The project, led by developer Jim Baer and approved by the city's Architectural Review Board Thursday, will transform the 1950s warehouse into a modern, aluminum- and glass-paneled office building.
The original 5,700-square-foot structure was built by the late George Montrouil, owner of Royal Glass, according to his daughter, Georgia Keeran.
Joan Phelan, Keeran's sister and one of the former owners of the white, concrete-block building at 450 Cambridge Ave., reminisced recently about the family business.
"My mom would go in and help Dad. She'd be like a secretary and I'd kind of tag along and sit at a desk and pretend I was somebody working there," Phelan said.
The site is across from a two-story parking garage, a block from California Avenue.
A representative for Baer, who was out of town last week, said he hoped to begin construction by the end of this summer.
Backyard neighbors on College Avenue expressed initial concerns to the developer and the city about privacy invasion and sunlight blockage that could come from a taller building.
However, through offers of landscaping and painting on the back of the building, neighbors say their worries have been mitigated.
"We want to make sure that whatever is there is what the property owners want," said project architect Dennis Meidinger, of the San Jose-based Hagman Group.
Not only is Phelan a former owner, but she is also the building's closest neighbor. She lives on College Avenue, directly behind 450 Cambridge.
Her initial apprehension about Baer's redevelopment proposal was the effect the third story would have on her backyard vegetable garden.
"I was concerned. That's my morning sun," the former kindergarten teacher said.
But Phelan had a change of heart. She has decided to take advantage of the shadow from the 37-foot-tall building and new trees that will go in along her backyard fence.
"I've been looking in gardening books and looking at shade gardens and thought that would be just delightful," she said.
Another College Avenue neighbor, Lou Kavanau, who has lived in the area for 20 years, doubted that the new office tenant would be as noisy as when Palo Alto Glass -- a different company than Royal Glass and Mirror -- leased the building.
"We used to hear glass cracking at 4:30 in the morning," Kavanau said.
In a hearing last Thursday, the Architectural Review Board approved Baer's plan 3-1, with Chair David Solnick absent and board member Heather Trossman opposed.
Trossman said the design was "still blocky and generic" since the building's April hearing and she hoped to bring it back for further board review of details such as windows and landscaping.
Board member Grace Lee cheered on the developer for committing to following green-building standards, and board member Clare Malone Prichard said the plans were "greatly improved since the original submittal."
For Keeran and Phelan, who grew up while their father's business expanded beyond 450 Cambridge to warehouse space on High Street and in Mountain View, their nostalgia for the building does not extend to the cinder-block exterior.
"Our ties are more to what we did in the building," Phelan said.
Though Phelan would like to keep the "village concept" of the California Avenue downtown area, she called the modern, three-story building proposal a "harbinger of what's to come."
"Instead of trying to fight it, I'm trying to make the best of it," she said.
Depending on the costs of construction, the building could become the future home of the Palo Alto Weekly, Publisher Bill Johnson said.
The Weekly has rented 8,600 square feet of office space downtown on Forest Avenue and High Street since 1981. The company has been looking to own a building downtown or near California Avenue, Johnson said.
"It gives us more stability," he said.
If the Weekly decides to co-develop the Cambridge building with Baer, newspaper operations would move by the end of 2008, Johnson added.
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