.

While Local Kitchens, a food pavilion, has since filled the space left behind by The Counter, the district continues to be beset by vacancies. More than a dozen buildings displayed "For Lease" signs at the end of 2021.

The council, for its part, has yet to decide on the long-term fate of the city's only car-free promenade. In September, council members agreed to keep California Avenue closed to cars until June 30, 2022. They also agreed, however, to consider early this year the prospect of keeping the street closed permanently.

Comments

Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Jan 5, 2022 at 1:48 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 1:48 pm

So much for the need for massive parking garages! Just over ten years ago, California Avenue was bustling! We had a bookstore, bakery, camera shop and diverse restaurants. Aside from the Farmer's Market for a few hours on Sundays, California Avenue is just a trickle of its former bustling self.

I just wonder if all of the "makeover" project -- one that closed down parts of the street for a while -- was the first precipice of policies that hurt the viability of business survival in "second downtown." Between city decisions and astronomically high rent, it's a wonder that many businesses survive.

Does anyone know who owns which buildings in the California Avenue area? This building is owned by Storm Land LLC (i.e., Ed Storm). What about the rest of the street? I'm concerned that favorable acquiescence to owners seeking redevelopment might turn California Avenue into something that lacks Palo Alto's historic charm.

When I see what has happened to places like downtown Burlingame or similar downtowns around the peninsula, it makes me wonder if that is what is inevitable here and elsewhere in Palo Alto.


Mondoman
Registered user
Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2022 at 10:30 pm
Mondoman, Green Acres
Registered user
on Jan 5, 2022 at 10:30 pm

Does anyone really think the Nut House building itself has any historical significance, whether as a drive-in Safeway or anything else? I'm puzzled by the references to that in the story - perhaps that's just something that helps get city approval for plans?


Jocelyn Dong
Registered user
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 6, 2022 at 10:34 am
Jocelyn Dong, editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 10:34 am

Hi @Mondoman. The city staff was doing its due diligence by asking for an evaluation of the historic value of the building, but there's been no public indication of any attempt to put it on a historic register yet.

In its report, the preservation consultant, Page & Turnbull, made recommendations for how the building should be rehabilitated in order to preserve the "character-defining features" of the original building, thus ensuring it's still eligible for national or state historic registry designation even after redevelopment.

The report is pretty interesting and includes old photos of similar drive-in Safeway supermarkets, and you can read it here: Web Link


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2022 at 10:48 am
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 10:48 am

3 words. Housing , housing, housing.


Claudette
Registered user
Woodside
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:03 am
Claudette, Woodside
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:03 am

People with mobile disabilities don’t even go to California
Avenue. Businesses are not accessible by car so they no longer go.too bad. It used to be a lovely area to do business


gail thompson
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:21 am
gail thompson, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:21 am

Agree with the housing comment and am adding low-cost housing for teachers, Palo Alto essential workers, and housing for those currently in temporary housing.


James Goodwin
Registered user
Southgate
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:09 pm
James Goodwin, Southgate
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:09 pm

It is somewhat surprising that the PA Weekly researchers on this article neglected to cite/mention the Pool Brothers Grocery Store as a subsequent business situated at the former Safeway location during the 1950s.

This grocery store was a predecessor-tenant to both The Tavern and Antonio's Nut House.

And any former Southgate/Evergreen/South Palo Alto resident who resided in the former town of Mayfield during the 1950s-early 1960s will vouch for its existence.

My family frequently shopped at Pool Brothers during my childhood and at one time there were several grocery stores situated on California Avenue during the same timeframe including Pool Brothers, Safeway, Purity, Farmer's Market, and Co-Op + the United Meat Market (a butcher shop).

Times have changed but the past hasn't.

Like Woodstock...if one cannot remember Pool Brothers, they obviously weren't there.


