The Planning Commission will hold a study session tonight to review a proposal by PG&E to demolish the 17,000 sq. ft. “Laboratory” building at the corner of Hollis & 45th. A building that is part of an existing PG&E transformer repair facility but has sat vacant since 2010. Is PG&E pitching rehabilitating the building into loft condominiums? No. Building a modern state-of-the-art facility in its place? No. A co-working space, recreation facility or other needed amenity for our city? No. They just want to demolish it and replace it with a 6-foot wrought iron fence.
The reasons given for the requested demolition are increasingly frequent break-ins, vandalism and liability issues presented by persistent homeless squatters. The application insists that the building is no longer safe for warehousing and storage uses.
The public utility monopoly has its work cut out for it though, as the building is designated as a Significant Structure by our city and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) for its contribution to our areas heritage. A Historical Resources Evaluation Report prepared by JRP Historical Consulting in fact concludes that the building “retains sufficient integrity to remain a contributor to the Emeryville Historic Industrial District and the district retains integrity to remain eligible for the National Register and the California Register.”
Demolition of a significant structure would require Planning Commission (PC) recommendation and subsequent City Council approval as well as the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. Since the building is not damaged beyond repair or contaminated, its demolition would require that PG&E convince the PC that “Demolition of the structure is in the best interest of the public health, welfare or safety”.
The neoclassical reinforced concrete building was designed by PG&E architect Ivan C. Frickstad and constructed by G. Thebo, Starr & Anderton Construction from 1924-1925. The building was constructed as an Engineering Department Laboratory and part of a four building complex that comprised the PG&E Laboratory and Central Warehouse Group. The building’s character-defining features include large steel sash industrial windows, a street set-back, engaged pilasters with tapered tops and neo-classical details including the words “Laboratory” and “Pacific Gas and Electric” stamped into the frieze near the double-door entry. The site of the building was formerly The Oakland Trotting Park which closed in 1920 shortly after Prohibition was ratified.
One scenario that PG&E is pitching involves a complete demolition of the site and being replaced with a fence. A second scenario calls for retention of the front façade and securing the site with a 6-foot wrought iron fence. Two options for fencing are proposed – one that is on side of the existing partially demolished wall and another on top of the wall.
The request is expected to be met with stiff opposition and if PG&E expects this to go through unchallenged, it clearly has not been paying attention to the sentiment of our city. A city looking to cling to artifacts of its colorful past and celebrate our unique role in the regions evolution. The adjacent warehouse building (not being considered for demolition) contains sculptures by current councilmember Scott Donahue and is also eligible to be listed on the NRHP. Those who take exception to the plan to demolish this building are encouraged to write our council or attend tonight’s 6:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall.