Modernist building faces citizen appeal

Downtown resident Douglas Smith takes on architect Ken Hayes in battle over styles

Downtown resident Douglas Smith, a fan of Spanish-style arcades, ornate awnings and other traditional decorative flourishes, fired the latest salvo this week against architectural minimalism and modernity when he submitted an appeal of a freshly approved four-story development on 636 Waverley St.

The appeal, co-signed by Waverley Street residents Janice Berman and Doug Scafe, is the second Smith had filed in recent weeks. His appeal of 240 Hamilton Ave., another four-story proposal designed by prolific architect Ken Hayes, was scheduled to be heard by the City Council next week but has been postponed upon staff request to a later date that has not yet been determined.

The issue is the same in both cases. Smith, an avowed traditionalist and an unabashed critic of the city's latest architecture trends, contends that the approved development is incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, which enjoys a wealth of traditional, Birge Clark-designed buildings. By contrast, the Hayes buildings typically feature sleek glass facades, rectangular shapes and heights that often approach the city's 50-foot limit.

"The large areas of glass and bare concrete wall have nothing to do with any admirable building in the area," Smith said in a statement. "This isn't a high quality design. But our local code requires both quality and compatibility in order to maintain stylistic harmony in neighborhoods. "

His appeal letter for 636 Waverley St. argues that the boxy building violates the city's guidelines dealing with the "pedestrian orientation" of new developments.

"In the aesthetic sense, there should be something visual on the building exterior to interest the pedestrian both up close and afar, lest the building be judged ordinary or an eyesore. But there is no such interest in the Hayes design. On all levels, seen from a distance, the design composition is a jumbled mess of elements that fit together in a strictly utilitarian fashion, subject to no overall aesthetic pattern that would please a non-architect passerby."

Smith also cited a pending plan to build a building similar to 636 Waverley St., right next door at 640 Waverley (that proposal has yet to be reviewed by the city's architecture board). These two projects, in combination with another proposal for 628 Waverley (which Smith said is in "talking stages"), "will destroy any architectural harmony in the area, and the process creating the new block is an ominous portent for development all over the City."

Smith has plenty of allies in his battle against glass walls and minimalist facades. In recent months, the City Council has been besieged by complaints about the imposing architecture of new developments such as 801 Alma St. and Alma Village. His recent online survey, which attracted more than 900 responses, shows an overwhelming number of people favoring traditional styles over new ones. For instance, more than 70 percent preferred the quaint Spanish style of Stanford University's Wallenberg Hall to the glassy, modern David Packard Electrical Engineering building. The survey isn't scientific, but from Smith's perspective it's instructive.

Smith noted that in the survey, "85 percent of respondents judged the 636 Waverley design incompatible with neighboring buildings."

"Even two-thirds of the architects taking the survey made the same judgment," Smith said.

In response to the concerns about new buildings, the council has directed the city's architecture board to review its guidelines for new buildings. A recent colleagues memo by Mayor Greg Scharff and council members Karen Holman, Gail Price and Greg Schmid called for the city to address the problem of imposing facades by increasing the required distance new buildings must be set back from Alma Street and El Camino Real and to reconsider its design guidelines. At a meeting in April, Holman cited Goethe's description of architecture as "frozen music" and said the city has been "out of tune."

But even as the Smith appeals are waiting for their hearing, new Hayes proposals are making their way through the city's development pipeline, suggesting that Smith will have a busy few months. The four-story building proposed for 2755 El Camino Real, near El Camino's congested intersection with Page Mill Road, is also a Hayes project. It is now going through the city's "planned community" process, which gives developers zoning exemptions in exchange for public benefits. And just this Thursday, three days after Smith filed his appeal, Hayes introduced the Architectural Review Board to his newest proposal – another four-story building eyed for 429 University Ave., on the corner of Kipling St.

The board didn't vote on the proposal on Thursday, though members gave plenty of feedback, both good and bad. Some echoed Smith's concerns. A few criticized the building's mass and suggested that the fourth floor be set back further.

Board member Alex Lew said his first reaction was that the proposed development "is sort of out of character with Birge Clark-, Varsity Theater- type of buildings." He suggested that Hayes add more decorative details to the design.

"I know you're very modernist and minimalist," Lew told Hayes.

Chief Planning Official Amy French informed the board on Thursday about the new appeal of 636 Waverley.

"It's a trend -- officially," French said.

"An epidemic," responded Vice Chair Lee Lippert.

Smith, for his part, thinks it's time to consider whether the board has outlived its usefulness. In an interview, he argued that the architects who make up the board have an innate conflict of interests because they may have done business with applicants or desire to collaborate with them in the future.

Furthermore, Smith argued, most architecture schools focus on modern styles.

He pointed to 801 Alma St., a project that has been widely derided by members of the community and the council alike for its massive, fortress-like facade. During the review process, he noted, staff and the architecture board have continuously praised the design.

Ken Alsman, a Professorville resident who has been a vehement opponent of new developments that don't provide sufficient parking, had spent a recent weekend reviewing all the documents in the approval process of 801 Alma and came up with statements from the architecture board describing this development as "great" and as one that "celebrates architecture."

The leading critics of the design, Alsman found, were the citizens who had worked on the "South of Forest Area" plan, a collaborative effort to form a vision for the downtown area.

"Given the concerns recently voiced about the Alma project, the glowing praise it received from staff and the ARB, maybe you should listen and pay close attention to the residents commenting on the design of 240 Hamilton and the relationship to our community and to its values, not to the Staff or ARB," Alsman wrote in a September letter to the City Council.

Smith said he plans to file more appeals challenging new developments. He also said he ill work in the coming weeks and months with the group of residents who earlier this week overturned in a referendum an approved housing complex on Maybell Avenue to come up with possible solutions.

"The developers have been lulled into complacency about the city enforcing the statutes," Smith said.

"The present way hasn't been working for a very long time," he added. "Both the Maybell project and ours are recognizing this. That's why a coordinated effort among citizens will have to come up with some solutions."


Posted by Gethin, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:46 am

Gethin is a registered user.

Personally I like the look of the new building. Although I agree that particular examples should be saved its more than time to move on from "Spanish-style arcades, ornate awnings and other traditional decorative flourishes". There has to be a place for modern architectural styles in Palo Alto.

Posted by mutti, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

Please can we get away from the faux pink stucco and red tile roofs and do some interesting modern designs?

