By Roz Rogoff
Unique and OriginalUploaded: Feb 2, 2012
Those were the words Jim Griffin used to describe the Mudd's building after a group of us took a tour of the building in hopes of preventing this unique and original building from being torn down.
Griffin was the builder of this unique building and he commented on how original it still is, not only in the originality of the design but that very little of the original construction has been changed over the last 30 years. The building is still in its original condition.
The City Council declared the condition of the building decrepit, rat infested, full of dry rot, and that it would cost over a million dollars to restore. I asked Jim Griffin about these conditions and he echoed what was in the inspection report when the property was purchased. "All it needs is cosmetic repairs."
What about the dry rot? Griffin found some in the exterior siding. It could be replaced. It wouldn't be expensive to repair.
What about the rats? The building is full of rat traps in every room. Parks and Community Services Commission Chairperson, Dominique Yancey, who was on the tour, saw a dead mouse in one of the traps but no rats. I didn't see any dead animals in any of the traps.
I was told the rats and mice are attracted to the vegetation in the gardens and this is true for several other parts of San Ramon with rat and mouse infestations. Rats and mice in a vacant building is not one of the unique qualities of Mudd's.
The concrete floor in the kitchen is scraped and rough. I asked Griffin if it could be replaced. He said the floor is 2" thick on top of a 4" slab. The top 2" would have to be removed and all of the fixtures in the kitchen need replacing to use the building as a restaurant. If it isn't used as a restaurant the obsolete appliances could be removed and the floor tiled over.
Another issue raised by the City Council is retrofitting for current ADA requirements. The original architect and designer, Max Jacobson was with us on the tour. He said the building is in compliance with ADA regulations from 1981 to 1989 and would be grandfathered in if it is used as a restaurant. For any other purposes it would require updating.
Jim Gibbon is a LEED Architect for Safeway and was on the tour. He measured the doors and said they met the current requirements. The bathrooms are wide enough for a wheelchair to turn around and the main dining room is flat with no stairs. Gibbon said the only ADA upgrades necessary would be adding rails in the bathrooms.
Jacobson told me the first building, called the Fireside Room, was originally a house for farm hands and is more than 50 years old. I recalled that Michael LeBlanc, the Restaurateur who wants to replace Mudd's, was planning to keep this building for weddings and special events. Joe Tanner, representing the City's Economic Development Department on the tour, said the decision to keep that building hasn't been made yet.
I asked Tanner why LeBlanc was told to fit his new building to the existing footprint. I thought it might be to avoid an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Tanner said it was to keep the setbacks from the creek. Planning Commission Chairperson, Donna Kerger, who was with us on the tour, said LeBlanc's plans might still have to go through a CEQA review.
Several people, including new Mayor Bill Clarkson (he couldn't make the tour), consider this a bad location for a restaurant. I asked Lory Hawley about that. She worked worked at Mudds for 27 years. She started with Virginia Mudd when the restaurant was built. After John Ebert bought the restaurant she worked for him waiting tables and as Director of Marketing.
Hawley said the hidden location, down a windy road behind several office buildings "was one of its strengths." The office buildings along the back road from Park Place grew up around Mudd's, but the building was like a "retreat to most people," Hawley said.
Yes the inside of the building is very soothing with its rolling, wave-like ceilings and cozy branching rooms. The craftsmanship in the construction of the ceiling and windows is impressive.
Several people on the tour remarked that the interior reminded them of a ship. Dominique Yancey asked Max Jacobson what the inspiration for the ceiling was. Jacobson said it was a long time ago and he didn't remember. Virginia Mudd had a lot of input into the design of the interior too.
Jacobson emailed me a booklet a few months ago on the design of the building. Here's how the ceiling is described. "The ceiling creates a very powerful feeling of being inside something (like a boat or the belly of a whale!)" You can download the complete booklet from Google Docs.
I thought the design was based on an old European church, but Jacobson's booklet goes on to say, "We found inspiration for this ceiling in those Jewish Synagogues found in Poland, which used a similar approach to create an interior space with a rounded form and low edges within a gabled roof."
The ceiling is probably the most spectacular feature of the building, but so much of it is impressive and so little of it has been changed over the years that this is exactly the right time to preserve it for history instead of leaving the only history of it in booklets, magazines, and memories.