Posted Jun 8, 2008, 6:08 PM
Hindrance to Development
Join Date: May 2007
Saw this in today's paper...I suppose it could fit into restaurants/entertainment, but it's the adaptive reuse element that interests me in this case. Some of the points are good, and I'd agree that losing all of this sort of business in the central city isn't a good thing. My mechanic is in midtown, and it's nice being able to drop off my car for work in the morning, walk the rest of the way to work, and then walk back in the afternoon and drive it home, vs. having to drive out to some outer neighborhood and get a ride or public transit back into downtown to go to work.
The same goes for things like hardware stores, as mentioned in the article: part of having a "walkable" city means being able to walk to all sorts of uses--not just recreation and dining, but the sort of practical businesses we need to visit from time to time, like hardware, auto repair, dry cleaning, other sorts of retail sales, etcetera.
Sacramento restaurants move into old auto showrooms, garages
By Laurel Rosenhall - email@example.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, June 8, 2008
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B7
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Auto repair workers of the 1920s pose alongside a vintage tow truck at 1615 J St., the modern-day home of Lucca Restaurant. Spacious midtown sites built as garages and showrooms are now pulling in diners. Courtesy of Terri Gilliland
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Across midtown Sacramento, eateries are opening in buildings that originally served up more carburetors than carpaccio, more brake jobs than breakfast specials. Old mechanic shops, gas stations and auto showrooms are morphing into restaurants that span the culinary spectrum, from casual coffee shops and burger joints to upscale venues where dinner for two can top $100.
Suzie Burger opened earlier this year in an old Orbit gas station at 29th and P streets. Lucca, an Italian restaurant rumored to be Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite place in town, opened in 2003 in a historic garage on J Street. And when renovation is complete on the Firestone tire store at 16th and L streets, three new restaurants will join the hopping midtown dining scene.
Reusing old buildings is nothing new in urban cores. Many of them are protected by historic preservation rules that make tearing them down impossible. But the fact that so many buildings created for cars are now dishing out cuisine indicates more than an appreciation for old-time architecture.
The trend reflects major shifts in society, said Ron Vrilakas, the architect who has worked on three such renovation projects: the Firestone tire store that will become a California Pizza Kitchen and two auto dealerships that have been converted into Zocalo and PF Chang's restaurants.
When the tire store and auto showrooms were built in the 1920s, people didn't eat out much. The car, on the other hand, was a new and exciting part of life that was being celebrated through elaborate, centrally located buildings, Vrilakas said.
"Fast-forward to today and it's a completely different trend in play – generally having automobile uses in the city is a misfit," he said.
"The business trend of today is that people eat out a great deal. That's a really important part of our community life in modern America."
As midtown has become a dining and entertainment destination, the suburbs have become the place to buy and repair cars. Central-city buildings are too small to accommodate car sales. Rents in the urban core are too high for many mechanics.
"Now we've got auto malls and any of the new gas stations going in have a huge mini-mart," said Karen McClaflin, executive director of the Towe Auto Museum.
"It's a change of customer service and demographics. … You've got to sprawl."
Greg Taylor, an urban designer for the city of Sacramento, is happy to see more life coming into midtown with each restaurant. But as a resident of the area, he also laments the loss of businesses that provide daily necessities – a tune-up, a new tire, a piece of hardware.
"For a complete city, there is need for some form of these neighborhood and domestic product resources," he said. "We want to encourage a very active downtown … But every time there's a gain, there's a loss of some nature."
What isn't lost in many of the renovations is the feel of each building's original purpose. Mulvaney's Building & Loan restaurant sits inside a 19th-century firehouse on 19th Street. Next door, chef-owner Patrick Mulvaney is converting the Howard & Sons mechanic shop into a banquet hall for his catering business.
Mulvaney dusted off the auto shop's redwood-beamed ceiling and had the floors pressure-washed to remove decades of oil stains. But he's not getting rid of the cinderblock walls or the rolling metal garage doors.
"We want to keep the idea that it is an auto garage," Mulvaney said. "The bones are what the bones are."
Terri Gilliland, owner of Lucca Restaurant & Bar, said she was attracted to the raw brick walls and cavernous ceilings when she decided to put her restaurant in an auto body shop built in the 1920s. It makes sense that other restaurateurs are also turning to buildings made for cars, she said.
"They're wide-open, expansive spaces that lend themselves nicely to converting into restaurants," Gilliland said. "There's not a lot of internal structure; it's just a great big expanse you get to work with."
Diners seem to appreciate the look. Rachael Perrizo and Julie Thigpen, interior designers from Orange County who were in town for business last week, had noticed Lucca's vintage feel as they sipped bloody Marys and noshed on zucchini chips.
"I think it's got a great atmosphere," Perrizo said.
People said the same thing across town at Suzie Burger, housed in a very different kind of building. Like something out of "The Jetsons," its huge red and white wings hang over a parking lot that was once covered with gas pumps. During a recent lunch hour, industrial garage doors were rolled up to reveal a dining room where Dick Davis waited for his burger.
"This is where they would do the tuneups and the oil changes," he said, gesturing around the room where patrons munched on chili fries and onion rings.
It's not the kind of thing you typically hear someone say inside a restaurant.
Or is it?
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* Call The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall, (916) 321-1083.