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Board OKs 'working cafe' plan for Varsity Theatre in Palo Alto

Original post made on Aug 6, 2014

Palo Alto's Historic Resources Board gave the thumbs up Wednesday to plans for a public "working cafe" in the front courtyard and first floor of the Varsity Theatre, which has been vacant since Borders closed its doors in 2011.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 6, 2014, 4:19 PM

Comments (39)

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 6, 2014 at 4:22 pm

They seriously need some better urban designers/architects/planning interns to create better renderings.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Need real guarantees
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:06 pm

The plan sounds lovely, but we have had so many disappointments and tricks on public benefits that were supposed to be open to the public and disappeared as soon as they were built.
I know this is not a PC zone but we need real guarantees that it will really be a "working cafe" that welcomes the public, e.g., no concrete planters to discourage public entry, like at 800 High St.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:18 pm

This is great news.

It is innovative.
It is out-of-the box thinking

Respectfully


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Kim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 9:48 am

These high tech companies should be GIVING BACK to Palo Alto and investing in CULTURE! How about turning this once-wonderful spot back into a lively theater, cafe and MUSIC venue for the people who live here???? I've had it up to my neck in high tech, thank you very much.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 7, 2014 at 10:39 am

What a shame. Welcome to generic mediocrity Palo Alto.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Call an office use and office use
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2014 at 10:45 am

The Varsity Theater's zoning does not allow office uses on the ground floor. So this appears to be an attempt to skirt the zoning rules and locate office on the ground floor which the article and presumably the architect/developer is calling a "personal service" which is a permitted use on the ground floor.

The current proposal is a cafe area and office spaces on the ground floor, but instead of calling it office it is being called "personal service" to get around the ground floor office use restriction. Does anybody else see a problem with this?

Converting ground floor retail and nonoffice uses to office uses?

From Article:

The enterprise will combine a cafe – to be run by Blue Bottle Coffee – with "personal services available for a fee," including individual and group work desks, power and wireless connections, group brainstorming space, private phone rooms, discussion rooms and teleconferencing rooms.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 7, 2014 at 11:42 am

Having this central spot in downtown vacant for this long has been unacceptable and an eye-sore to say the least!

Hard to say what will really take place as we have been mislead over and over again.

Downtown desperately needs an outdoor and international-style music venue. University has become a steet of uninteresting shops and mediocre restaurants. Who will finally help bring some innovative thinking to our downtown again. Help!!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm

And exactly where will all the "cafe" users park?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by YSK
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 7, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Why did you take out the comment about the tech community needing give back? Has this become the city of Stepford and you are in charge of censorship? That comment was right on point and reflects the attitude of at least 40% of the residents of Palo Alto for tired of all the taking with no giving by the tech community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marianne
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2014 at 1:46 pm

It is my opinion that this 'cafe' idea is a good one, but not a good one for that specific historic space which should be better used for the greater public. The whole thing is better suited for an events venue, as others have noted, leaving working spaces to office spaces and not public/retail spaces.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

They will park in the same places that the Borders customers parked or where the theater patrons parked before them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by baffled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Seems to me Starbucks should be worried --

and what time does this thing open and close? The homeless need a good place to sleep


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm

if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…….Its a duck!

In this case another miss use of retail space by office tenants contributing to the job/ housing imbalance and the degradation of residential neighborhoods created by the traffic ( circling for spots) and intruder parking that the Comp PLan specifically does not allow.

If approved this will contribute to a massive problem that staff only wants to fix at the expense of residents neighborhoods and the Quality of life therein……parking daytime workers in residential neighborhoods.

How about the developers and business owners start paying and the city stops the practice of developer giveaways?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Don
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 7, 2014 at 3:32 pm


See floor plans etc. @:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2014 at 5:09 pm

I knew when I clicked on the article that at the bottom of it would be a bunch of comments by curmudgeonly naysayers who don't ever use their real names. I do mourn the Varsity of long ago when dinner was served in the outdoor patio and a movie ticket was free if you purchased dinner. I loved the repertory movies that played there: foreign movies, Hollywood classics, etc.