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

It is amazing how many busybodies there are in Palo Alto who think they have a right to dictate what can and cannot be built on other people's properties. Anyone can easily take a look at both locations on Google Street View and judge for him/herself whether a "modernist" building is out of place at either location. To be consistent, Mr Smith should demand the Palo Alto City Hall to be torn down!

Posted by Resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

Have you actually looked at what's gone up in the last few years? Horrible, horrible. Take a look at the JCC building and the former Miki's. then go to what I think is called 800 Forest. There is decent modern architecture...this ain't it!

Posted by aesthetically challenged downtown, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

Good modern design is one thing, but all this blocky in-your-face-at-the-curb design is not good. The building going up at Lytton and Alma, supposedly deemed by the city a signature-style gateway to Palo Alto, is now showing its true appearance with some kind of Lincoln-log facade punctuated with bland bands of glass. It has no charisma whatsoever, and it's hard to see how any finishing touches could give it any. For this we gave up our our streets and sidewalks, muddled our traffic, and block-ified the whole area? For the future tenants of this undistinguished building, we cause even more parking and driving congestion? The developers won't be satisfied until Palo Alto is totally built out to the sidewalks with buildings as tall as they can make; I guess then they'll turn their attention to persuading the city to raise the height limit. Some of us have to live here, you know. These buildings take the livability right out of downtown. Watch out, the rest of you. Overbuilding is taking over all the Palo Alto neighborhoods. Let's see a return of the residentialists at the next election!

Posted by Eva, a resident of Ventura
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:11 am

While I see the point of not wanting to jar the eye when walking past buildings with differing designs, I think Palo Alto as a whole has a very modernist look about the city, specifically Eichler homes. Eichler homes define a large part of our town's architecture. So it's ironic to think that all construction needs to be traditional style. I think some of the new modern design is done very well. For example, the new Walgreens building on University is modern and elegant and is a wonderful edition to the street.

This is a big contrast with so many of the faux Spanish Planned Developments squeezed in around the city over the past years. My biggest issue here being the crowding of space and the feel that the buildings are encroaching on public sidewalks and space.

Posted by Where has all the talent gone?, a resident of Southgate
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:23 am

636 Waverley looks like a high school student's creative attempt to put everything into a design, and his only tool was a rectangle.
Imaginative, creative, impractical, and ugly ugly ugly.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:28 am

To those who oppose the proposed new buildings on aesthetic ground:

In my humble opinion, you should keep your aesthetics to yourself. We don't have police on the street telling people how they should dress themselves or what makeup or hair style or hair color they may use. So why should the government be allowed to tell people what building styles they can and cannot use on their private properties? Perhaps the city should also be allowed to dictate what landscaping styles people may use in their front yards? Perhaps those who do not mow their lawns should be fined?

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:36 am


Silly guy, do you really think this is about aesthetics?

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:46 am


I'm just trying to be charitable and take people at their word.

Posted by Mama, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:57 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Mama, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:58 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Janice Berman, a resident of University South
on Nov 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Thanks to Gennady Shayner for his detailed and accurate reportage. I am attaching what I said at the ARB meeting Oct. 16, when it unfortunately approved the 636 Waverley design that we have now appealed:

ARB meeting Oct. 17, 2013

Re: 636 Waverley Proposal

As we have seen over the past few months, the concerns about the Kleiman and Hayes proposal for 636 Waverley are many and varied. I leave it to the experts to discuss the parking situation. I'm here as an owner at 661 Waverley St., corner of Forest, which Mr. Kleiman has characterized as modern (clearly he hasn't lived here). He feels we are hypocritical to dislike his building.

I am not particularly fond of neospanish neocolonial or neoanything. Frankly, I like the work of Frank Gehry. But I do like my home, not because of its style, but because it is comfortable and nicely sited, far away from the street and accented by a few trees with leaves, birds, and nasty squirrels who eat the plants on our balcony.
Mr. Kleiman has said we don't want his building because it will interfere with our views. Nonsense. We don't have views. We have greenery and a few nice chunks of sky. That's what we have and that's what we think as human beings we are entitled to continue to enjoy and required to protect.

Mr. Kleiman would eliminate our chunks of sky, a big gingko tree, and, yes, the hills beyond Palo Alto if his plans are fulfilled and a 50-foot high (oh, plus 15 feet in accessories) series of buildings is constructed across Waverley Street from our home after 636 and 640 are permitted. These buildings, while they may be described as contemporary, are also out of character with our street. They're too close to the curb. They have no setbacks or greenery.

There is no inevitability in this project. It will destroy the character of our street and be the opening brick in a 50-foot wall of buildings, further crowding and dehumanizing our community. I urge you to press for further modifications in the plans for 636, especially for larger setbacks and more effective landscaping, and to use that process as a template for all future proposals that may be concocted for the 600 block of Waverley Street. Thank you.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

If this were in a larger lot with parking and landscaping, I might like it more. What this shows is that it is much too close to the sidewalk and street, there is no chance for decent landscaping as no sizeable trees have space to grow and there will be traffic flowing so close as to not actually be able to see the building or the trees in front. Presumably the shadow from the building will always make the street look dark and dismal and the shadows will make bicyclists and pedestrians almost invisible to motorists.

Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm

OH god not another ugly building.

Posted by Where has all the talent gone?, a resident of Southgate
on Nov 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Mama put it well:
>Ken Hayes should be run out of town!

He seems to have a real connection with the Planning Dept (and therefore with the City Manager) and Pat Burt recently at the Council said Hayes was his favorite architect.

Posted by RW, a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Here's my problem with "modern" design. What is truly modern today is often out of date in 10 years.

And what's "contemporary" is sometimes just an eyesore. Driving by 101 Alma and the JCC and the Auditorium at Menlo Atherton High School make me think my astigmatism is worsening, with the strange angles of the buildings.

How about some classic designs?

Posted by kim S., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm

You'll never find an architectural style that pleases everyone. Personally I like to see a variety of architectural styles in a city as opposed to a cookie cutter look. It seems that most people don't like the lack of a setback with landscaping and I wholeheartedly agree with that.

Posted by Flunky Architect, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Ken Hayes, architect, [portion removed] has no taste and no talent.
He is in cahoots with the Architectural Review Board, and that is why developers use him. He greases the way for ugly, cold, stark, projects to be approved. The Architectural Review Board and the city council needs to be booted, too.

