Grandi Building takes one step toward a resurrection

David Briggs
After more than three decades of disuse, the Grandi Building might be glimpsing a revival. The owner of the 1915 brick building, which has housed a dance hall, a hardware store and the post office—and more recently, graffit such as that above—has applied to reinstate a set of permits granted in 2005 and revised in 2008. Napa winery owner Ken Wilson envisions a 34-room hotel and plaza and a restaurant with outside seating. Three affordable housing units are planned for a renovated storage unit nearby. And although the town’s village association has some concerns about vehicles displaced by the designated 88 parking spaces, its president says he hopes to see the building renovated.
05/15/2014

The Grandi Building is just one year shy of its centennial. Originally a hotel that served railroad men and later a hardware store and a post office, it has stood vacant for over three decades. The iconic red brick façade that faces Point Reyes Station’s Main Street has been repurposed into a community bulletin board; the back, as evidenced by cans and bottles amid the rubble, has been carved into a late-night gathering spot. 

It might finally get another life as a hotel if the county approves an application submitted by its owner, Ken Wilson, to reinstate permits approved nine years ago. 

Mr. Wilson, a Napa winery owner who bought the Grandi in 1973 and had it seismically retrofitted in 1999, last month applied to reinstate the Coastal Permit, Use Permit, Design Review and Sign Review that were approved for the building in 2005 and modified in 2008. Though the project received extensions in 2009, it never got underway and the permits expired in 2011. Mr. Wilson was granted another extension, but in 2012 the county determined that the extension had been approved in error, and revoked it.

If renovations move forward, they would honor the crumbling structure’s original Mission Revival architecture, typified by the brick arches, parapets and hip-roofed towers. There would be a 34-room hotel, a restaurant, 400 square feet of retail space, an outdoor plaza in the back, outdoor seating and pedestrian pathways. The project would also turn currently informal parking areas into 88 spots. 

Three affordable housing units would be built inside a renovated storage unit at the southwest corner of the property.

The county originally approved a 25-room hotel and over 4,000 square feet of retail space in 2005, but the permits were amended in 2008 to allow more rooms in order to make the project more commercially viable.

“If I’m for anything, it’s the implementation of codes. But on a human level it would nice to see something happen,” said Curtis Havel, the county planner in charge of the project.

Mr. Havel said the owner became caught up in red tape and the huge amount of work it takes to proceed with a renovation of one of the town’s oldest buildings.

“The planning process is time consuming and it is expensive. And when people get to the finish line, they realize it’s a marathon and they’re only halfway finished and they’re hitting a wall with more studies and actual structural design stuff. It can be incredibly overwhelming,” Mr. Havel said. 

The economy tanking in 2008 did not help matters, he added.

Mr. Wilson did not return a call for comment but wrote in a recent email to Liza Crosse, an aide to Supervisor Steve Kinsey, that the Grandi was approaching its 100th anniversary. 

It seems like an appropriate time to resurrect her, he wrote.

The Grandi was built in 1915 to replace a previous building destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. The family christened it with a no-nonsense name: the Point Reyes Hotel. The hotel, along with a popular dance hall, was on the second floor, while the first floor housed a restaurant.

When the Great Depression hit and the railroad left town, business soured. The hotel closed for good in the 1950s. The Grandi housed the hardware store and the post office until the 1970s.

The Point Reyes Station Village Association wants to see the Grandi renovated and in use, said Ken Otter, the association’s president. But things have changed in the nine years since the permit was first approved. Traffic congestion has increased, parking is tighter, and a 35-room hotel could exacerbate the problem, he said.

The association’s design review panel will meet next week to discuss the project. (The group has no official authority with the county, but its perspective is intended to represent the community.)

The 2001 Point Reyes Community Plan says that a hotel is the recommended use for the Grandi if it is renovated, although other recommended uses include artist studios and affordable housing. In 2005 the association supported Mr. Wilson’s permit, and even encouraged an increase in rooms from the 16-unit hotel originally proposed so that rooms would be more affordable for visitors

“I can imagine that membership… would want a serious consideration for parking and traffic before we would sign off on it,” Mr. Otter said. “I just know from previous conversations… that people are really concerned about the impact on parking of building it out.”

The county’s Community Development Agency is currently evaluating whether the application is complete; then they can begin to assess whether it should be approved and schedule a public hearing, which could happen within the next few months. Environmental Health Services will consider water and sewage issues and the Department of Public Works will consider impacts to public infrastructure like parking.

Although the county is having its new Local Coastal Program evaluated by the California Coastal Commission on May 15, it seems unlikely that the new plan would affect the Grandi. Supervisors will have six months to approve changes made by the commissioners; however, Mr. Havel said that the Grandi project would be evaluated under whatever plan is in place by the time the application is deemed complete.