But times change. The use envisioned by Hasso Plattner sounds interesting to me. And Blue Bottle Coffee! Zowee! This appears to be a wealthy individual offering us something for our benefit. Why all the sour grapes?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 7, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Some guy comes in and offers a less than non-profit cool idea/cafe and, again, most of you people are bothered. How about "thank you" to this guy for opening up the Varsity to anyone in town? The owner has the right to limit and/or eliminate public access. Please, all of you naysayers, shut up before this guy packs his bags and does this somewhere else. And to all those that think the owner should open up a huge money losing movie theater - ITS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Perhaps, if the plan were to include a "residents only spa/cafe", replete with door-to-door limo service - to obviate the need for parking - then the residentistas and serial naysayers would be mullified enough to accept this innivative use of a venerable Palo Alto building.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Need real guarantees
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

The reason there is so much suspicion is that the developers and the city have fooled us so often that it is downright foolish to just take developers at their word.
Maybe this man is different, er, honest. Let us hope.
It is possible you haven't been paying close attention to development in the last few years so you don't understand the skepticism.
Fool me once, etc. But we've been fooled again and again, and you still don't get it?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by on the up and up please
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 7, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Dennis,

The residents that go downtown are usually Palo Alto youth (they walk or bike - no limos) - teenagers, young families, or maybe a few moms stocking up on Lulu Lemon in that area. Residents don't use limos, the venture capitalists are in Atherton, Woodside.

Which brings up a few things, can people please make sure downtown is as on the up and up as possible?

There is a lot of youth, families, and it's only fair to share the public space appropriately. No getting offended at young kids.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Pretty Clear
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 7, 2014 at 6:34 pm

>> "personal services available for a fee," including individual and group work desks, power and wireless connections, group brainstorming space, private phone rooms, discussion rooms and teleconferencing rooms.

AKA, office space.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by YSK
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 7, 2014 at 7:02 pm

I avoid downtown. I'm sick of the pretentiousness, and the crappy parking. On Christmas Eve, at 3pm in the afternoon, downtown was a ghost town except where I needed to go. My car had been towed to the repair shop two days before, and I drove a clunky old SUV I have as backup. I was on a cane, from back issues, no handicap placard, so I parked where I have parked my much nicer cars for a quick stop, in the loading zone in front of the Varsity. Mind you, there is a Mercedes SUV (the one that looks like a mail truck) that parks there ALL the time during peak hours, never gets cited. I quickly hobbled into Shady Lane, picked up what was being held for me, and came out to my crappy backup car...and to a ticket. I have parked in that spot for YEARS, as have many, but because I was driving a POS, I was cited. I was pulled over twice more the week I drove that old truck, FOR NOTHING. I was financially profiled. I haven't been downtown since. A ticket, on CHRISTMAS EVE...in a loading zone in front of a closed building....where everyone else parks, especially that Mercedes SUV that I believe is linked to Il Forniao.

I find downtown to be hostile, I find the City Council to be hostile to anyone who has lived here over ten years, and I find the new Palo Altans to be hostile, overly obsessed with appearances and ostentatious displays of wealth. The soul of Palo Alto is gone, along with the sense of community we all once shared.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2014 at 7:27 pm

The historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, the sister theatre of
the Varsity, was restored and is a successful performing arts/film festival venue operated by Metropolitan Theatre Corp of Los Angeles. Were they offered the Varsity to buy or manage?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Does this mean that I can finally use my Varsity dollars?!?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by K
a resident of University South
on Aug 8, 2014 at 3:08 am

"It will build on the tradition of cafe culture worldwide, where vibrant exchange of ideas amongst citizens has played a vital role in defining the artistic, scientific, political and cultural life of our civilization."

How can this be? That furniture looks so thoroughly uncomfortable.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by PA Parent
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 8, 2014 at 7:54 am

Palo Alto seems to have forgotten about the kids who live here. No more bowling alley, movie theatre, art store, music stores etc. There is literally nothing for kids to do. All work and no play = Palo Alto.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Have a question
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Is the Hanna Hous going to take over the entire first floor of the old borders? Even where the books were in the Borders store? Or, is this cafe just in the courtyard and area where you used to check-out at a Borders?

The zoning for this building was to be all retail on the ground floor. Is this cafe a way for SAP to skirt the rules on making the entire first floor retail? Are they offering up a public cafe but making money by leasing out to a company the "old book area" of Borders?

Would love to now the answer to this.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MikeCrescentPark
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm

As for the request the high tech community givie back, I believe they have been for a long time: high paying jobs, equity stakes and a lot of economic upside to the many blue collar and other types of businesses supplying those companies with needed goods and services. This attitude demanding 'giving back' is inappropriate.

