News

Can these restaurants be saved?

With city's heritage at stake, no easy answers for fate of Chez TJ, Tied House buildings

For a moment on Tuesday night, the local politics of Mountain View and a multimillion-dollar office project came down to the lesson in a children's book.

Mayor Ken Rosenberg can claim the credit for that. Thinking about what to do with two of the city's historic downtown buildings, he brought up Virginia Lee Burton's "The Little House." Passing out photocopies from the 1943 storybook to his colleagues, the mayor briefly rehashed the tale of the tiny family house built to "never be sold for gold or silver, and she will live to see our great-great-grandchildren's great-great-grandchildren living in her."

In the story, the open hillside around the Little House transforms as it gets built up with roads, homes, and gas stations -- and later urban apartments, subways and skyscrapers. By this point, the once-happy house is now sad because she misses the open countryside. By the final page, the great-granddaughter of the original builder decides to move the house to a new hilltop, and the house is smiling once again. The End.

For the mayor, the lesson here was the importance of preserving small-town heritage, even in the rapidly changing times of Mountain View's booming tech economy and the insatiable demand for more offices.

"Mountain View is its history, and we need visual representations of that history," Rosenberg said.

Case in point: On Tuesday night the City Council was discussing a new proposal to remove two antique buildings along Villa Street to make way for a new four-story office building. It turned into a tug-of-war between sentimentality and sensibility as elected leaders debated whether the buildings should be saved, and how that could be done.

Whether the buildings are "happy" remains up for debate, but both structures indisputably have some historic value. They include the Chez TJ building -- also known as the Weilheimer House -- a 1894 cottage that's among the city's oldest structures, and the home of Arthur Free, the only congressman ever to hail from Mountain View. Right next door is the Tied House brewery, a 1931 Spanish-style building with its own role as a longtime meeting spot that's generally regarded as the less historically significant of the pair.

After decades of running their restaurants, Chez TJ owner George Aviat and Tied House owner Ron Manabe both came to the council on Tuesday saying they were ready to call it quits. Over the last year, both restaurateurs had partnered with the Minkoff Group development firm to work on plans for rebuilding the two sites. Their plan calls for a new four-story office complex with space for a new gastropub on the bottom floor.

"I'm getting old and I want to move into the next phase of my life," Aviat said to the council. "In order for me to continue, it's become very difficult emotionally and physically."

Aviat, who lives in a cottage behind Chez TJ, said the building's historic value had eroded over time through years of repairs and remodels. But a large showing of downtown residents and history buffs begged to differ. Taking the podium, Candace Bowers, president of the Mountain View Historical Association, gave city leaders a whirlwind biography of the early-day families who built the structures, and she warned that the city's heritage needed protection.

"Our membership has had a pretty strong, even passionate, reaction to the news of this proposed project," she said. "These buildings are visually delightful, historically interesting and they represent the city of Mountain View."

Mountain View has a rocky past when trying to preserve the vestiges of its early days. Iconic locations like Hangar One avoided the wrecking ball only due to a groundswell of public support. But other landmark sites of local lore are now lost forever, including Walker's Wagon Wheel tavern and the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory.

City staff tried to find a way to satisfy everyone. Staffers proposed the restaurant buildings -- especially the older, more historic Weilheimer House -- could be moved to a new site, such as a city park.

It was an idea that didn't excite anyone, in part because it had failed previously. Just down the block from Chez TJ, the city had tried to find a new home for the 130-year-old Pearson House so the site could be rebuilt for offices. But the old house was later demolished after they couldn't find a suitable place to relocate it. On the plus side, local preservationists were able to save the tiny Immigrant House, which used to be on the same lot as the Pearson House. That structure now serves as a mini-museum at the city's Heritage Park.

For city leaders hoping to learn a lesson from the past, the future of the Villa Street restaurants was a difficult issue. Many spoke about how the downtown site and its close proximity to transit makes it a perfect spot for more offices. But almost everyone hesitated out of concern they could wind up signing away more of the city's heritage.

