Public Comment

New: Thoughts on the Sequoia Apartments

By Kirk E.Peterson
Friday November 25, 2011 - 05:22:00 PM

Without my knowledge the Daily Planet published a paragraph I wrote regarding the treatment of what's left of the Sequoia. It was not a big deal, there was certainly no malfeasance, and they've apologized nicely. My words were clear and are now part of the internet's parallel internet universe. So I am now expanding on what I said, in the hope of provoking some discussion. Please consider the following: 

- Following the 1906 earthquake the Ferry Building was declared a hazard by the Army Corps of Engineers. Nearly a century later it finally got a full retrofit, and we can all enjoy it today. 

- Steel (or iron) reinforcing is sometimes found in buildings built while the memory of the 1906 earth quake were still fresh. A simple and cheap pachometer test could determine if such reinforcing is present in the masonry walls of the Sequoia Apartments.  

- Bracing and shoring the remaining walls could be less costly than demolishing the whole thing and carting it off to some landfill. Any future building will need new exterior walls - the greenest thing would be to recycle the ones that are already there. Once stabilized they are likely to be more durable than contemporary construction. A new structure located on the site is likely to have much the same massing and function. It will need fire-rated exterior walls, and brick is one such rated material.  

- A new 'penthouse' floor could be found to have little impact on the structure vis-a-vis historic preservation. A new building in the old skin might even receive a negative declaration(lack of red flags for environmental review). 

A rehab/reconstruction project would not trigger the typical lengthy and expensive project review to which all new projects are subjected. The applicant could save the $100 grand or so that a time consuming EIR process can cost. 

- Many of us enjoy a sense of history. This is not the same as nostalgia - I like living now thank you. I like many historic buildings because they are beautiful or interesting. Their beauty is often a function of when they were designed and built, but their oldness per se is generally not a visible characteristic. 

- Any structure that already exists, be it historic or beautiful or not, is probably 'green', and rehabbing a building for sustainability is cheaper than starting from scratch. The carbon footprint of vintage structures was made long ago. Most older buildings can have a long future if simply maintained. 

- I am currently designing a new building to be built on the empty lot across Telegraph Avenue from the Sequoia Apartments. I would love to use the colored brick, marble, and terra cotta that architects got to use a century ago. Modern economic constraints preclude that, but it would be nice to keep what's there. We could recreate the long lost Berkeley Inn: it would be hard to argue against its handsome design, but we're choosing to do something less conventional and more in the spirit of the new Southside Plan. 

- It would be great to see the Sequoia being rehabbed right away. Such an approach would result in the least disruption in the life of Telegraph Avenue. The current Anna Head Dorm project will hopefully be done before too long. The project I'm working on will result in enough disruption in the neighborhood. A recycled Sequoia project could be completed before its new neighbor begins its own disruption of the neighborhood. 

- Construction financing is very difficult to obtain these days. Perhaps the insurer of the losses at the Sequoia can be the source of reconstruction funding. 

It may be that the Sequoia will disappear. If that is the case I hope its disappearance will be the result of a well informed and inclusive decision making process. I have not spoken with any City employees or the Building's owner, or tried to. They have enough to do regarding this unfortunate situation, without being bothered some more. Nonetheless I thinks it's appropriate for a reasonably knowledgeable person who is both pro-preservation and pro-development to speak up.