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:37 pm
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:37 pm

In Palo Alto, "historical charm" and "historical significance" are almost always just an excuse for NIMBYs to raise objections to any and all developments in this area. I've lived in this city for more than a quarter century and have never found much "charm" in the many old commercial and residential buildings which were obviously built very cheaply and quickly when NIMBYs were not a phenomenon. They should have been torn down and replaced with better quality buildings a long time ago.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:48 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:48 pm

@Anonymous, please tell the descendants of Birge Clark and all his fans how there's absolutely no value in his architecture, his hand-adzed beams, his shapely arches, the wonderfully detailed wood floors and plaster works etc. etc. Please tel them that the people in the know insistthat it's so much better for people to live in 400 sq studios with popcorn ceilings with walls so thin they can hear their neighbors breathing and that the incessant headlight glare into their apartments will help them save on energy costs.

Please assure them of the "value" and "affordability of those 400 sq foot studios renting for a mere $3500 a month where the floor-to-ceiling windows give 12 (TWELVE!) lanes of traffic voyeur-eyed views into their units.

Now THAT's gracious living and a special place to raise families.


Claire Phillips
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:49 pm
Claire Phillips, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:49 pm

° "In Palo Alto, "historical charm" and "historical significance" are almost always just an excuse for NIMBYs to raise objections to any and all developments in this area."

A good point. Some of those antiquated downtown Palo Alto 'Spanish Revisionist' buildings from the 1920s (e.g. the old post office, Hamilton building, President Hotel etc.) should also be torn down as they are not original breakthrough architectural designs nor do they reflect anything even remote to modern day Palo Alto and it's vibrant lifestyle.


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:26 pm
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:26 pm

@Online Name: I was not talking about Birge Clark and his buildings. It should be obvious that 321 California is not a Birge Clark building, nor are other nearby buildings on California Avenue.


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:38 pm
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:38 pm

@Online Name: By the way, I can give a good example of a house "with popcorn ceilings with walls so thin they can hear their neighbors breathing". It's called an Eichler house. I know that because I live in one.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:05 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:05 pm

"In Palo Alto, "historical charm" and "historical significance" are almost always just an excuse for NIMBYs to raise objections to any and all developments in this area."


"Almost always" sounds like you were condemning all older buildings as well as NIMBYs When people speak in such broad generalizations, they deserve to have those stereotypes challenged.

Sorry about your popcorn ceilings.

Re Palo Alto's "vibrant" lifestyle now. I'd gladly go back a few decades when you could still catch live music at a wide variety of places like The Gate House etc. that are now offices. Please enlighten me as to what clubs are worth frequenting now that the Gatehouse, JJ's, the Keystone and its successors are long gone.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:14 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:14 pm

The plan looks interesting (and huge) in the rendering; certainly a significant modernization of the area. I like the way the plan acknowledges the new need to maximize the use of outdoor space; smart to incorporate that into the design rather than having to re-do space to accommodate new requirements. Like it or not, CalAve is at the early stage of a metamorphosis. Hopefully the end result will be inviting. I hope the outcome includes some retail. If it doesn't, many of us will be forced to commit the driving sin.


MLF
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jan 7, 2022 at 9:29 am
MLF, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 9:29 am

I concur with the need for housing. I can imagine entirely demolishing the current building, designing the first floor and courtyard as pictured - but with 3 stories of apartments or condos above it. It appears to me that the City is not doing enough to encourage or incentivize developers to include housing in new or renovation projects.


Seer
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:49 pm
Seer, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:49 pm

It was a butt-ugly building. This looks nice, do it. For housing -- yeah, can we inject money and build a couple of stories of housing above the building? CA ave would be an awesome place to live for some people.


All Along the Watchtower
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:36 am
All Along the Watchtower, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:36 am

* It was a butt-ugly building.

Not necessarily butt-ugly, just plain and non-descript.

So how about creating a Palo Alto Beautification Commission which will focus on demolishing all buildings and residencies deemed 'butt-ugly' within the city boundaries?

How many would remain standing?


ChrisC
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2022 at 2:20 pm
ChrisC, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2022 at 2:20 pm

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