HEALDSBURG — E&J Gallo, one of the world’s largest wine companies, wanted to tear down the historic yet inhabitable and graffiti-harried Olivet Winery to construct 15,000 square feet of offices for support employees connected to Gallo’s winery in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, yet the Madera-based company ultimately opted for a substantial reconstruction to preserve the bricks and beams of the 109-year-old building.
“It was just assumed it would just be a money pit,” said Alan Cohen, the Healdsburg-based architect who convinced Gallo a third site tour to consider reuse of the structure. He then got together with Santa Rosa-based structural engineering firm MKM & Associates to devise a strategy to keep that “pit” about as deep as for a new structure while reinforcing the double-wythe masonry walls to stand up to earthquakes.
The plan called for filling the 8-inch-wide airspace between the brick wythes — thought to have acted as a thermal chimney to passively cool the building on summer nights — with steel reinforcing bar and concrete then use a new second floor and roof as a diaphragm to brace the walls. This helped avoid much of the costly buttresses and braces typical of seismic shoring of masonry, according to Mr. Cohen.
“The biggest uncertainty was the structural integrity of the building itself, because it sat vacant for years and had dryrot, the roof and second floor had failed and there was not a foundation, per se, under the walls like today’s standards,” said Mark Davis, president of project general contractor Wright Contracting.
With new windows built to resemble the originals and taking the structure back to the walls and foundation, the reconstruction would lack the typical uncertainty of rotten wood in framing window cases. But there was the added wrinkle of shoring up the masonry while opening up large portions of the north and south walls to add window curtains, or glass walls, for energy-efficient daylighting of the otherwise dark interior.
The deconstruction and reconstruction was painstakingly methodical.
“It was like taking apart a Tinkertoy set,” Mr. Davis said. “Piece by piece, we had to coordinate with MKM and make sure the walls would not collapse.”
The 2- to 3-inch-thick foundation had to be cut for pouring a new one to take the load on columns from the second floor. Some buttresses against the interior walls had to be poured.
Yet after it all, the beauty of the brick walls and major wood beams remained, and the building received a new high-pitched roof and cupola. No longer is it an eyesore whose deterioration Healdsburg residents have mourned for two decades. The project got credit for structure reuse under the state’s and city’s new green-building rules and for limiting use of new materials, such as wallboard, paint and suspended ceilings.
Gallo used to use the structure for storage, and now it is an up-to-date office building that accommodates 80 employees. Currently, 50 work there in accounting, winemaking, events management, wine education and public relations roles.
“It’s a nice building to work in, with the exposed brick walls visible in the offices,” said Gallo spokeswoman Kelly Conrad, whose office is there. “It’s so eco-friendly and green, we often don’t have many lights on during the day.”
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