Posted by Midowner, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2013 at 4:13 pm

When you look at the rendering of the building designs, you always see tall mature trees in front of, or next to, them. Keep that in mind. They will plant a tree most likely, but it will be a young tree and it will take years to grow to the size shown on the drawing (unless they are saving an existing street tree). Keep it in mind every time you look at these drawings. What you see in them is not what you actually get, at least not any time soon.

As to design, the JCC is an example of an oversize concrete building that won't age well. As a matter of fact it already has a couple of significant (surface ?) cracks that make it look even worse.

Another case in point about "modernist" buildings. City Hall and the tower on University are "modernist" buildings from the 60s and 70s. How many of you still like them?

Bottom line: whatever the style, it needs to stop being in your face, as in taller than normally allowed and close to the street without proper setback. I would also add a ban of buildings that are blind to the street (No windows facing the street as with the JCC on San Antonio and Miki's (at least its second floor).

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 4:13 pm

1. One of the posts holds up the South of Forest plan as a good example. But one might observe that the style of the structures built there is a sort of cloying, false historical attempt to create mission-style and shingle style houses from a long-ago era.
2. Calling the new buildings "ugly" is of course an extremely subjective opinion. In my experience, new architecture at first seems inappropriate or ugly, but in a few years, especially as landscaping takes shape, it seems quite normal and acceptable.
3. The Birge Clark architecture so beloved by the "majority" is immitation Spanish Colonial. Let's not require everyone to imitate the imitation.
4. Palo Alto is not a museum.
5. You want to see "ugly"? Take a look at the two buildings that the two new projects under appeal are replacing.

Posted by Member, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I love the blend of old and new, a respect for tradition coupled with exciting, contemporary design. It's true - some modern architecture is challenging. That doesn't mean it's without merit. I love the way the light and shadow plays on the new 'fortress' on Alma. I'm not as much of a fan of the new Walgreen's, which seems somewhat pedestrian to me (very functional - just a bit boring). Unfortunately, all this debate is moot. At least for me. I'll need to leave Palo Alto in a year or two as I won't be able to find any affordable housing since Measure D failed to pass. It's a shame. I contribute to this community and I love this community. I thought I'd be here the rest of my life.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Who decides what is good or bad design, who is in charge? I like classic design but I love modern, Gaudy.

Wright wasn't well liked, a certain developer based his homes on Wright.

Victorian homes were mass produced.

Posted by PA Resident Member, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Once again poor taste, ultra-modern design, and cahoots with the city council puts an undesirable new building on the streets of Palo Alto. Miki's, the JCC, the lolli-pop building downtown all decry the good taste and once charming look of Palo Alto citizens. I cannot wait to see what the city approves on Page Mill.Probably another glass, steel,rectangular eyesore. Why not have a citizen or two on the architectural review board of the particular neighborhood/area a new building proposal is considered.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Ken Hayes also did the new Roxy Rapp building at the corner of Bryant and
University. It's too big, too dark for that corner combined with the
similarly dark Restoration Hardware across the street and we are just entering the "dark period" on the calendar. The new steel and glass building creates a huge monolith with the similar Jos Bank Bldg which by itself was interesting,but now together they are out of scale overwhelming and changing the University Ave streetscape. Ask yourself - is there anything visually positive or interesting about this new mega-structure
right up to the sidewalk at an important Downtown intersection? Is this the best we can do in Palo Alto? It's closer to the worst than the best.

Posted by JoAnn, a resident of Ventura
on Nov 8, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Having read the comments, I think the problem with this building is not that it's ugly (which it is) but that it encroaches on the sidewalk in an extra dose of in-your-face. Demand a setback with large trees (you can plant them, they are just expensive) and it won't jar so much.

Posted by palo alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Two suggestions for pretty much any new building downtown - setbacks and full size trees (yes, you can transplant mature trees). The Ken Hayes project on the 500 block of Hamilton preserved the existing trees and also includes a lot less glass (some wood, some stucco). It is a modern building yet not stark or forbidding.

Ken is actually a good architect, I worked on a project with hime years ago. Some of the designs appear because of the conditions put forward by the ARB.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm

@palo alto resident
You must be referring to the Ken Hayes office building at 524 Hamilton.
That's the one as I recall outside the parking assessment district
with just 8 parking spaces on site, two assigned to the penthouse on
the top floor above two floors of offices. It's very large for the site
crammed in there with a narrow driveway back to the "parking area" but I agree visually it's the best Ken Hayes has done in Palo Alto.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I think the building itself is rather interesting ... it's that it is jammed up against it's neighbors so tightly that it is inappropriate. It is not the style of the building that is the problem, it's the placement relative to its neighbors ... what is the point of having a big expanse of glass if it opens onto a blank wall?

Posted by Nancy bee , a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Please attend the city council meetings and voice your concerns.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2013 at 10:18 pm

This building at 524 Hamilton does look like it was shoehorned in. The
new one going in across the street at 537 Hamilton is also a tight fit.
But presumably both of these projects were found to be consistent with
the Downtown Urban Design Guidlines so everything is cool.

Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I don't love it--it's yet another boring modernist building without distinction, but I agree with several other posters that the big problem is the setback. It's intrusive in an area that segues into residential.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2013 at 7:25 am

If you look at the picture the used in this story, they even removed the building to the left of the new "Modernist" building which it is squeezed right up against ... it's that large squarish block of stucco condos. So the view is even worse than it appears. They just show a bunch of nice sky and trees where in reality there is a big building already.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 9, 2013 at 8:43 am

Nancy bee,

When are the meetings?

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2013 at 9:41 am

3 short comments:

There's no accounting for taste.

Most of the architects we currently worship faced similar contentious "critics" during their time.

Palo Alto seems drunk with negative power these days. It seems rather totalitarian and AynRandish, not to mention boring.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2013 at 10:06 am

Tilt up buildings, horrible, bland and we have thousands of these types of structures.

Eichler Homes, not well liked, gave the mazes a taste of modern style.

Buildings come and go, fronts of buildings get stripped of original details, replaced with good or bad frontage. 20 years from now the Cheesecake Factory might become old, outdated, then replaced with new modern materials.