"People 30 years from now will talk about what happened here," said Councilwoman Pat Showalter. "We need to pause on this so we can investigate the options for these historic properties."

City leaders pitched ideas to retain more of the buildings. Could the facade of the Tied House be somehow incorporated into the new development? Perhaps the office design could be tweaked to leave enough space for the Weilheimer cottage?

By the end of the meeting, there was no firm decision. Council members asked city staff to study more options for keeping or relocating the old buildings, but they also agreed development plans should be allowed to continue. Basically, the city was urging the restaurant owners to be creative in figuring out a way to preserve their buildings, said City Manager Dan Rich.

It was an impasse that ultimately circled back to the lesson of "The Little House." Mayor Rosenberg summarized his position: The historic buildings should be remain where they are.

"This would be asking us to get rid of our history," he said. "I don't think the historic significance of the house would be preserved if you move it out of downtown."

Councilman Lenny Siegel had a different take on the book's lesson. Sometimes it made sense to move, he said.

"I read the same book to my kids," he said. "Remember: the house was smiling when it moved."

Comments

42 people like this
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2017 at 12:22 pm

USA is a registered user.

This city council needs to think about the bigger picture. Would Mountain View be better served by replacing the builds with faceless glass and steel office builds?

Instead of moving the current buildings to another site, how about building the offices on another site?

Why do we need offices that close to Castro? Because Castro is a nice place to work. Why is it a nice place? It has the Tied House and Chez TJ. Irony.


45 people like this
Posted by Kal Sandhu
a resident of Castro City
on Jun 15, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Comeon Council members get some guts to preserve what's left of the heritage of this great city. Once these jewels are torn down, they'll be gone forever. Leave them where they are. The city should try and buy these properties. I grew up in Singapore. Yes its a gleaming prosperous city but Singaporeans yearn for the buildings that were such a fabric of Singapore life. Its not the same. One can se steel and glass structures anywhere but not buildings that are part of the history. Do the right thing. Save these awesome buildings. Thank you.


38 people like this
Posted by Ross Heitkamp
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 2:39 pm

As our council weighs this, I hope they consider the balance of our city. Which do we need more of? More office space? Or more restaurants and relaxation spots? The Tied House is absolutely packed most of the time. Taking it away and replacing it with an office holding hundreds more employees looking for a place to eat and have happy hour would be tilting our balance even farther out of whack.

This is about more than saving historically significant buildings. This is about shrinking our vibrant downtown area, creating more office-jobs and losing our balance further. GO BACK - WRONG WAY!


33 people like this
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2017 at 2:49 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

I'm a huge proponent of historical preservation, but if you don't own it, it's not yours to decide upon. This comes down to basic property rights and the city would be doing a complete about face if they did not allow the owners to develop their land under the same guidelines as the building recently built next door. I don't understand how people don't get this simple concept.


26 people like this
Posted by Let Them Retire
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2017 at 2:52 pm

It seems a lot of people missed what Mark wrote (and what was even more clear at the meeting):

the owners want to sell and retire and even make a profit from their hard work.

They own the property and will make a lucrative profit from their years of investment. If you invested time, money, sweat and equity into a property, shouldn't you get to cash that in at some point?

If the owners want to sell, we should let them sell. It belongs to them. If we tell the buyer they can have the property, but only if they don't change it?! who would want to buy that?


12 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Good luck trying to preserve anything here any more. Anything and everybody has a price, and prices are pretty darn good. If you're selling, that is. And if you are, Google or the apartment bloc corporations are happy to pay because they're printing money anyway.

The orchards and all the other history of the forgotten Santa Clara Valley are gone, so what's another two stupid structures, amirite?

Face it, it's over. Google, Apple, and Facebook won. They control the valley. All they care about are their spaceship headquarters and places for the employees to live. Oh and Tesla dealerships so they can buy cars. Anything else is somebody else's problem.

It's getting to the point where if you're not involved in tech, why stay here?


