Early morning shoppers in downtown Healdsburg got a surprise on Tuesday, confronting an obstacle course of two large construction cranes, one cement truck, and other contractors' equipment that took over the north side of the Plaza.
As reported on Healdsburg Patch earlier this week, it's part of an earthquake-preparedness retrofit of the old Bank of America building at the corner of Healdsburg and Plaza, the one with the Italianate columns.
Though the building was erected in 1908, "It's so solid it's unbelievable," said current co-owner Marc Harris of The Harris Gallery located there.
Apparently that's what the city thought, too - unbelievable. In the remodeling of the building, which Harris and Bay Area architect Bill DiNapoli purchased in 1993, unreinfoced masonry walls were revealed, a red light for earthquake engineers by city ordinance.
So as part of an ongoing process of retrofitting to meet earthquake regulations, the Tuesday morning construction effort placed a 30-foot long rebar "cage" into a prepared shaft to help anchor the southwest corner of the building.
"It's a tricky process," said Pat Deeton of Deeton & Stanley, the general contractors on the job. Apparently the water table fills the shaft, and has to be pumped out before the cement can be pumped into the well, or something like that.
Marc Harris is philosophical about it. "Everybody has a rule. I think it starts with the state, then the city and county - I'm not sure how the jurisdiction works. Any unreinforced masonry building, within a certain time frame has to be retrofitted according to what the engineers determine are required."
City building official Scott Ward, who worked with Harris and his engineers ZHA in Santa Rosa, made the determination on the type of repairs need to bring the building into compliance.
In an email response, Ward said, "A Seismic Retrofit provides existing structures with more resistance to seismic activity due to earthquakes. In buildings, this process typically includes strengthening weak connections found in roof to wall connections, continuity ties, shear walls and the roof diaphragm. A seismic retrofit does make the building earthquake proof, the intent is to provide enough resistance to the forces of an earthquake to provide the occupancy time to exit the building safely."
Said Harris, "Our building was built as a bank originally in 1908, and it's so solid, there's no cracks anywhere in the foundation." The bank was built in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, which was centered in nearby Santa Rosa and famously did extensive damage in San Francisco.
"So you go, 'Isn't it overkill to do all this extra work?' And they say 'Look, this is what you have to do, it's for safety.' "
Harris is in the midst of other earthquake retrofit work, as well as more cosmetic work on the century-old edifice. "We don't have any official historical designation, but we honor it (the building's history) as much as we can, to try to preserve its beautiful architectural features," he said.
"We've been slowly doing things to it to bring it up to date, restoring it to grandeur and modernizing it at the same time. New sprinklers, handicap elevator, high quality lighting for art on the walls."
"Bill (DiNapoli) and Marc (Harris) are great property owners and have been very cooperative and proactive in their approach to the seismic retrofit," said Ward.
Harris and his son, Art, run the Harris Gallery in the location. Other businesses affected include the One-Oh-One clothing store on Plaza St., Bradford Brenner, Erickson Fine Art at 320 Healdsburg Ave. and Vin Couture Lounge upstairs.
Harris added, "We've been doing this for a while. I don't know what percentage of the way through, but I'm hoping more than halfway through!"
The cost? "I'm not sure exactly, but it's going to be high six figures, would be my guess."
The city has told residents and businesses in the area to expect the same street closure of Plaza between Center and Healdsburg each of the next three Tuesdays - Feb. 12, 19 and 26 - for the corner reinforcement to be completed. But that's not necessarily the end of cosmetic and structural work for the historic building.
"Honestly I don't really know how long it will take," said Harris. "The sooner the better, as far as I’m concerned! It's not good for the gallery or the other businesses in the building or the town."