Posted by Where has all the talent gone?, a resident of Southgate
on Nov 9, 2013 at 10:14 am

The loss of setbacks is crucially important. An ugly building is not offensive if it doesn't force itself on you. There is no way you can drive on San Antonio and not be forced to look at the ugliness of the JCC.
Even painting a home in a loud color is not a problem, if the house is set back and doesn't force you to acknowledge it.
Ken Hayes has dominated the local architectural world and he needs to be controlled. He's the money-making machine for developers who don't care what the city looks like as long as they make their millions.

His connections to the Planning Department and the City Manager need to be investigated.

Posted by Too many cooks..., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm

All these austere concrete and glass block buildings built up to the curb are oppressive. They block the light, they are "cold" and unwelcoming, they are unnaturally "mechanical", in their sharp, no-frills design. They give the observer or passer-by a feeling of rising cortisol due to the feeling of being trapped in a box canyon that only a tall, austere building(s) can give. They are reminiscent of institutional facilities, such as prisons.

What is wrong with any architect, planning commissioner, developer, or city council who finds this type of building appealing? They look emotionally unhealthy, since they stir feelings of oppression, repression, depression, and fear.

The least problem with this kind of architecture is the fact that it is incompatible with other architecture in the same neighborhood. It may look good to some people when it is in the distance, standing alone or among similar buildings, as in an interesting backlit skyline, but when you have to live, walk, drive, or work near it, it stimulates cortisol release.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm

524 Hamilton is a case study of building out a site using parking exemptions. There are two floors of office space totaling 7300 sq ft and
a 4100 sq ft residential unit on the top floor. Since the project is not in the Downtown Parking Assessment District all parking must be provided on

Without exemptions this would have required 29 spaces for the office use and 2 spaces for the residential unit for a total of 31 spaces. With the exemptions only 8 spaces were required, including the 2 spaces for the
residential unit. The 8 required spaces are located under a portion of the building at ground level at the rear.

To understand how this was accomplished I refer readers to the staff report to the ARB Jan 20,2011. After the TDR and the one time bonus, the fact that City records indicate that at one time a clothing alteration (tailor) business occupied the site and had only 6 spaces further reduced the parking requirement for the new office building by 2 spaces as this was grandfathered in. The staff report says two emails were received from the public citing lack of parking in the area - very prescient emails.
The staff and Council and ARB probably should listen to the residents

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I was thinking about that ...
This is an office building ...
Where are the parking spaces?
... or where is the money to the city for paying for their parking places?
That exemption would be worth a ton of cash ... who where is it really going?
Who signed this exemption ... did their bank account suddenly get fatter?
This should not be allowed!

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 8:24 am

SteveU is a registered user.

The style is definitely not my cup-o be that as it may.

It is the Free Lunch part I object to.

New construction needs to provide non-roadway blocking parking for daily Deliveries AND sufficient parking for Normal daily use.
I included the word 'New Construction' because many streets in PA contain buildings that were built before streetscape projects, some even before multiple automobile households were common.

We can't regulate who drives. But we probably can regulate Occupancy that causes a public disturbance.

Cap the occupancy when the parking reaches capacity more than twice a month. Simple.

Posted by marty, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2013 at 9:31 am

I'm not again modern design, just bad modern design. Set-back, landscape are missing.
The ARB and Planning Commission have approved a number of overbuilt, poorly thought out projects that are causing the voters to rise up. Reasonable growth to make our community more well rounded is being ignored and tainted by the way projects have been approved in our recent past.
The case of the JCC is a prime example. The majority of the project is OK but the signature piece, the corner building, looks like a giant Cinema 12. It wasn't designed to reduce the appearance of the mass, rather to accent it and it isn't that nice. The other element is that the orientation of the building is such that the glass lobby is exposed to afternoon sun which is such a basic design flaw for a firm that calls itself a green design firm, that it perfectly matches everything else about this flawed design.
With the ARB doing the review, it is surprising that such an ugly design was approved and no "professional" on the committee suggested even common sense changes to make the building appear more in scale.
I'm for good modern design, that respects the surroundings and works with them.
PS. All those cracks on the JCC exterior walls are water damage, either internal or external leaking big time.

Posted by Population Control?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Is the city trying to lower the population here by imposing so much ugliness on us that we will want to leave? Why do we keep getting these ugly, intrusive buildings built right up to the sidewalk, when they clash with existing architecture? And when the citizens make it well known that the majority do NOT want them here? Especially when their cold unfriendliness has such a negative effect on passers-by, whether on foot, bike, or vehicle. God forbid a person should be stuck at a stoplight near one, forced to have it in one's visual field, and unable to close one's eyes because they must watch for a green traffic light!

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I like the design of the new bldg.
Much better than faux Spanish or other retro fads. Don't turn the Peninsula into a Disneyland of retro fakes.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Neighbor, most of the reasonable arguments are not ones of style but ones of height, setback, parking, and other like issues that the city is passing on for not a really good reason. Things that make me speculate about the revolving door, quid pro quo ... i.e. corruption or just lack of competence.

I don't mind the more modern buildings if they are unique and interesting ... and an improvement in some way. I like the light and glass of this new building's design ... it just doesn't fit wall to wall pressed up against an ally, and to not have to provide parking for its users is just plain stupid. Lack of setback is also problematic ... what is a restaurant wants to open here at some time in the future, and put tables and chairs out in the front ... and there is no front. Some landscaping or civic minded design is a nice idea. and makes for a nicer city.

Another thing is that a huge big block of glass like these building are made out of can be cut down really quickly by some punk with a diamond stylus that comes by in the middle of the night and scratches their gang logo or something on it. You can see the result of that on the south side of university near Alma.

Posted by Walker, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 12:14 am

The standard sidewalk with no setback is just not quite wide enough for two people to walk side by side comfrtably, and when you add typical sidewalk obstructions like signs, it adds up to very pedestrian unfriendly. Sidewalks should be comfortable for two people, without having to constantly dodge signs no less. These in your face buildings don't allow for a pedestrian friendly time when planners realize single file walking isnt very pedestrian friendly.

Posted by Architect, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2013 at 7:03 am

Ruskin tells us that "good taste is a moral issue"

He meant that as an indicator of what we are drawn towards - reflecting our personal drive, our taste in music arts literature... As well as what we inflict on others.

Someone screeching a badly played violin on the street at 2am would attract the police. This building is no different. While the violinist may claim his rights, it's still just annoying noise.

