New life for run-down building

New life for run-down building

For some, the inconspicuous tan building at 7401 Monterey Road
is a sentimental reminder of Gilroy’s good old days. For others,
it’s an eyesore in dire need of massive renovations. Either way,
the building and surrounding sidewalk is a safety hazard that city
officials have blocked off until its walls are properly
reinforced.
For some, the inconspicuous tan building at 7401 Monterey Road is a sentimental reminder of Gilroy’s good old days. For others, it’s an eyesore in dire need of massive renovations. Either way, the building and surrounding sidewalk is a safety hazard that city officials have blocked off until its walls are properly reinforced.

“It looks like it’s about ready to fall down,” said Reid Lerner, a local architect who drives by the vacant building that used to house Hall’s Department Store nearly every day and who was hired by the Halls about five years ago to conduct a feasibility study. “I see a building that should be torn down. But I didn’t grow up here in Gilroy and people who did have a lot of strong emotions attached to that building.”

Lerner’s observation echoes the sentiment of many who pass by the building. In late May, city workers cordoned off the sidewalk near the corner of Sixth Street and Monterey Road after one worker noticed a crack along the rear wall and a subsequent inspection by a structural engineer raised concerns about the stability of the building’s side and rear walls, said Kristi Abrams, manager of Gilroy’s development center.

“We’re proceeding with an abundance of caution,” Abrams said. “Our concern is that it’s not as stable as a typical building. It’s so hard to determine what’s going to happen but we decided we need to get those walls braced and that’s what we’re doing.”

According to the building’s owner, Jose Montes, the bracing is complete and he’s just waiting for the city inspector to sign off on the reinforcements. Montes said he hopes to submit plans to beautify and restore the building within the next few months.

Seismically unsound, the building is one of about 30 “unreinforced masonry” – or URM for short – buildings that dot downtown Gilroy. The city has instituted a monthly fine of $10,000 for owners of URM buildings and plans to begin enforcing the penalty July 1.

Built in the early 1900s, the building at one time housed a fraternal hall, but served as a haberdashery for the most part. For many years, a full relief sculpture of a horse and rider adorned the facade, adding to the downtown’s architectural diversity, according to historical records.

These days, chipped and peeling paint, boarded up windows and a few scrawls of graffiti round out the dilapidated exterior of the old Hall’s building. A sign duct taped to the front door reads, “Earthquake warning – This is an unreinforced masonry building. You may not be safe inside or near URM buildings during an earthquake.”

But when Montes looks at the building, he sees the next big addition to Gilroy’s downtown.

“To us, it’s a beautiful building that has a lot of history,” said Montes, who lives in Gilroy.

With Lizarran, a new tapas restaurant owned by downtown developer Gary Walton, just across the street, Montes said the location has great potential.

“I would like to see some kind of coffee shop, maybe a little bit of entertainment,” Montes said. “Something high end.”

The vacant buildings downtown pose not just a health and safety issue for the city, but also cost Gilroy millions of dollars in lost economic activity each year, Walton said. Using Garlic City Books – the recently opened recycled bookstore at the corner of Monterey and Martin streets – as an example, Walton hopes to show property owners and developers what can be done with downtown’s older buildings.

“I want to set the bar,” he said. “I think we have a self-deprecating attitude sometimes. Maybe there’s not enough to be proud of in Gilroy and I think downtown is a good place to start. It’s a little tarnished and needs some work but it’s unique and reflects the history and culture of this town.”

What the downtown lacks is a clear vision and dedicated official at City Hall to walk property owners through the restoration process.

“I see all kinds of buildings downtown that are absolutely beautiful buildings,” said Walton, adding that he would be happy to speak with any downtown property owners to discuss ideas or give advice. “It just takes the right architect or the right owner or the right help from the city. It’s important that we keep what we have but make it better.”

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