The $16 million project, dubbed Museum on the Square, is a downsized version of the 10-story mixed-use tower originally proposed for the site.
But the plan promises to reinvigorate the long-lifeless southwest corner of Old Courthouse Square, with up to 255 workers and thousands of visitors to the wine museum and restaurant planned for the ground floor.
It's the latest and most high-profile of several development projects updating the look of downtown Santa Rosa. These include Luther Burbank Savings' new branch on the site of the former Traverso's deli; Humboldt Apartments, a five-story 51-unit building at Humboldt and Seventh streets also built by Futrell; and the Sonoma County Museum's expansion into the former Conklin Bros. flooring company building, at Seventh and B streets, which is becoming an art gallery.
On Wednesday crews dismantled metal racks holding obsolete telephone switching gear and extracted miles of wires running throughout the five-story building.
Workers at times looked as if they were battling sea serpents or mythical hydras as they wrestled huge tangles of telephone cables through the dimly lit building.
"It's very time-consuming work," said Fred Kurestian, who is managing the project for Futrell.
The renovated 90,000-square-foot building will be the new downtown home of Luther Burbank Savings and TLCD Architecture, which designed it. A wine museum and restaurant are also planned for the first floor.
Futrell's deal to purchase the building closed last week. After several weeks of interior demolition, including removal of asbestos tile and other remediation efforts, the activity will become more visible to the public. That's when workers will begin sawing through the 18-inch thick concrete exterior walls.
Designed to protect the sensitive telephone switching gear from a nuclear blast, the building's thick walls present both a challenge and an opportunity for the project.
They're tricky and expensive to remove because of their thickness and weight, Futrell explained. But their strength also makes the structure's high ceilings and open interior spaces possible. They also allow large sections of the north and south sides of the building to be chopped out and replaced with massive windows allowing in natural light, Futrell said.