The application by resident Terry Holzimer seeks to preserve the legacy of Thomas Von Chew, the Chinese entrepreneur who built a fruit and vegetable cannery in 1918 and transformed his company, Bayside Cannery, into the third largest cannery in the world.
By submitting his application Thursday, Holzimer hopes to stop the most controversial aspect of the redevelopment plan – the partial demolition of the building.
On September 5, the city council is scheduled to review the proposed development agreement between the city and the Soprato organization, which owns the Portage Avenue site. The agreement has been scrutinized by the city’s various land-use boards in recent months.
If approved, the development agreement would represent the Ventura neighborhood’s most significant project in decades. Soprato would be allowed to demolish about 40% of the cannery building and build 74 townhouses in its place.
The rest of the building will be retained as commercial space and renovated. Small spaces will be created for the public to view the historic elements of the former cannery, such as observation decks.
In return, Soprato will contribute 3.25 acres of land to the city to accommodate a future affordable housing project and a new park by Matadero Creek. The city hopes to restore and normalize the concrete canal as part of a long-term plan for the 14.65-acre site.
Holzimer, a teacher who lives in the Mayfield neighborhood, argued throughout the planning process that the building should be preserved in honor of Von Chew.
Holzimer said in the letter that Palo Alto, California and the United States “continue to suffer the consequences of centuries of mistreatment of minorities as well as discrimination that continues to this day.”
He wrote, “The significance of Thomas von Chew’s extraordinary achievements in the face of the formidable obstacles of his day cannot be overstated.” For a city like Palo Alto, which prides itself on equality for all, reaching out to destroy one of the last surviving and most impressive monuments to Zhou’s accomplishments is wrong, especially since it is wholly unnecessary.
“There is no legal or financial impediment to preserving this extraordinary building, 340 Portage. We must designate it historic so that we and future generations can truly honor Chew and his legacy.”
In his application, he calls for the city to classify the former cannery building as a Class 1 or Class 2 historic resource — the two highest levels of local inventory.
Buildings with such ratings face strict regulations when it comes to demolition or renovation, including the need for environmental reviews. Buildings listed under Class 3 or Class 4 Historic Resources do not carry such restrictions unless they are located downtown or in the Professorville neighborhood.
Discussions about historical designations
The topic of historic designations has become increasingly contentious over the past two years, both because of the Soprato project and because of a separate effort by the city to revisit – and possibly expand – its inventory of local properties that may qualify for historic listing.
Last month, the city’s consulting firm, Big & Turnbull, released the results of its reconnaissance survey that looked at a list of 167 properties previously identified by a 2001 study as likely to qualify for listing as a historic resource at the local, state and international level. National records.
While some of these buildings have been demolished or significantly altered over the past two decades, the new survey concludes that 147 of them “retain historic significance and integrity” and are therefore eligible for listing on either the National Register or the California Register.
Whether the city actually petitions to have these properties listed on state and national records will be up to the city council. Under local law, the city can choose to list these properties whether or not the property owners support the designation.
Similarly, a resident who does not own the property in question can request that that property be listed as Historic Resources, as Holzimer does with the Frye Building.
In his request, Holzimer proposes that the city and Soprato consider “restoration and adaptive reuse” of the former cannery.
“The destruction of an important historical resource that gave hope to thousands of local immigrants and affected the lives of everyone in the Gulf region in the twentieth century should not be considered or tolerated,” the letter said.
The building’s historic status has been a source of contention throughout the planning process.
The Soprato Project Environmental Impact Report identified the loss of a historic resource—the cannery building—as the project’s only “significant and unavoidable” impact, an outcome that would require City Council approval to state the overriding considerations for the project’s progress. Although the Historic Resources Board, Architectural Review Board, and Planning and Transportation Committee have all reviewed and recommended approval of the development agreement, members of each review panel have criticized Soprato’s plan to demolish part of the building. Several residents, including former Mayor Karen Holman and Land Use Controller Jeff Levinsky, have also publicly lobbied for the city to preserve the former cannery building.
During an Architectural Council review in June, President Peter Baltai-Soprato called for more public access to the building and its defining elements—observation decks—and called the current design a “travesty.”
“This is the real shame, that somehow our city can’t find a way to maintain this use,” Baltay said.
The historic board also struggled with the project during its review in May, with board member Margaret Wimmer and others lamenting their limited scope in terms of amending the development agreement and ensuring its preservation.
“The historical process and how we review things, how we classify things as historical, is troubled because our law is not protective enough,” she said at the May meeting. “There will be a significant and unavoidable impact on the historical resource with this project.” 25 meetings.