Downtown, from up high
In choosing penthouse life instead of a suburban lawn, Jeff and Kelly Kwoka symbolize a new day in Sacramento living
By Bob Sylva - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Saturday, March 10, 2007
Story appeared in unknown section, Page CALIFORNIA LIFE15
Jeff and Kelly Kwoka recently moved into a downtown project of 225 units at 8th and J streets. With a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, the couple has one of the best views in the city.
Every weekday around 5 p.m., as if in response to a factory whistle, waves of workers race to evacuate Sacramento's downtown.
But in leaving, in joining the frozen stream of taillights along I-80 or I-5 or Highway 99, these commuters miss out on a magical transformation. This moment of dazzlement when rays from the setting sun turn molten in thousands of windows in dozens of now-empty downtown office buildings.
It's a spectacular adieu. And fleeting. After the radiance reaches a shimmery crescendo, the sun slowly pales, dissipates, and the panes drain of fire. Soon, the city is cloaked by the rumor of evening.
"This is my favorite time of the day," says Kelly Kwoka, standing on her balcony as the light in her J Street loft, once gaudy, even theatrical, becomes subdued, turning to pastels of pink and violet. Then, as though a vault door were shut, the cars gone, the city is perfectly still. And the Kwokas, happily marooned, have downtown all to themselves.
* * *
Meet the Kwokas, Jeff and Kelly. In many respects, from the standpoint of city planners and redevelopment strategists, these two could be called Mr. and Mrs. Ideal. In the costly effort to revitalize downtown, to justify the millions spent in public subsidies, the Kwokas are what everyone has waited for: upscale tenants. A young couple, professional, with disposable income, who are eager to pursue an urban lifestyle in all its charm, fashion and peril.
In fact, they're better than ideal.
Jeff Kwoka is 33, a U.S. Air Force major stationed at Beale Air Force Base in Marysville. At Beale, he is a computer "mouse jockey," flying the Global Hawk, a remote-controlled, high-endurance reconnaissance plane that snoops Iraq and Afghanistan at 60,000 feet.
Just home from work, Jeff Kwoka sweeps through the door, clad in his zippered green flight suit and polished black boots. He looks like a recruitment poster. He is tall, dark and Top Gun handsome.
Kelly Kwoka is 27, a graphic designer with long brown hair and an artistic flair. At 6-foot-2, she long wondered if she would ever find a man to match her stature. Then one year at a Halloween party in Durham, N.C., Jeff Kwoka, at 6-foot-4, flew into the room in a dashing Batman outfit. She swooned.
It may take a superhero to rescue Gotham.
The Kwokas live downtown. Not midtown. Not in Alkali Flat or Boulevard Park or Poverty Ridge. Or one of the domesticated sectors that ring the city center. No, they live downtown, where for years the only residents were SRO pensioners, winos and pigeons. In fact, the Kwokas are charter tenants at Ground Zero.
The Kwokas live at 800J Lofts. This is the first, if not the most critical, of many such loft projects, all designed to lure residents downtown. Built by CIM Group of Los Angeles at a cost of $48 million, 800J Lofts occupies a prime city block. It offers an on-site concierge, 24-hour security, a fitness center, parking. Its 225 units (half are leased) range in size from 500 to 1,300 square feet; rents run from $1,500 to $3,000 a month. It's a loft litmus test.
The Kwokas live in a penthouse on the seventh floor. Their 900-square-foot, L-shaped, one-bedroom unit features bamboo flooring, a 15-foot ceiling, stainless steel appliances and a wall that is floor-to-ceiling glass. Rent is $2,600.
That's a lot of money. But step out onto the Kwoka's French-style balcony and one owns a lot of the city: City Hall, Cesar Chavez Plaza, the Cal-EPA Building, the Elks Temple, the 916 J St. Building (now being refurbished as a boutique hotel), the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the Hyatt Regency hotel, the state Capitol.
And it's not just the landmarks that stun. It's the perspective, from a leather sectional on the seventh floor, and the poetic juxtaposition: fleecy clouds, swooping crows, a din of cars, the heads of unwary pedestrians. An array of urban rooftops -- pipes, ducts, brick, masonry, the mosaic of windows, the corroded splendor of dangling, back-alley fire escapes.
The view is revealing. The Kwokas, still learning their way about Sacramento, daily glimpse a cityscape that natives can only imagine.
