Mixed-use housing development proposed to replace prominent Chase Bank site in Mountain View

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A key gateway to downtown Mountain View is poised to undergo major changes, with a proposal to redevelop the Chase Bank at the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real Avenue with hundreds of apartments.

The project is an extensive revamp of 749 W. El Camino Real Ave., proposed by developer Greystar. The project would significantly ramp up density at the site, spanning from Castro to Lane Avenue across just over 3 acres, with a mix of commercial and residential uses up to six stories tall.

The project calls for razing and rebuilding the Chase Bank while adding a central public plaza that faces El Camino Real Avenue. A six-story residential building would be behind the bank, bringing 299 apartment units to the site, of which 33 would be affordable.

The project makes full use of the city’s El Camino Real Precise Plan, which allows for taller, higher-density buildings with a mix of uses along the transit corridor. Greystar also met the 15% threshold for affordable housing and qualified for a density bonus under state law, which added 90 more residential units to the site, Community Development Director Aarti Shrivastava said.

Along with housing, the project includes a total of 22,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, which includes the bank and public plaza, and aims to increase walkability and ‘activate’ the property with outdoor seating, restaurants and retail, according to the plan submitted to the city.

But while Greystar describes the community benefits of the project, questions remain about what will happen to the artistic and architectural heritage of Chase Bank. The plan to demolish and rebuild the bank in an entirely different style has raised concerns among some residents, said Louise Katz, who has been following the development as a local resident and member of Livable Mountain View.

The bank’s origins go back to the mid-1970s, Katz said, when the City Council commissioned the studio of Millard Sheets, a famous artist and architectural designer, to design a new Home Savings Bank that would reflect the history of Mountain View. In 1977, Sheets installed a glass mosaic panel above the bank’s entrance. The scenes show how the city was built and changed over time by people living in the area.

“He designed the mural to represent and document the development of Silicon Valley, which is why there’s an image of a Native American, farmer and so on. And the order in which the mosaics appear tell this story,” Katz said. “So, if you take the mosaic out of order, which is one of the ideas (of the developer), to scatter them around the plaza, people will just kind of wander around and look at it. There’s no more story,” she added.

When asked about the preservation of the mural, Tyler Evje, a Greystar spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that Greystar is “committed to preserving the Millard Sheets art pieces, sensitively removing them from the existing structure prior to demolition,” and that the company is “currently studying both onsite and offsite options for reinstallation of the pieces.”

But it is not only the mural that is special; so is the bank, according to Katz. Its architectural style, with its row of unadorned arches and narrow, light-colored brickwork, connects Mountain View to a celebrated lineage of architects.

Named after the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the “Richardsonian” arches of the Chase bank were popularized by Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City’s Central Park and created Stanford University’s master campus plan.

A similar aesthetic appears in the work of architect Louis Sullivan, who strongly influenced Frank Llyod Wright who, in turn, used the arches and light-colored bricks for San Francisco’s Maiden Lane building and the Marin County Civic Center.

Livable Mountain View has asked Greystar if it would consider incorporating elements of the building’s original architectural style, like the arches and brickwork, into its new design. The developer’s response has been muted on this particular issue. At a meeting last spring, consultants presented different options for preserving the mural, namely by relocating it elsewhere, but did not respond to community concerns about the style of the new bank, Katz said.

City officials have been involved in the issue of preservation, Shrivastava said, and are looking into ways to keep the mural and other artwork associated with the building. But the design of the new bank will be different, she added.

“If you look at the design, it’s not going to look like the old one, but it will have some iconic features. And the design is a little bit more modern,” she said.

When asked about the architectural style of the new bank, Greystar responded that it was working with the city on the design plans. “The project is in the middle of the city of Mountain View’s design review process. Several design elements are being considered as part of discussions with City of Mountain View Planning staff,” the statement said.

The project is still deep in the development process, and still has to go through design review and undergo an environmental impact analysis. Greystar intends to present the project at public hearings next spring, with construction planned for 2025 and ending in 2027, according to the statement.

For Livable Mountain View, this is something to hold onto as it tries to preserve the city’s heritage – if not in its entirety than at least in pieces.

“We’re not saying save it because it’s historical. We’re saying the architecture is historical and use it, reuse it the same way Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Frederick Law Olmsted reused it. And that to me is the best reason in the world for whoever is building this, to put their name in that continuum,” Kaatz said.

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