San Luis Obispo is about to gain a new boutique hotel and mixed-use development in downtown. Meetings continue to be held to ensure that the Garden Street Terraces project is going to be what interested citizens truly want it to be.
It appears that this will be our last chance to speak up and respond as a community to this 212,607-square-foot project that is unprecedented in its bulk, mass and scale in San Luis Obispo County. Otherwise, the Cultural Heritage Committee, the Architectural Review Commission and City Council will make the decisions without further public input.
Why should people be interested in this project? This will make a big change to downtown, so everyone is encouraged to be involved.
As it stands, the project violates the character existing downtown and is not in keeping with the human scale, the contextual architecture, the colors, details and materials that now make up our civic environment.
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As visitors drive up Marsh Street coming to town for a visit, the project will be one of the first views of the historic downtown. Some have suggested that the intersection at Broad and Marsh is really the gateway to the downtown historic center, and as such, there should be significance to the structures on that corner and they should be welcoming in nature.
The building as presented at the latest Architectural Review Commission meeting is not welcoming, as it is primarily dark gray and white, without articulation of structure, details or architectural clarity.
At the Cultural Heritage Committee meeting on July 25, the architect presented the project and described his design concept as being the use of the old with the new, the mission with the modern.
However, the modern in dark gray is at street level and the mission in white is mostly located in floors above the street, so that pedestrians will be unable to sense the old as they walk along. Perhaps the design concept could be reversed with the modern above and the mission below, or the old and the new could be combined together.
The predominant color used on the street level is dark gray, a gray devoid of color. Gray is morbid, morose, uninviting, repelling and no buildings in the SLO downtown core are gray. Perhaps dark gray in cube-like forms is stylish in large cities, but it should not be used in a small, architecturally cohesive town like SLO, as dark gray also makes any form look much larger, out of scale within our town.
Details and materials
The new project lacks human scale because it appears to have absolutely no structure or details on any part of the building, not at the rooflines, the corners or around the windows, not even expansion joints to help prevent cracking in the stucco.
Stucco, which is used throughout, is known as the cheapest building material available. Stucco without proper detailing looks cheap, not boutique!
It appears that there could be more variety in building forms, details, and that the architectural materials could be of higher quality. Brick, marble, travertine or other similar materials say quality, this is special and honored.
If the budget will not allow quality material at this time, then the project should be even more reduced.
Another of the major concerns for SLO citizens is that although we are losing a former public restroom and one of our best on-site parking lots to this project, there are no interior spaces or exterior places planned within the new project for use by the general public. There will be no meeting or conference rooms, no large central lobby and no restaurant or bar on the higher levels where views of the mountains will be possible.
We applaud the developer for providing a 7,061-square-foot ground floor space within the new project to house the refuse carts of all businesses along Higuera that back onto Garden Alley, plus refuse from the new project. At last count, there were 21 refuse containers sitting in the alley. It is a good decision to clear the alley of these refuse containers, but as yet, Garden Alley will still remain a service alley as no shops will be opening onto it.
In fact, security might pose problems, especially on Thursday nights with the downtown market. If some of activities were introduced, there would be less need to be concerned; however, nothing has been planned to entertain pedestrians as they meander through these narrow corridors. It must be a vital safe place, not a haven for gang attraction.
If you have ever traveled to the “historic centers” of towns throughout California such as Arcata, Eureka Ferndale and even Sacramento, you will see that great care has been taken by recent architects to build new transitional structures sensitive to the beauty of the existing old downtowns.
This project has not been thought through enough and more time is needed for more public input, quality research and design work to be accomplished.
We should not proceed with anything less than the best quality materials, appropriate colors, enriching details and fine, thoughtful, aesthetic decisions.
Sandra Davis Lakeman is a professor emeritus of architecture at Cal Poly, and is author and photographer of the urban design book, “Natural Light and the Italian Piazza.”
The Architectural Review Commission will review the Garden Street Terraces project when it meets at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall council chambers.
A model of the project will be available for review at the Community Development Department before the meeting.