With ground set to break on an entertainment and sports complex said to include state-of-the-art technology, owners of Downtown Plaza’s next-door neighbor, the California Fruit Building, have a high-tech makeover plan of their own.
By accenting Old World charm with modern accents, developers hope to draw Sacramento’s creative class and young professionals to a hip new space in what was — and could again be — the heart of downtown.
“We want to do things that people talk about all of the time in this town but are too sensible to actually try,” says Richard Rich, principal of Mosaic Partners and one of the building’s new owners. “Sensible things don’t attract creative people. This is a serious town. There’s not a lot of whimsy, but there could be.”
For Rich, whose company, along with Leonard Development and Dale Investments, purchased the building last November, this whimsy will manifest itself into artistic, modern accents in a historic, architectural framework.
First, however, that framework needs to be uncovered. Rich says the remodel will do away with “disco-era” updates like fake wood paneling, dropped ceilings and segmented floor plans that hearken back to the days of corner offices and two-martini lunches.
“We want to do things that people talk about all of the time in this town but are too sensible to actually try. Sensible things don’t attract creative people. This is a serious town. There’s not a lot of whimsy, but there could be.”
Richard Rich, principal, Mosaic Partners LLC
Instead, many of the floors will be gutted to usher in natural light and an open working environment. The building’s fire sprinklers, heating and air will be updated (currently the radiators scream like something out of a horror movie) and digital fiberoptics will be added.
Built in 1914, when the railyards were bustling with activity, the building housed the California Fruit Exchange. According to Sacramento Old City Association president William Burg, it’s the first skyscraper to have graced Sacramento’s skyline and the first concrete-poured building in the city.
“This was the year when canning and packing and other agricultural-related industries were really taking off,” Burg says. “The early 20th century was certainly a booming time for Sacramento, and the building has a great legacy. It is architecturally significant, it’s in great shape and it is a city landmark.”
The exterior boasts terra cotta tile from internationally renowned Gladding McBean, a pioneer in ceramics technology during its heyday. These are the aspects Rich and his partners are looking to preserve.
He says the heavy maroon awn-ings that cloak the exterior and the solid panels blocking the top portion of windows need to go. Aesthetically appropriate signage is also necessary, according to Rich.
“There are these ghastly sign cans that have affixed themselves like scabs on the building. They don’t need to be that ugly,” he says, throwing his hands up in the air. “They can be delightful.”
It’s that delightfulness that Rich hopes to incorporate through modern accents. He hopes to turn the back end of the building, which faces the Interstate 5 off-ramp onto J Street, into a memorable visual experience that will brand Sacramento to those entering the city.
“You’re stopped at the light, and you’re looking up J Street — perhaps for the first time ever — and you’re looking at the ass end of this building and it is tragically underwhelming. Something has to happen.”
Rich envisions something fresh, artistic and alluring that incorporates sculptural elements into the western face of the structure, plus a more pedestrian-friendly urban streetscape that could include benches, a transit stop that would double as public art and a ground-level restaurant with outdoor seating.
“That stretch of J Street is very high traffic,” Burg says. “It’s a little intimidating to pedestrians, and anything that can enhance the pedestrian experience and make them more comfortable will increase foot traffic, help businesses on the ground floor and make it a more viable building.”
Burke Fathy isn’t sure whether the building that housed Sacramento’s first Police Department will be converted to offices or apartments, but, as the managing partner of Sutter Capitol Group, he is sure the original architectural elements will stay.
Juxtaposed against the crisp, modern lines of Brian Witherell’s home in Alkali Flat sits a trove of ancient treasures, premier antiquities cherry picked from his company’s massive antique collection.