I went to The Boardwalk June 4. On the surface, it looked like one of The Boardwalk’s best nights: tons of people, sports on the TV, familiar faces and catching up with friends. Of course, the reality could not have been further from that snapshot.
This was the final night for The Boardwalk. It closed after the inability to come to lease terms with the new landlord. The landlord had recently received design approval to expand the building, adding 3,647 square feet of new office and retail space, including 915 square feet on the ground floor.
I know nothing – not The Boardwalk owners nor the new landlord, the city Planning Department’s design guidelines for new commercial construction, the city’s master plan for growth along the El Camino Real corridor and certainly not the negotiations, public or private, among the parties.
What I do know is that we have lost something. The Boardwalk was not just a place for pizza and beer, it was an icon, a treasure, a historical artifact. Of all the people who have gone to school in Los Altos, Mountain View and Palo Alto, what percentage have been to The Boardwalk? My over/under is 75 percent. I have taken teams I coached there for end-of-season parties probably 20 times. But that’s not special. I am sure that there are hundreds of dads just like me. The place was always busy, sometimes hopping, sometimes purring. It was a constant – casual, comfortable, friendly, unpretentious – safe place to catch the game, to grab a quick bite, to take the kids where the decorum was dialed back appropriately for the clientele.
Why all the tears? Making a special place requires a little magic. We’ve all heard the five-year restaurant/bar success rates: single digits, if I am not mistaken. So when you’ve been around for more than 20 or 30 years, you’ve got to be doing something right.
As unfortunate as The Boardwalk closing is, my bigger personal frustration is the trend and what this says for Los Altos.
Change is inevitable – I get it. But with it sometimes come unintended consequences. Who doesn’t want a few apartments/condos downtown? Who doesn’t want a better Safeway? But did we need a First Street canyon?
I am sure that there is widespread support for maintaining the “village feel” of Los Altos. But the devil is in the details. With that in mind, here are my suggestions for managing the delicate balance between growth and nostalgia.
To the city (council and planners): You are the caretakers of this little gem of a town. Please realize that we have something special. Agonize over the things that make it so. Adopt a philosophy that some sites, businesses, streets and buildings are more equal than others and warrant special care. Do not take for granted the ability of the city’s gestalt to overcome any unwise decisions or policies.
To the community at large: Please realize that we all have a responsibility to keep this a special place. Respect the history. Preserve the physical and the spiritual. Frequent your favorite businesses. Befriend the merchants.
To those in the community who have seen some financial good fortune: Consider investing in those pieces of Los Altos that mean something to you. A decade ago, the Old Pro was forced to leave the El Camino Real location it had occupied for many years. Needless to say, the rents in any new Palo Alto location were orders of magnitude higher than they had been paying. Sound familiar? A couple of patrons from Palo Alto stepped forward and helped the Old Pro secure a new spot on Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto.
To prospective landlords: I am all for individuals investing in their dreams. If you have a vision for something grand and exciting, by all means go for it. But maybe select a project that isn’t a landmark that has flourished before you, is flourishing now and looks to be poised to continue. There are plenty of investment opportunities around.
I hope The Boardwalk can secure another suitable location. Even if it comes to pass, it will be different. As for the bigger picture, I hope this serves to awaken the communal consciousness to the challenge of managing growth. It is a fight to grow while preserving all that is special in our fine town. None of the thousand cuts is ever fatal. But if we don’t watch out, the town will remain but the soul will have gone. There will be no there there.
Ron Perrotta is a Los Altos resident.