Within the next few weeks, don’t be surprised to see daylight streaming through the walls of the old Kolln Hardware store at Main and Division streets.
No, the historic downtown landmark is not being torn down, just torn apart for a $2-million-plus renovation that will restore the 19th century edifice to its original Old West elegance.
And none too soon.
Pleasanton real estate investor and developer Bud Cornett, who bought the aging structure two years ago, said cracks in roof supports and several split trusses that were apparently damaged in earthquakes over the years “probably could not have held the place together if another trembler struck Pleasanton.”
“When we got inside and took off some of the temporary plywood and ceilings, we saw enough wear, tear and earthquake damage to realize just how delicate the whole structure is,” Cornett said. “Our first job, which we’ve already started, is to shore up the walls and add floor and roof supports so that we can actually move on with the restoration work.”
Last week, the Planning Commission approved the restoration and rebuilding application from Cornett’s Peak Property Main Street investment group. In their approval, however, planners also insisted that Cornett pay $140,000 to the city in so-called in-lieu parking fees, or $14,000 for each of 10 off-street parking spaces the city will require for his new structure. The fees will be placed in a special city-controlled account for use someday in acquiring downtown parking sites or building a parking garage.
The old Kolln Building, as seen from the corner of Main and Division streets, actually consists of three structures, all with historical significance. What is the familiar landmark building is the “new” structure built in 1898. Just east of that building on Division Street, and separated by small gaps, are buildings 2 and 3. Building 2, sandwiched in between but with a distinctive boarded-up front door and two (also boarded up) display windows on either side, was the first building on the Main-Division corner. The smaller building next to it, Building 3, also fronted on Main and was just north of Building 2. Typical of small, wood-framed commercial buildings in the late 19th century, the two structures, built sometime in the 1870s, housed at different times up to 1898 when they were relocated, a retail tin store, drug store, bicycle shop and dressmaker’s studio.
The new building, constructed 108 years ago with its distinctive cupola and Queen Anne Victorian and Italianate architectural influences, was part of a commercial building boom that established Main Street as the commercial downtown center of Pleasanton. This new 6,172-square-foot building housed a “Hard’w Store” and paint business, according to the Sanborn maps of that era, a retail business that continued until 2004 when Cornett bought the site and began planning its restoration. In June of that year, Gary Ferris, who had owned and operated the Kolln Ace Hardware Store & Lighting Center, chose not to renew his lease on a temporary basis and shut down. The building has been empty ever since and a concern of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, which has urged the city to expedite its approval process to get the restoration work under way and reopen the landmark store.
Cornett said that although the work now under way is not visible outside the structure, construction crews will start ripping off the siding and roof shingles in early to mid-August.
“That might come as a shock to anyone coming downtown and isn’t aware of this project,” Cornett said. “But it’s the only way we can get crews inside to pour a foundation and install steel beams that will add seismic upgrades and other structural changes to meet the building and fire codes of the 21str Century.”
A walk through the vacant structure shows floor supports resting on dirt that hasn’t been exposed since 1898. In some areas, chains hold together buckling walls and plywood has been placed over windows, doors and even outside walls that have deteriorated. Since the building never had insulation or inside drywall, the siding was nailed directly onto wall studs, with seeping rain leaving stain marks where rusting nails leaked down the redwood support posts. Carefully milled wood posts hold up the second floor, but rest only on pieces of wood used to level the upstairs floors with no other footings at the ground level.
Cornett’s bid to restore the building has been a painful process for the well-known local developer, whose offices are at 1811 Santa Rita Road. After meeting with city officials and local business leaders and organizations, he filed his reconstruction plans in May 2005. At the time, he wanted to move Buildings 2 and 3—the old Main Street retail stores—off the site and was even willing to give them away to someone who would save them as historic buildings.
But Architectural Resources Group (ARG), which was retained by city planners to evaluate the historical significance of the site and its three buildings, said no. The compromise, finally accepted by all, will allow Cornett to relocate the older buildings to the far east end of the property where a four-vehicle parking lot is now located. Planners also agreed to waive the requirement to replace those four spaces provided that Cornett agreed to pay the $140,000 in-lieu fee for the 10 spaces his restored facility will require.
Planners also gave Cornett approval to build a two-story, 3,896 addition between the main Kolln Hardware Store building and the two smaller structures, which Ferris used as backroom retail areas for garden tools and plumbing fixtures. Once rebuilt and connected to the new addition, they can be used again as auxiliary space.
Wayne Rasmussen, a planning consultant who has spearheaded other restoration projects, has been hired by Cornett to handle the Kolln development. Rasmussen has lined up custom mill shops and other restorers to replace windows, frames, exterior siding and other visible parts of the old hardware store and auxiliary buildings with nearly-identical materials where the original ones cannot be re-used.
“Actually, this restoration project comes at a time when there are a number of similar efforts under way, which gives us more options and reduces the costs of custom-making these replacement materials,” Rasmussen said.
“Of course, we plan to use whatever we can, including much of the redwood that is still in perfect condition after more than 100 years in the building,” he added. “But some of the siding and framing is rotted and will have to be replaced.”
Why is he spending the time and money to rebuild an old deteriorating structure?
“I had the opportunity to buy this historic building and to give something back to this wonderful city I live in,” Cornett answered. “I’ve done a lot of improvement work over my lifetime and here’s something truly special, both to me and the community. The chance to restore this icon of Pleasanton to its original grandeur is something I couldn’t pass up.”