• After the Gold Rush

After the Gold Rush

A university town with a hippie vibe, Santa Cruz, California, has long been artist-friendly. But it has also faced a need for affordable live-work accommodations for creatives who have been displaced by luxury residences and increased student enrollment. To reinvigorate the arts scene, the city’s economic development agency embarked on a heroic adaptive-reuse endeavor, purchasing an 1861 tannery complex, partnering with the arts-focused real-estate developer Artspace, and bringing in Mark Cavagnero Associates, an architecture firm that’s built a portfolio weighty with projects in the arts sector. Here, Mark Cavagnero was charged with converting two of the five buildings on the 8-acre riverfront site into the Tannery Arts Center.

Known first as the A.K. Salz Company and later as Salz Leathers, the tannery was operational until 2001, and it naturally saw decades’ worth of architectural modifications and accretions. Some were viable buildings; others were mere shacks and storage sheds. “We got the job because we advocated an aggressive surgical approach,” Cavagnero begins. Preserve what’s needed, sure. But he says he had no qualms about “tearing away some of the more dicey additions to get back to the original material.” Luckily he had plenty of documentation—including, amazingly, a series of black-and-white photographs by Ansel Adams, who was fast friends with the tannery’s owner. Adams shot the buildings and the leather-making process in 1955. “He was a local,” Cavagnero recounts. Delving deeper, he found additional resources: old property-tax plans and some photos from 1908.

He faced a formidable task even so, given that the two buildings, encompassing 28,000 square feet, were derelict. Working from the outside in, he rebuilt facades, the majority of them unsalvageable, with almost precisely the same board-and-batten and clapboard siding and barn-red paint. Replacement doors and windows, with aluminum frames, generally adhere to existing placements. Where he introduced new sliding doors, he framed them in steel. Also new is an external steel staircase linking the upper level of one of the buildings to the ground.

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“After the Gold Rush” by Edie Cohen
August 2012

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