Historic Healdsburg winery gets a makeover

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The historic winery building at 845 Healdsburg Avenue has been known by many names in its 108 year lifespan. Prior to prohibition, it was known as the Oliveto Winery. After repeal, it was purchased by well-known Healdsburg attorney Francis Passalacqua,  and was leased to a succession of wine producers. In recent years, however, it was known by a less flattering name - eyesore.

While still possessing the character of a historic building, it had fallen into serious disrepair, a canvas for graffitti artists. The building survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, but many in town were wondering if it would survive its own age and disrepair. Would it collapse or have to be demolished? Or would someone step in to restore it once again to viability?

Fortunately, the latter is the case. E & J Gallo first acquired control of the building approximately 20 years ago to use for bulk wine storage.  Today construction is underway to convert it  into offices for Gallo's North Coast Business Group.

Gallo has been a fixture in Sonoma County for years, currently owning over 6000 acres, most of which is used for wine grape production.

Work began in 2010. Spearheading the effort is local architect Alan Cohen, who was hired by Gallo in 2009 to restore and renovate the old structure, along with MKM Associates and Wright Contracting. "We're lucky to have the chance to restore a historic building rather than build new," Cohen comments.

Not only does the project allow for the preservation of a piece of Healdsburg's history, environmental concerns also played a big part in the decision to restore rather than rebuild. "One of the greenest things you can do," Cohen notes, " is to restore, rather than throw bricks, concrete and other debris into the landfill. You don't have to mine or manufacture new materials; you make use of what can be saved."

A significant amount of the historic facade was preserved. All of the exterior brick walls, the 12x12 supporting posts on the 2nd floor, and as many other items as were deemed viable have all been spared the wrecker's ball by being updated to meet 21st century building standards.

Kelly Conrad, spokesperson for Gallo comments, " The project will bring the interior up to modern green building standards while maintaining the character and look of the building consistent with local historic preservation ordinances."

Restoring a more than century-old building to modern standards is no small feat. A new roof was necessary, as well as a new second floor. The entrances and stairwells have been redone, a new cupola installed, and new landscaping and parking areas provided. "Some of the olive trees on the site had to be moved," Cohen notes," Those trees are over 100 years old, so we wanted to relocate and save them, rather than have them removed."

Custom wood windows which match the look of the originals have been installed, as have eaves with historically correct wood mouldings. While the exterior will retain its historic appearance, the interior will be almost totally new. Two large openings on the north and south walls will be filled with a large glass curtain wall. Openings on the second floor will accommodate stairwells and allow daylight to penetrate into the space.

One of the biggest challenges was earthquake retrofitting. That problem is being solved by an innovative approach that  involves injecting concrete between the inner and outer brick walls. This method allowed renovation costs to be comparable to replacement.

The project is expected to be completed in November 2011. Gallo is expected to employ some 70 - 80 people at the facility.

"Renovating this building cost about the same as replacing it." Cohen observes. "We're fortunate Gallo wanted to preserve a historic treasure. We could never have recreated the ambiance and character of this building with new construction." Total renovation costs are expected to be about $2 million.

Healdsburg has always been proud of its historic character. Projects like this demonstrate that economic development and environmental sensitivity are not mutually exclusive. Preserving part of Healdsburg's agricultural heritage is an additional bonus.



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