Anyone who rejects aesthetics as part of law lacks an understanding of nuisance laws. We regulate ugly and blight all the time.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:37 am

The new mega-structures are all found to be compatible in the review process. For example, at 265 Lytton, the old Gatehouse property, the new 28,000 sq ft three story office building,the one with the typical ugly
spec-brown color surrounding the historic Tinney Bldg was found to be "compatible in height,massing,size,scale and architectural features".

Drive by there and see if you agree. Note the scale of the new office building relative to the scale of the plaza with the heritage oak tree.
The plaza rather than providing a focal point for the project is completely dominated by it. You feel sorry for the oak as it struggles to survive in this hostile environment. But this is "Tree City". Something went wrong
here - again.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2013 at 8:46 am


"Neighbor, most of the reasonable arguments are not ones of style but ones of height, setback, parking, and other like issues that the city is passing on for not a really good reason. Things that make me speculate about the revolving door, quid pro quo ... i.e. corruption or just lack of competence."

The failures of the ARB certainly give cause to speculate about conflicts of interest. Not to forget that one of the current ARB members works for Arillaga, and Arrillaga's Artchitect is a former planning commissioner?

When will we stop speculating, and change this sick process of appointing ARB "commissioners." ?

I would say that two of the things you mention height and setback do speak to style and if you add another critical element compatibility it is also style, but as many have mentioned these three things have sound basis to be regulated.


The ARB should NOT have a free hand on these three things, and my question is what are the options to stop them?

I think if the current laws are not good enough, it's time to make new ones.

Posted by Preserve Neighborhood Zoning, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

Go Doug! Let people know how they can help. A consistent look to Palo Alto, similiar to Santa Barbara would be great. Updating the zoning laws for height, setback and compatibility would also be a step in the right direction.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

At 317-323 University the ARB approved a Ken Hayes modern 50 ft high three-story office backdrop to the historic Birge Clark facade which formerly was the Medallion Gallery. The historic resource, one of the most interesting
architectural features Downtown, has been overwhelmed by the office building behind, around, and above it, lost its character and context, and made it look contrived, unauthentic especially in the way it was refinished.

The ARB looked at this project and just could not say "NO". It's
"yes-yes-yes" up and down University Ave, all over Downtown, all over the City. The developers/architects set the agenda, establish the parameters and the Council/ARB/staff just fall right in line.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2013 at 11:42 am

My list

- but also -

* No exceptions, exemptions or other bending of the rules
* No blind walls, they are very uncomfortable to look at (fortress like feeling)
* If rendering shows mature trees, then must plant mature trees.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

@ Resident: Actually the ARB did say no to the original proposal for the building going in at the corner of Waverly and University. The original design was something similar that you would see built at Stanford (modern interpretations of stucco/tile, but more windows, etc.). The ARB told them NO.

By ARB command, the architects had to come back with a "modern" design. Approved.

BTW - I do applaud the architects/owners - no PC zoning, no zoning waivers, fully parked + over the years the owners had paid into the parking assessments to help build the garages around town. I might not necessarily fully appreciate the style of the building, but I do appreciate that the architect and owners chose to play by the rules instead of asking for exceptions upon exceptions.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Palo Alto has entered the blow-off stage of over-development. In the stock and commodity markets that's when prices go into a parabolic move which has nothing to do with reality. Our over-building has gone parabolic and has nothing to do with the ability of the infrastructure to handle it or the quality of life and character of the city to tolerate it.

Just the fact that the City did not put the Jay Paul proposal in file 13 or the staff actually supported the Arrillaga proposal tells you that Palo Alto
is in a blowoff. The lesson of the markets is that blowoffs never end
pretty. There are a lot of losers. In this case the sure losers will be the residents, the environment, the City itself. It's even possible that in
the end a developer may enter the game too late and have a financial loss, even in Palo Alto.

However, on a hopeful note,if the defeat of Measure D actually becomes a true game changer,then we truly owe a huge debt to those residents who put it together and worked so hard on it.

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Each commercial project that does not meet the comprehensive plan and is a PC project should be voted on by the public and be fully parked and fully ABAG compliant. The ABAG folks have a housing unit per square feet requirement. Each developer should provide that housing before they can build new buildings. ABAG is not chasing Atherton, why is that? No commercial buildings. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Posted by Garrett , a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Modern or non Modern, growth will happen, the owner chooses. To go modern. Owners of properties pay Architects to design buildings to their tastes. If want to build a building to your tastes, buy land, develop, then sell the building or rent.

I like modern but if I was developer, would use classic design and certain traditional features. If you can't have landscaping window boxes, hangers and trees. Mixed materials with a nice balance of wall to window but do like shape.

Growth will happen regardless of modern or traditional architecture, question is do you price it out so high. The Cheesecake Factory reminds me of Beverly Hills meets Orange County.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

...or Las Vegas.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm


Nobody should be forced to accept growth because it's growth.

When the growth is happening on your street, in your neighborhood, it's not for growth to decide what you will do about it.

It's time for people to decide what they will do about growth, including putting a stop to it.

BY stopping growth here, it will go somewhere else, and we will be doing some places a favor, maybe.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm

@Citizen appeal

Just a quick question, what level of control do you feel you should have over what people in your neighborhoods and street are allowed to do with their own properties? Aside from building and zoning, do you think there should be limits to how many people can live in a single house? How many cars one can own? Would you feel comfortable if someone else was dictating to you those things?

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm


"..what level of control do you feel you should have over what people in your neighborhoods and street are allowed to do with their own properties? Aside from building and zoning?"

In Palo Alto right? we're not talking about some other country or space age scenario.

Respecting building and zoning pretty much is TOP of the list. That could cover it.

I don't otherwise "control" anything, or would want to be dictating to others but I can tell you some things I do that are implied in a Palo Alto neighborhood. Of course some of these are the law of the land, not just Palo Alto but some are not necessarily policed.

Noise levels (could be policed)

Putting out trash and recycling (stinks if you don't put it out)

Halloween candy (love this one, though some feel burdened)

Picking up dog poop (generally a nice thing to do)

Not running over anyone (also nice and fortunately highly controlled and policed unlike setbacks)

How far do you want to go before it gets silly?

And no, I would not want my neighbors to run crack houses.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm


Noise levels (could be policed)

By this I mean that this is actually policed because you can call the police if your neighbor gets too loud, ther are ordinances.