16 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2017 at 4:23 pm

@Ross Heitkamp

City Councils don't care about "balance". They don't care about enough retail, police/fire, road capacity, medical facilities, or even gas stations. They don't care about living quality for residents. They care about what brings in the big bucks and what personal perks they can get out of it. Office buildings and apartment blocs bring in the big bucks.


15 people like this
Posted by DDD
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:31 pm

If the council wants to preserve the building, they need to buy the property and pay its fair market value, using eminent domain if necessary. If they can't come up with the money, tough luck; it just means that they don't want it enough. What is not acceptable is dumping this cost on the owner without proper compensation.


17 people like this
Posted by Again
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Rosenberg continues to be a huge disappointment. Let the owners make a reasonable profit from their years of hard work and investing in the community, provided the new project is reasonable. If our glorious mayor wants to retain the character of the existing buildings, let him buy them!


17 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Juan is a registered user.

The buildings should stay, they are historic and important to the character of the city! I'm so sorry that developers will only be able to make $100,000,000,000 next year instead of $100,001,000,000, but the fact is the city is more important! Mountain View belongs to the people, not to developers!


11 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Rosenberg is a terrible disappointment. Remember he's the one who lied about not supporting the dedicated VTA lane, and then turned his back on Mountain View.

It's easy to get nostalgic about a home when you don't have to maintain and repair it; if it's worth saving, then Rosenberg needs to pay fair market value for it. Otherwise let the property owner decide.


18 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 15, 2017 at 9:31 pm

Same old story:
Developer want to tear down buildings to build whatever with zoning exemptions
Council debates proposed development.
Council approves development.


10 people like this
Posted by @ Greg David
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 15, 2017 at 10:40 pm

"I'm a huge proponent of historical preservation, but ...."

Rule #1: if someone says something followed by a "but" they didn't really mean what they just said.

Rule #2: for someone to be a "huge proponent" of something - that something must be ranked ahead of the something else.

Sounds like you are a HUGER fan of development.


17 people like this
Posted by @DDD
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 15, 2017 at 10:42 pm

"If the council wants to preserve the building, they need to buy the property".... not really. All they have to do is not approve the development.


23 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 11:18 pm

The Chez TJ house (historically known as the Weilheimer House) used to be on the City's register as a historical building. In 2003 the City's preservation consultant (Carey & Company) found it was eligible to be a landmark at the local level based on both its architecture and association with people important to the City's past. Mountain View's City Council, as you may know, adopted a controversial "voluntary" historic preservation ordinance back in the early 2000s. The voluntary ordinance allowed the property owner to remove the Weilheimer House from the register. From looking at the Chez TJ website George Aviet and Thomas J. McCombie acquired the property and served their first dinner on November 26th, 1982. This is copied from the Chez TJ website "...Chez TJ is a contemporary french cuisine restaurant that is uniquely located in one of the most historic Victorian homes in Mountain View, CA. Originally built circa 1894, the structure was home to Julius and Fanny Weilheimer. Julius was a Vice President of the Mountain View Farmers and Merchant’s Bank and a town Council member." All this time they have used these facts to promote their setting and yet they had it removed from the historic register and are now content to having it be destroyed.


28 people like this
Posted by MV Homeowner
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2017 at 12:24 am

Let me add several things the Voice article doesn't say. First, the vast majority of the public at the meeting spoke in favor of saving both buildings. Second, the staff report presented at the meeting states that both buildings qualify as historic resources according to CA law. Third, as historic resources they are subject to CEQA protections, like any other environmental resource. Fourth, the owners are free to sell their property and retire without tearing down the buildings.

Only several decades ago the city owned the Tied House building and sold it to the current owner so that the historic building would benefit the people of Mountain View. I hope the city was wise enough to get some agreement about how it would be used in perpetuity when they made that sale. Smart city leaders would do just that.


5 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2017 at 3:16 am

There's no reason that both businesses can't continue on the bottom floors of a new, taller building if the owners choose to do so. Chez TJ doesn't have to be a house. I can't imagine how content certain residents of Mountain View must be to feel that their energies would be well-spent worrying about a building being replaced with a taller one.


