The 14-year-long saga to retrofit downtown Gilroy’s historic buildings is coming to an end.
The last building along Monterey Street on the city’s unreinforced masonry building list is expected to be expunged from the record soon as crews are making the necessary repairs, allowing downtown building owners to turn their focus on attracting tenants to these newly upgraded buildings.
That building, located at 7515 Monterey St., will eventually house Settle Down Beer, where two longtime brewers will share their suds with the public. Constructed in 1900, the 1,800-square-foot building has housed a market, music store and water store, among other businesses.
The structures, known as unreinforced masonry buildings, contain masonry materials that are not braced by reinforcing beams and pose a safety hazard in an earthquake.
California’s Unreinforced Masonry Building Law since 1986 has required cities located in seismic zone 4—an historically active faultline that runs the length of the California coast—to inventory their masonry buildings, report the findings to the state and work on getting the buildings up to code.
In 2006, the Gilroy City Council adopted an ordinance identifying 25 buildings constructed with unreinforced masonry, requiring the building owners make the necessary retrofits within three years and imposing a series of fines if such improvements were not made.
That ordinance was amended in 2011, and no longer required property owners to complete full retrofits of their buildings. Instead, it allowed for simpler, less expensive retrofits, including securing URM walls to the roof and floors in multi-story buildings, bracing parapets and repairing or removing façades.
As a result, many buildings in downtown Gilroy were vacated as the owners began the process of bringing them up to code.
“It really created an image of blight because of the fact that the buildings couldn’t be occupied,” said Gary Walton of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association. “It cast a pall about the viability of our downtown.”
Despite the long process, Walton called the efforts a win for downtown.
“The whole effort was to make sure the buildings didn’t get torn down,” he said. “That’s part of our history. You can’t replace that with a new building.”
Now, building owners can increase their focus on upgrading downtown’s Gourmet Alley, which they view as a key component of the city’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 shutdowns.
John Taft of the downtown business association said about 60,000 square feet of new space will be active in downtown once the retrofits are complete.
“We really need to focus on getting the downtown firing on all cylinders, because it will really help the entirety of Gilroy,” he said.
Getting the buildings up to seismic standards required a significant investment from the building owners. During a 2019 tour of the URM buildings, building owner Jose Montes said roughly 105 tons of steel had been embedded into 7533 Monterey St., from the foundation to reinforcing the brick walls, resulting in a $1.1 million retrofit of the 10,500-square-foot structure.
Montes also owns the former Hall’s building on the corner of Monterey and West Sixth streets, which is undergoing an $875,000 retrofit.
For 7515 Monterey St., crews poured in 110 yards of cement and bolted down 16 tons of steel to keep the brick walls in place during a major earthquake, according to Josh Montes of F&S Construction, the general contractor for the project.
The building, which previously housed the Water Store, has been attracting passersby eager to learn what is going into the location as construction hits a high gear.
“Everybody is curious to see what is going on,” Josh Montes said.