To answer your question more fully. I'm comfortable with most current laws and ordinances, and I don't consider them as being "dictated" - why would I live here if I didn't agree with the program?

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Yes this is very specific to Palo Alto. My question is how you will react when single family houses begin being subdivided, or rented out by room, as has occurred in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and everywhere that housing supply has been artificially restricted as demand increases. I assume you are either okay with this, or don't believe that it will happen?

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm


"how you will react when single family houses begin being subdivided, or rented out by room, as has occurred in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and everywhere that housing supply has been artificially restricted as demand increases. I assume you are either okay with this, or don't believe that it will happen?"

You realize that this IS a building and zoning question? so your initial question was not really "aside" from building and zoning.

I'm not a lawyer but it depends on what the laws say. In LA and San Francisco you still have Beverly Hills and Presidio Heights which have not been "subdivided," and they are much bigger than Palo Alto.

I don't think there would be a market to divide our tiny lots any further. You can already legally rent out a room in your house.

Unless you are Mark Zuckerberg and are buying many lots, what is there to "subdivide" - ask him if he plans on renting out rooms and subdividing his recently merged lots.

So, I don't believe it will happen, and I would not be ok in subdividing my house when I wish I had more room, not less.

Not sure what you're getting at though. Sounds like you want to "share" but that's like a different kind of "zoning"

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I'm saying, when rental prices get to a certain point, it would make more sense for me to rent out my 3 bedroom place to 4 people, and move to a rental in Hayward. I would be far from the only person considering this move, and with the number of tech workers in the area, finding renters wouldn't be the least bit difficult.

Posted by Ray, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 11, 2013 at 9:04 pm

I am a 16 year old kid. When I was younger remember my parents designing and renovating my house. My neighbor across the street did not like us building a nicer looking house, so he did everything he could to stop us! He went on to our property and measured all our trees without our permission and stapled papers on our trees telling us not to cut them down in order to make space for our growing family. He even filed a complaint about us when we put in a lawn and planted atree where we were our land showed a cobblestone walkway. He even when the as far as to threaten my mom, and attempt to sew our Co architect when he politely told him to "f**k off". All in all it really stressed out my parents and made the whole neighborhood an unpleasant place. I could go on but I gota get back to my homework, but through my experiences I believe in people having the right to build what they want as long as it is safe, isn't harming the environment, and is in accordance with earthquake and fire standards. And for all you out there who are trying to stop someone from building their artistic home please get lost. Art is an expression of changing taste. Keep an open mind.

Posted by Matt, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 12, 2013 at 6:37 am

Hostility towards modern building styles in Palo Alto?? PA is the epicenter of the Eichler homes, and the mid century modern style. This is just a continuation of our reputation of being on the leading edge of housing design.

Posted by Marianne Mueller, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

I like the building, and modern architecture, but like with plants, it's "right plant right place," in this case, "right building right place." Just isn't the right place for that building. I walk that street maybe every day and have a good feel for the space. I recommend the city council and the ARB walk the street every day for a month, meditating. What the heck! Good exercise anyway. How about low-cost senior apartments in a 3-story building? :-) Also what are they replacing, is this on two lots?

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2013 at 10:39 am


Thank you for taking the time to write in between homework. You brought two really good points, neighbors, and artistic freedom.

One of the reasons codes exist is precisely so that your mean neighbor keep his mouth shut as long as your family was building within code.

Code is not just safety, it is also an issue of light, and preservation of trees for example which can and do cause tremendous angst, not just to your mean neighbor. Imagine if everyone could cut down all the redwoods and trees on their land?

What may need to be clarified is that besides preserving nature, what other kind of compatibility are we looking for.

Do you really think a new building should be allowed to bulge beyond others? Infringe on people walking the sidewalk, and not offer the pleasant trees and greens that others offer?

Artists can be creative and generous by thinking of others and the local feel.

One last note - materials.

They matter because some are cheaper, and they ultimately stand out if the other materials are more enduring.

Glass is cheap, commercial, and it's too much contrast with the California Mission style. Like it or not, what someone called faux Spanish is actually not faux at all. It is California history, Palo Alto history, and nothing to be ashamed of trying to preserve.

Lastly, you CAN build a modern building and be compatible with Palo Alto.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Look around you have a sea of post war modern buildings, 10, 20, 30 even 40 years ago they were built. Small or large, look what they did to the T & C shopping center. Drive around Silicon Valley you will find ugly buildings, poorly designed, color schemes that are horrible.

Why not have a ugly building contest, but in some cases those ugly buildings have withstood the taste of time. In that time, taste changes, the building has become handsome while other horrible buildings get built.

Even old beautiful buildings were once modern, not well liked.

Posted by Bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Bru is a registered user.

> look what they did to the T & C shopping center.

I remember Town & Country from 1970 ... it was quaint and lovely with lots of oak trees and plenty of parking space. Things change sadly. There used to be a Town & Country Market that was really quite nice, a great deli, and a post office in the back in case you needed stamps of wanted to mail a letter. I'm not sure if it had a pharmacy as well, but I think so.

At some point the oak trees started to die off. Lots of them all over Palo Alto. I loved the oak lined streets of Palo Alto, but that is now gone. I'm not sure why they did not plant back oaks in many places, but they did not. I don't find T&C to be bad or ugly now.

If we want to have a influence on the City's plans, we need to be clear, what is a primary must have, and what is not. I think we can say parking is a must have, some allowance for every single parking space that can be imagined must be made - positively. If there is not on-site parking, then a sufficient amount must be maintained to pay the city for parking.

The problem if we say set-back, there are place where set-back is a must-have, and maybe places where it isn't. I may think it is foolish not to have set-back along Alma or other larger streets that may need expansion or improvements, others may disagree.

The important stuff is where to start, and the other stuff should be listed, discussed and argued until there is a good consensus on it, then the city should follow the people one it.

I think the style question, to me at least, is just not that important. I like places in the old Mediteranean style, like say the Varsity & Stanford Theaters, the Post Office, etc ... but I also like some of the newer type buildings, like that building down at the Alma end of University that is all glass. An assortment of styles that do not impinge on each and complement each other is ideal, for me anyway. We just should not have one mess heaped upon the next mess smashed up against the next mess competing for the most messiest obnoxious style ... that should not be the Palo Alto style.

Just a thought.