14 people like this
Posted by Follow The Money!
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2017 at 9:38 am

@Frank:
Not cited but certainly among the perks you cite are the campaign contributions from developers. History's shown that it's common for city council candidates to receive such funding from developers -- we're looking at you, Prometheus -- with vested interest in a pro-building council.


12 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2017 at 9:40 am

Yup, here's YIMBY again with the "build up, up, UP" argument.

Sure, Chez TJ doesn't have to be in a historic house that has charm and ambience and character and all the things that made it so special. Just stick it on the bottom floor of an office high-rise, same difference, right? That excellent cuisine tastes just as good under efficient, cost-effective fluorescent tube lighting.

After all, a large, historic home is such a waste of space on such valuable, fertile, high-tech land, right?


18 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 16, 2017 at 9:57 am

YIMBY seems to be missing the point. It's not a matter of what restaurant or gastro-pub would go into a new, personality-less office building on the site; the developers and property owners have already said they're considering that as an option, and have even given details on it. No. This is a matter of preserving what's left of the precious few structural examples of Mountain View's past -- in other words, history! -- while also maintaining a balance of old and new, ensuring the visual relief derived from blending "mature" structures in with newer ones, that's helped make downtown so appealing and vibrant.

Let's all think long and hard about the consequences of removing some of the last tangible examples of the city's history, which can never be recaptured.


3 people like this
Posted by DoctorData
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:22 am

DoctorData is a registered user.

It appears that lots of people want to save Chez TJs, but most of those people want to save it legislative fiat instead of, say, buying out the current owners or otherwise compensating them for their many years of having invested in Mountain View. My suggestion? Set up a GoFundMe or have city use tax revenue to purchase the house.

Also, I don't understand the desire to preserve the Tied House. It's a pastiche of actual colonial Spanish architecture, and frankly the atmosphere in there is on par with a Gordon Biersch (while the beer, improbably, is worse).


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2017 at 4:46 pm

@Frank

I can't even begin to understand how you would think that a section of a large building can only have the aethestics​ of what sounds like a Walmart. Have you really never eaten at a nice restaurant in a multi-story building?


14 people like this
Posted by Political Inciter
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 17, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Historic buildings are a protected resource under the California Environmental Quality Act. Business people who set up business there should understand that the public has an interest in preserving the city's historic resources, and what they can do with the property is limited by whether the council believes that building yet another office building on the site of these historic buildings is in the public interest.

If Ron Manabe and George Aviant want to sell their businesses and retire, so be it. I'm sure they can find someone else willing to invest in and continue these popular restaurants. But if Mountain View wants to retain its vibrant downtown, it needs to retain its historic core. If the council doesn't step up and protect it, it won't be a vibrant, interesting destination any more.


5 people like this
Posted by USA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 17, 2017 at 5:09 pm

USA is a registered user.

We don't need more office space. We do need more housing.

Chez TJ is a house converted to a restaurant. Convert it back to a house and sell at market value which should be well north of a million. The city can kick in some dollars to make up the difference.


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 8:10 pm

If we're going to demand that it be more housing, then the owners should be allowed to develop it into a multi-story housing complex. We don't need any more detached single-family homes, especially not right in the middle of downtown walking distance from Caltrain.


7 people like this
Posted by Tj
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2017 at 8:49 am

I live in Los Altos. Another area going (slowly, yet quickly) toward build baby build. A couple of points. The rent on the next restaurant in any space (current historical or new high rise) will make it prohibitive to almost any small business owner to survive, unless alcohol is heavily featured. Also, the current owners bought the buildings knowing their historic value. They are now choosing to ignore the responsibility they took on when they bought the property. All for the almighty dollar. Same old story all through history. Greed wins.


3 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

The Chez TJ house only has historic value to a small subset of residents who resent any change or urbanization in Mountain View. No one outside of them is going to look at Historic Chez TJ and marvel at how there once was a nice restaurant in this house. It's worth taking photos of and documenting, not completely preserving the state of the land and freezing it in time. No one in 50 years is going to care about this.


