Don Holcomb got his first job in 1963 as a stock boy at the old Safeway grocery store on the corner of Victoria and Chapala streets in Santa Barbara.
He was among a handful of people who watched Tuesday afternoon as Build Group construction crews moved the 20,000-pound sections of a 54-year-old mural that adorned the eastern side of the mostly demolished former supermarket building. The mural is being relocated to the Chapala Street side of the property.
“I always thought that it was kind of neat and unique, but I never thought it looked cool,” Holcomb said. “It looks like something built out of Legos, it’s no da Vinci. I could see, though, that it’s historic and it’s nice they are keeping it because the older I get the more I like Santa Barbara history.”
Urban Developments is transforming the old 20,125-square-foot Safeway and Vons building into a mixed-use project.
Alma del Pueblo will include 39,000 square feet of residential space, with 37 units on the second and third floors, and 27,000 square feet of commercial space, 19,500 of which will house a public market.
“Victoria Street will be really enlivened because it will have two commercial spaces instead of a wall, and the residential entrance will be on Victoria so there will be more people on the street,” she said. “The market will be a collection of best-in-class food and 18 individual merchants under one roof.”
Brian Cearnal of Cearnal Andrulaitis Architecture & Interior Design designed the project around the mosaic tile mural and the protected view of the Arlington Theatre, per the Historic Landmarks Commission requirements.
After purchasing the property in 2008, it took Urban Developments about two years to get approval for the project, which will span a half-block from Chapala Street to the Christian Science Reading Room.
The tile mural will look exactly as it did when it faced Victoria Street, Carafelli said.
“Whether you like it or not, it has become a very comfortable piece,” she said. “It has been an important part of people’s lives over the years.”
Although the leases haven’t been signed yet, the market is expected to feature an array of vendors, including a butcher shop, a bakery, a produce retailer and a wine-and-cheese seller.
The residential units will be between 690 square feet and 1,900 square feet and will have underground parking.
Most of the scrap from the Vons demolition has been recycled to meet the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum standards, Carafelli said. She said that the old Vons building was an eyesore and an underutilized piece of real estate in the heart of downtown.
“It takes that upper portion of downtown and anchors it,” Carafelli said. “We’re sitting in the heart of the performing and cultural arts district of Santa Barbara with the Arlington, the museum and all the restaurants. We’re in the sweet spot.”
Brandon Friggione of Leonard Unander Associates, Inc. said he knows architect Cearnal well and is excited to see the finished project.
“This is kind of ground zero for restaurants and food in Santa Barbara, so I think it will add a lot,” he said. “There’s always the people who aren’t interested in development, but for the most part, Santa Barbara embraces good architecture and good people.”
The public market is set to open in June 2013, and the residential spaces in October of next year.
The Vons market served its purpose, Holcomb said. While the 34 W. Victoria landscape is changing, Holcomb said he has plenty of memories to hold on to.
“I just had my 70th birthday, which makes you reflect on where you are in life anyway,” he said. “It’s kind of a mixed feeling. It’s fine that it’s going down, but boy it was a big part of my life, and a big part of my history. I was working there when I met my wife and when my kids were born. I made a lot of friends, a few that are still around.”