The Kwokas are Florida natives. Jeff grew up in Palm Springs; Kelly is from Orlando. He has a degree in geographic information systems from the University of South Florida in Tampa; she, a diploma in graphic arts from North Carolina State in Raleigh.
They dated for five years. While Kelly worked for an ad agency in Durham, Jeff, a C-130 pilot, was flying missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How to reconcile two divergent careers?
Better yet, how to live on the same continent?
Jeff had two options: to become a C-130 flight instructor in Little Rock, Ark., or to join a pioneering mission of the Global Hawk at Beale. For her part, Kelly wanted to move to New York City. "Sex and the City" is her favorite TV show, and her dream was always to be a sophisticated Manhattanite.
Marysville was a compromise. Jeff would fly at Beale; Kelly would find a job in "nearby" San Francisco. But then she discovered the cost of living, to say nothing of the commute, to be exorbitant even for a pilot. So she did some piloting of her own.
"I Googled 'Sacramento and skyline,' " says Kelly, noting the results. The Tower Bridge at night. The state Capitol. All the trees. It wasn't Manhattan. "But it looked appealing to me," she says. "It was bigger than Raleigh and better than Little Rock."
They moved here in October 2005. Considered buying a house at first. But after sampling the market, they decided to rent an apartment at Governor's Square, at Third and O streets. Kelly got a job at Sol Design, a division of Glass McClure at 27th and J. In a long-deferred detail, the couple married in May.
Meanwhile, 800J Lofts was nearing completion. Jeff is an avid cyclist. "I recall riding my bike by this place," he says. "Everything (on J Street) seemed abandoned. I remember thinking to myself, 'Who would ever want to live here? There's nothing here!' "
Who? Did he really have to ask?
After attending a Concert in the Park event last summer, Kelly and Jeff took a tour of the project. Stepped into the vacant penthouse on the seventh floor. Kelly fell in love with the view. Wanted to lease the unit right then. Jeff was less taken, reasoning correctly that the space was half the size of their current apartment and twice the price.
Kelly saw it differently. They had good careers and no children, and who knew where Jeff might be transferred next? She wanted a sip of glamour, bright lights, cosmopolitans. This could be her only shot at "Sex and the City." Full of yearning, she says, "I just knew our lives would change if we got this place."
Recently, late one night, there was a three-car crash at the corner of Ninth and J streets, and one vehicle actually jumped the curb and smacked the building. Kelly, as though attending an urban opera, watched the events unfold from her balcony. She called 911.
Another night, they witnessed a violent argument on the sidewalk seven stories below, the raw anger rising up off the gritty asphalt like July heat. The couple had to close their thick, sliding glass door.
Then there are street cleaners at night, garbage trucks in the morning. Buses and light rail trains all day. "After dark, it has elements that are undesirable," Jeff says. "But I see where the city is going. I'm excited about that. When the new towers go in, there will be more people hanging around after dark. I think we got here at the right time. It's getting better. Just in the time we've been here."
Indeed, the couple hit all the hot new restaurants. They enjoy Second Saturdays, Antique Sundays, the Farmers Market. They shop at Safeway and the Natural Foods Co-op. Kelly hops a DASH bus to work; Jeff drives an economical Pontiac Vibe. Ever the pilot, he times his commute. Today's trip, he notes, clicking his chronograph, took 51 minutes, 31 seconds.
As for their unit, well, it's a lofty fishbowl. Certainly much smaller than their previous apartment, which had two bathrooms. "Now we have a 'keep nothing on the counter' rule," says Kelly of the shared vanity. The couple could use a dining table, too. But when you're young, in love, you could live in a closet.
"I love it!" says Kelly, whose life has indeed changed, improved, is romantic. "Working in midtown is great. My whole existence is 20 blocks. I live here. I work at 27th and J. I love the trees, the people, there is always something to do. (Sacramento) has the allure of a big city, the theater, the restaurants, but without all the hustle and bustle."
And then there's this.
On a clear night, the empty sidewalks are washed by street lamps. The cathedral spires rise above disbelieving rooftops, while the state Capitol beams in golden slumber. On K Street, the neon tip of the Crest Theatre's art deco marquee flickers off and on, off and on. It seems a signal of distress, or maybe a promise of future attractions.
This evening, the Kwokas, sitting side by side, encased in a glass canopy, soaring over the city on the seventh floor, have the view all to themselves.
Good advertisement...errrr article for urban living