Posted by Bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Bru is a registered user.

Oh, to me, one example of a style that looks kind of cool, but is not functional and kind of obnoxious is the new Apple building. I kind of like that style, of modern minimalist materials, but it is squashed into the middle of town, and not very functional.

You go inside and you cannot hear yourself or anyone else talk, and you cannot think. Is that what Apple needs from its customers now to make a profit, that they not be able to think and ask questions. Architecture should aid people in their human actions, not undercut them.

The other day I went down there to buy something, and there were classes going on until 10am, the store was closed. Because Apple did not have enough sense to realize if they are going to give classes in a space, they simply cannot do it in the place that is echoing with the speech of 100 people - all bouncing off very hard glass walls.

The building there before had 2 stories that would have been great for Apple, but Apple had to force their inappropriate style on the city and their customers for the sake of something they think looks cool. Maybe it does in downtown Manhattan, but not in the middle for Palo Alto.

The Apple store also does not have a restroom either. That could be because once the restroom was known about in the old Apple building the public or the employees made a disgusting mess of it rather quickly. Whatever a restroom is needed for people, especially if they are taking a class and have to answer the call of nature.

It's clear that one group trying to figure out what will work for everyone very rarely works. It's nice to have input from a lot of places, even if you have to ignore most of it, but don't ignore the big spikes in what people feel, like or want - that is what the City is disliked for.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2013 at 4:13 pm


Interesting that the first thing you remember about T&C is lots of oak trees.

I read somewhere that a big cell or something tower is going up at T&C on Caltrain property.

Glass and metal are the new trees in town. COLD.

Does all modern have to be cold?

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm

@Citizen Appeal: California mission is faux if when it's used for a modern, open-plan office building. The mission style makes a lot of sense where labor and land are cheap, HVAC wasn't invented yet, earthquake codes are nonexistent, glass is a handmade luxury and your horizontal span depends on the biggest old-growth oak tree you can cut down. It doesn't make much sense as decoration on a steel-framed building. That's Taco Bell and how you get a Cheesecake Factory.

I agree we're not getting the buildings we deserve. Asking the same architects to do "better this time" is like putting a Paly quarterback in an NFL game. It's not likely to end well.

Doug's well meaning, but a scold about architecture.

Posted by Bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Bru is a registered user.

One comparison I can make since I was among the last class at PALY to ever use the old buildings, before the old campus got torn down was that the old buildings were great. Aside from the fact that occasionally a bee or a bird would fly in the windows, or in hot weather the rooms would get overheated. The style, the ergonomics and the humanity of the old style buildings were far superior to the new (now old) buildings, with small rooms, no windows at all, air-conditioning. If there's anyone who remembers the old PALY campus, theater, buildings, amphitheater/quad? The new library was not bad, although it was kid of small.

But really, "Citizen appeal", you have to be a bit more specific, and I think we are talking about building and homes, not towers. The cost to having all our magical cellphone and Internet devices is that we have to have towers around. Is that not superior to having the old wires from power and telephone poles?

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm


"open-plan office building"

Open plan for how many people?

If the objective is to pack people into buildings like sardines you need warehouses (and more parking).

But in case you haven't been in a real California Mission building, it is open space. Check out the big room in San Juan Batista (it goes on and on), and no it does not need cheap labor and materials. For Pete's sake California Mission is not the Sistine Chapel, it's just a big room with simple floors and simple materials.

The Cheesecake factory is not faux California Mission. It's like faux Italian something or other, And Taco Bell is faux California Mission because of the word Taco?

Mission buildings were built for spiritual pursuits btw, and Taco Bells are built for the same reasons open-plan office buildings are being built for, fast $.


I brought up the tower because of the materials. Not because I want inferior cell phone service.

Oak trees, and earthy building materials are being supplanted by glass, and metal. My hope is that modern in Palo Alto does not mean all the buildings will look like an I phone or an electronic gadget, and that next is that we all dress in white.

This being said, I like new ideas as long as they conform to height, setbacks and compatibility with the neighborhood - that may mean not bulging out at the seams, having a similar ratio of trees and landscaping to building, as the other homes. And why should materials be downgrades instead of upgrades?

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2013 at 11:47 pm


Meant to say that California Mission does not require cheap labor and expensive materials.

Not to mention things are built differently than back in the day.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 13, 2013 at 12:04 am


Check this out,

Mission architecture as the original "open-plan" building.

Santa Fe Depot, San Diego, California.
Web Link

Posted by K, a resident of University South
on Nov 13, 2013 at 3:27 am

Thank you Douglas for all the work you are doing to bring positive energy and light back to Palo Alto. I enjoyed your online survey, that was really cool.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2013 at 6:53 am

Santa Fe Depot is great and it's a single-story building. You can't go up four floors and meet contemporary earthquake codes with wood posts and plaster adobe walls.

You can fake the look with stucco curtain panels hanging off a steel frame. But that's not Mission.

What Doug and others are asking for is putting Mission lipstick on otherwise modern buildings. Generally not a path to high quality work: it leads to the Cheesecake Factory. Why not hire great architects to design high quality buildings instead?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2013 at 7:23 am

> Not to mention things are built differently than back in the day.

> What Doug and others are asking for is putting Mission lipstick on otherwise modern buildings.

This request for original construction would not work unless you go back to the days of Stonehenge or the dawn of building. As soon as they started piling stoned on top of each other they began to fake it. Look at the old Roman construction, they put nicely cut stones on the outside and then filled the voids with rocks and rubble, their own version of cement, and that "fakeness" if that's what you want to call it, has developed ever since.

Want to go back to plaster and lath wall construction, because drywall is fake? We can chop all the remaining forests of the world down to have "real" wood siding. Is plywood real or fake, because go back to the early houses of Palo Alto and they don't have plywood in their construction, they had whole wood planks.

> Why not hire great architects to design high quality buildings instead?

