A pair of old downtown restaurants that could have been demolished two years ago have been granted historic status. In a victory for local preservationists, the buildings that house Chez TJ and the Tied House brewery have both been added to the California Register of Historic Resources, further cementing their position as fixtures in the city.
For more than 30 years, the two restaurants have been mainstays of downtown Mountain View, but the buildings they occupy have been around much longer. In the application sent to state officials, the local neighborhood group Livable Mountain View highlighted both buildings as irreplaceable relics of the city's early years.
For history buffs, the Chez TJ building, home of the city's only Michelin-starred restaurant, should be better known as the Weilheimer House, a Queen-Anne style cottage that was once occupied by one of Mountain View's most prominent citizens. In a state Historical Resources Commission hearing earlier this year, advocates delved into the storied life of the house's namesake owner, Julius Weilheimer, who served a hodgepodge of roles in early 20th century Mountain View, including mayor, shopkeep, postmaster and banker. They also asked that the Tied House brewery be regarded as the Air Base Laundry, a former laundromat with its own historic and architectural significance.
But the Chez TJ and Tied House owners were not so eager to see their buildings recognized as historic. An attorney representing Chez TJ dismissed the idea, pointing out that preservationists were rushing to attach significance to the building when it didn't have much history that was noteworthy.
"The Weilheimer House? This is the first that I've ever heard of it," said Peter Brewer, an attorney representing Chez TJ. "This is a new (name) appointed to this house to push this through, but I don't believe this property has any events of historic significance."
The state Historical Resources Commission later voted to grant historic status to both buildings, a designation that also makes them eligible for federal recognition in the National Register of Historic Resources.
The backstory to this feud is that the owners of Chez TJ and Tied House both want to replace their old buildings in order to make way for a 41,000-square-foot office redevelopment. Their proposal drew backlash from the downtown-focused Livable Mountain View group, which blamed similar office projects for ruining the Castro Street area's charm and character. When this office project came up for review in 2017, the City Council narrowly rejected it, even though the restaurant owners promised they would preserve the Weilheimer House by relocating it to a nearby site.
Despite the setback, the proposal to redevelop the two properties remains an active project with the city's planning department, and both restaurant owners say they are still trying to find a way to make it work.
It remains to be seen how the new historic status will impact any future development plans at the site. Historic designation does not necessarily preclude a development or land sale, but it will require further analysis to investigate and mitigate any impacts.
"I would say the standard of review now becomes the important question once a property has this level of historic designation," said Livable Mountain View member Louise Katz. "They can't just walk into the planning department and say, 'Here's where I want to put an office building."
The historic status is nothing more than an encumbrance, said Chez TJ owner George Aviet. He said he expected it would cause a small fortune to be wasted on attorneys and consultants for any future development.
"How can I get a permit when they say, 'You can't even touch the building?'" he said. "In their success, they are destroying my life."