14 people like this
Posted by Live in this city
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Save the history of Mtn View, a lot of us like to travel to Europe to see and vacation in all the cities with historical buildings. Why can't we have our history saved. How come this is possible in east coast cities, but not in Mtn View.


17 people like this
Posted by No Resentment Here
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 19, 2017 at 2:18 pm

@YIMBY:
You continue to miss the point many residents of -- and likely visitors to -- Mountain View make in support the preservation of the two properties and who, by the way, you *incorrectly* say "resent any change or urbanization in Mountain View." We don't! Trust me.

Sure, you can argue that neither building has true historic significance -- no, George Washington didn't stay at the Weilheimer House, and no, the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed at the Tied House building -- but preserving old buildings and blending them in with newer structures (and heaven knows downtown's got enough of those) adds appeal that yet another office building comes nowhere close to delivering.


10 people like this
Posted by Quinn F
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 19, 2017 at 6:56 pm

I commented on another post about this development, but I think my words have equal relevance here so I thought I would share.
Chez TJ and The Tied House are significant historical resources that help make Mountain View the lovely place it is.
I am only 21 years old and have already seen so many buildings/houses that I love demolished and it upsets me every time. I have spent my entire life growing up walking past these two buildings in particular. I would be beyond sad to see them torn down (or even moved for that matter because it is simply not the same).
I made so many memories in the Tied House and have been waiting for a day special enough to have dinner at Chez TJ. I won't be able to do this if it is demolished by developers to make room for more office buildings.
It is not acceptable to allow developers to destroy historic buildings simply because they have the financial capital to do so.
In the state our world is in right now, it is important to take a step back and evaluate how to plan with a clear vision of what the community needs and desires.
This step back starts with SAVING these two buildings from becoming unneeded office space.


8 people like this
Posted by NIMBY Frank
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 11:20 am

@YIMBY

You clearly don't understand the significance of these buildings. To say that no one will care about this in 50 years is down right repulsive. People have cared about these buildings for more than a century which is why they still stand today. Pro-development commenters need to understand that there are plenty of sites in downtown that can be re-developed appropriately. These two sites carry significant weight in a historical sense to the downtown, so any type of removal or disposal would be detrimental. The property owners knew damn well that they were buying a historical building/site and they actually marketed their business to that advantage, yet now they are done with their respective businesses so the property that's bigger than them or their business needs to go as well? Find another site Dan Minkoff, there's plenty to choose from.


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:20 am

@Frank

Yeah, the same thing happens in SF. Every parking lot and abandoned warehouse is claimed to be historic by the NIMBY residents so that nothing can get built. Tell you what, if you want to claim that Chez TJ is historic, and that it should be preserved at the expense of more jobs or housing, why don't you go ahead and buy the property from the owners and then do what you will with it?


9 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 22, 2017 at 9:17 am

Not to "harsh" on here, @YIMBY; you appear to have a strong opinion -- uninformed and narrow-minded, obviously, but strong. But c'mon! Comparing a parking lot or rundown building in San Francisco to a truly historic local structure -- one that provides an unmatched aesthetic and much-needed relief from the oversized, unwelcoming, cold sameness of office buildings? Really??

Let me suggest you take a minute to ponder a city, state or country that doesn't protect its historic resources -- leaving nothing to see, nothing to learn from, nothing that connects us to our important pasts. Maybe you're okay with that world but, as you can see from the comments here and expressed directly to the city, you're in the minority.


4 people like this
Posted by NIMBY Frank
a resident of Cuesta Park
20 hours ago

@NIMBY

I don't think you're getting it, which means nothing to me now because you clearly don't care about the historical significance to this city. Your comments carry no weight or argument whatsoever, btw. Like I said in my previous post, the owners knew when they purchased initially the properties were historic. I'm sure there is someone out there willing to fix these buildings if need be and lease them appropriately. Find another site for you project, we are more than welcome to it anywhere else that doesn't impact our cities historic sites.


Like this comment
Posted by NIMBY Frank
a resident of Cuesta Park
20 hours ago

^^^^

@YIMBY*


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