Something interesting adding to our community is nice. Recent abuses and bad decisions seem to motivate us in the direction of micromanaging the architecture of Palo Alto. The cat is out of the bag in that regard. Perhaps for larger complexes, like the ugly new building on Alma & Lytton a requirement should have been made that it match in the Spanish/Mediteranean or be more interesting or have more character ... it's pretty much an ugly eyesore, the Shell station had more character. ;-)

Palo Alto is not Sante Fe which the oldest capital city in the United States, the capital of the county named for it. About 70,000 people live in Santa Fe's 37 square miles. Palo Alto on the other hand has 64,000 people and about 24 square miles, land is hideously expensive.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2013 at 7:51 am


Good points but you need to think from the structure out, not the finishes in. Structure and structural materials determine height, span and perforation for light and air. Late Gothic cathedral builders figured out how to go higher and admit more light using the same stone and adding a bit of expensive iron bar for reinforcement. They had cheap labor and lots of time. Once you've built a frame out of steel that's joisted with engineered lumber, what kind of forms and finishes make sense?

Plywood and plasterboard are fine. Plywood uses the trees more efficiently and produces a stronger shearwall. Plasterboard goes up 5x faster than plaster and lath when your walls are mostly square.

If you were building an authentic Mission style building, you would use plaster and lath because it's too hard to radius corners correctly with plasterboard. Faking the radiusing with a factory molding is how you get to faux Mission.

Detail: @CitizenAppeal is pointing to the Santa Fe railroad depot in San Diego, not in NM.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 13, 2013 at 7:56 am


We agree on quality, but I think Mission needs to be looked at for historical reasons, and for the connection to surrounding nature (what's left of it).

Historically, Mission architecture is a copy of what the European churches were like at the time, but executed in the terms that were appropriate or possible to the Jesuit priests doing their work in this new land. Because of the Jesuits (and though I am not Catholic I will take a chance at this), the principles are of simplicity, not pomp.

It's not the lipstick that should be considered, but the serenity.

A great architect could invoke the authentic Mission, that feeling you get when you look at the Stanford buildings, with a building that has no semblance to a church or Taco Bell.

One of my favorite California buildings is the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Granted the Art collection inside will make anything feel right. But check out the thinking, per the museum website

"Mindful that the Museum was located near a residential area, the architects created a building that was "residential in atmosphere" but not in scale. They chose to line its curved exterior walls with 115,000 handmade deep umber tiles, designed by artist Edith Heath. As the sun rises and sets, these tiles reveal their delicate tones and highlights. They serve as a reminder of Pasadena's many Craftsman-style homes as well as the San Gabriel Mountains that tower over the city to the north."

Great architects think about the location, history, and about being generous to the community that will house their building.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2013 at 8:41 am

Anonymous, good comment, good points, but don't hold your breath expecting architecture to be reinvented in Palo Alto. ;-)

I've always kind of liked Palo Alto's "skyscraper", at Cowper and University. Too bad they cannot use the bottom floor off that for cafes and put tables out on the street, there is a lot of room. It is a nice shape and has a decent setback, even though there is little landscaping. I'm not suggesting more buildings of that size, but it is not a real imposition on the local area. Compared to say Channing House is it pleasing to look at, and not in Mission style. I think that building adds to Palo Alto in its way. Not everything has to be Spanish Mission style.

Then there is the Spanish Mission style block at Ramona and University that is OK ... or to me anyway, acceptable.

I don't particularly like the Cheesecake factory, but at street level trees and the whole rest of the street makes it seem not really objectionable.

I don't care for the AT&T building right across from the Post Office, which I like a lot.

It is not so much the downtown buildings that "do the damage" as out of place monsters like the JCC on San Antonio. With a little thought that would not have been so bad, but it so close to the street, and boxy and monolithic, not to mention the weird stealth blisters on its side and the odd color scheme.

Not every building in the city is going to be outstanding, and maybe if they were people would even notice it.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2013 at 9:47 am

I appreciate discussing good/bad vs mission/modern. Downtown PA rents are comparable to Manhattan. There's budget for better design work.

A related discussion we should have (if we believe in sustainability) is reusability. The old police headquarters is now recycled as a senior center. The old University movie theater became a bookstore, and is now office / retail. For downtown we need buildings that still work even after this generation of tech office bullpens goes out of fashion.

As far as the JCC, it would be great to get a panel discussion and post-mortem between the JCC leadership, the architects, the ARB, Planning Staff and the critics. Was the design a valid response to site, budget and program? Could it have been done better? Let's get everyone to tell us how we got to a building that everyone loves to criticize, and find out if the campus works from the perspective of its users. We won't do better next time if we can't openly discuss what happened.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 13, 2013 at 11:02 am


It may be just as easy to start a separate thread about the JCC building here on Town Square. I would add the Mitchell Park Library and the small fortress on Alma to the conversation about what was the thinking behind those buildings, what happened?

You bring up the idea that the community needs to address the "perspective of its users" but really? THe community is not looking at the nice 85 year old doing dumb bells in the JCC gym, or marveling at someone holding a conference in their ballroom.

Community engagement with buildings is about the exterior user experience, not the interior. We trust the developer is meeting the interior needs.

IF you look at the outside, I would say the JCC building likely thought that San Antonio road is a blight, they want nothing of it, and built to the inside. The exterior of the JCC is like the small fortress on Alma, and to a certain extent Mitchell Park Library also focused inward. On the outside, I don't see the difference between any of these buildings and IKEA. I think the JCC is beautiful on the inside but they lost out on sunlight by going fortress. It's beautiful but cold.

My suspicion, call me paranoid, is that certain architects have a fast pass at the ARB and design is determined by what can pass. Add the excuse that Mission is ugly, all Palo Alto buildings are ugly, and that blight is everywhere, the ARB (many who do not live here) allow for exteriors that have zero consideration for the atmosphere the buildings create for the residents.

I agree that budgets are there for better design. That means architects who think beyond what goes on inside the buildings.

Posted by Citizen appeal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 13, 2013 at 11:11 am


I will add that going all glass is just as extreme as going fortress.

The notion of privacy and serenity is lost when you are forced to look inside or there is a glare to push you away.

Materials are critical. There is a building on Lytton (379?) which you probably would call "faux" and it may not be perfect but at least they made an effort, and it is seamless with the neighborhood. At street level they put cobblestones up along the wall, and the color of the building is earthy.

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Touring the Southern California “Ivies:” Pomona and Cal Tech
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 5 comments | 3,159 views

Couples: Parallel Play or Interactive Play?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,408 views

Just say no
By Jessica T | 6 comments | 1,348 views

SJSU Center for Steinbeck Studies to Honor Author Khaled Hosseini on Weds Sept 10
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 793 views

Candidate Kickoff Events: Public, not just for supporters
By Douglas Moran | 4 comments | 346 views