Giving back begins with each one of us as individuals who feel we have benefitted giving back to deserving organizations-whether the arts, charities or other deserving groups that benefit our community and it's individuals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Intangibles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm

MikeCresecentPark,

The public process of giving and receiving does not have an intagibles line, you either adhere to specific rules, laws, ordinances and tax codes, or you don't.

Your logic is that you already pay the mortgage, a nanny, and food, so why should you respect your home. If you want to count intangibles, the high tech community has both given and taken.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MikeCrescentPark
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I don't follow your logic. I hope you are not making the assumption made by many liberals that nobody gives back unless the government requires them to do so. Your comment about 'respect your home' is I hope a typo on your part.

There is in fact an intangibles line for everyone. For most giving back there is a readily discernible trail of activity, money and interactions that shows companies and individuals giving back. I have worked for several of the stellar performers in business in the valley. They all gave back generously.

My wife and I are not even a little bit unique among the large network of individuals we know who give time and money. We have supported many locally focused nonprofits who's goals we believe in as well as the local arts and our respective alma maters. It does not take government to ensure 'giving back; except when the giving back is directed by government to very unpopular recipients such as undeserving individuals and organizations.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Intangibles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Mike

What would you consider undeserving individuals and organizations?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Intangibles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm

MikeCrescentPark,

I may not have followed your logic. It sounded to me that you were saying the tech industry has given back plenty in response to what was sounding largely a concern about lack of trust to how this space will be used. I agree with you "This attitude demanding 'giving back' is inappropriate." as long as giving is not expecting back special favors.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MidtownRes
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Blue Bottle coffee at the Varsity patio? I think that sounds pretty damn good... Can't wait.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Kerry55
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 9, 2014 at 7:08 am

Couldn't agree more with P.A.Parent -- " There is no longer a bowling alley, movie theatre, art store, music stores etc. There is literally nothing for kids to do. All work and no play = Palo Alto.This "working cafe" is not RETAIL. " It's so obvious that this "working cafe" is a disguise for a professional building. My kids and their friends are not going to go hang out here . I've looked in on the Palantir cafeteria on High Street, looks like this "working cafe" will be the same type of atmosphere, not a place for the non-technies, over 40 crowd. The last thing we need here is another coffee venue. As far as I'm concerned, let the property sit vacant until the owner gets the message(RETAIL) and stop this rat race for higher profits and stuffing as many techies as possible into their cubbies downtown.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Carl
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2014 at 10:00 am

I used to work for a very large consulting company across the US, and this was the precise structure for what we called Office Hoteling. It means that you rent office space per day or per hour, while you were in town. The fact that there is a cafe/restaurant selling stuff to the public does not change the nature of the business. It is technically office use, not retail use.

How can the City of Palo Alto in its right mind be allowing this?!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Artist
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 17, 2014 at 12:59 pm

It was sad to see this great building going from a movie theater into a book store. This building has so much history,however, in such a short time the building has lose it history. We have not even impacted by a war or by an earthquake and this beautiful building has been forgotten. This building has so many walls, one thing I would love to see is given an opportunity to local artist to show their artwork. I am not talking about rich, famous, elite artist. But local artist who produce great artwork and are not given an opportunity to show their artwork at some shallow Alto galleries, because those artist are not elite in the art world. It would be great to see artwork from all ages from 5k to a senior citizen artist.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by another deep throat
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm

I heard SAP listed as "analytics partner" of San Francisco 49ers on the radio today. No doubt the execs have a luxury box out at the new Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. Good luck with your winning team!
Meanwhile, those of us not in the billionaire status yearn for the old Varsity theatre or even Borders. I think the City of Palo Alto should stick to the same rules for billionaires as for the rest of us insofar as development guidelines there in downtown.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2014 at 11:26 am

Quite a far cry from the hippie and punk cafe and movie house that was once there. I'm realistic but, it would be nice to see as much "liberal, fine, and performing arts" happening/being promoted as "business, tech, or engineering".

In the name of Steve Jobs… or Kubrick or Tuck and Patty or whatever or whomever you worship.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Any guarantees this cafe will truly be open to the public? Survey Monkey stated several months ago that their Blue Bottle Coffee cafe would be open to the public--ha! Try to go inside: you will be greeted with icy stares, and people will tell you no such animal exists



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Maybe that's because Blue Bottle is not opening at Lytton and Alma. They are going to be at the Varsity site instead.


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