News Digest | January 7, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 7, 2022

News Digest

New future envisioned for shuttered Nut House building

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.

The property owner has a new vision for the building that 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.

To honor the building's historic significance as an early drive-in Safeway 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.

— Gennady Sheyner

Developer hopes to bring 70 apartments downtown

Emboldened by a positive response from the Palo Alto City Council, a developer has filed a formal application to construct a four-story building with 70 apartments and ground-floor office space on University Avenue. Of the apartments, 20% would be rented out as affordable housing.

Smith Development has filed a formal application for 660 University Ave., a project that calls for consolidating three lots near the intersection of University and Middlefield Road and demolishing two single-story office buildings, including the present location of Palo Alto Dental. The dental practice plans to relocate to another location within the city.

The project is advancing under the council's "planned home" zoning process, which allows builders to exceed the city's development standards in exchange for providing housing. The process also gives the council greater discretion to accept or reject proposals.

In discussing the project during a "pre-screening" last October, most council members generally lauded the Smith plan for bringing housing to downtown, but suggested that the developer provide more apartments for low-income individuals.

In a nod to the council's feedback, Smith agreed to revise the income categories for the below-market-rate units in the development. Under the new plans, 14 of the 70 apartments would be designated as affordable housing. Of those, six would be designated for the "moderate" income category, four for the "low" income category and four for the "very low" income category.

The project will now have to go through Palo Alto's typical approval process, which will involve hearings in front of the Architectural Review Board, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council.

— Gennady Sheyner


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2022 at 1:48 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

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.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 5, 2022 at 10:30 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

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?

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

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

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

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2022 at 10:48 am

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

3 words. Housing , housing, housing.

Posted by Claudette
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:03 am

Claudette is a registered user.

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

Posted by gail thompson
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2022 at 11:21 am

gail thompson is a registered user.

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.

Posted by James Goodwin
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 6, 2022 at 12:09 pm

James Goodwin is a registered user.

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.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:37 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

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.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:48 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@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.

Posted by Claire Phillips
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:49 pm

Claire Phillips is a registered user.

° "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.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:26 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

@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.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 6, 2022 at 3:38 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

@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.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"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.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:14 pm

Annette is a registered user.

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.

Posted by MLF
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 7, 2022 at 9:29 am

MLF is a registered user.

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.

Posted by Seer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:49 pm

Seer is a registered user.

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.

Posted by All Along the Watchtower
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:36 am

All Along the Watchtower is a registered user.

* 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?

Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2022 at 2:20 pm

ChrisC is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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