Greening The Palomar

Designed by prominent California architectWilliam H. Weeks the historic Hotel Palomar building is considered to be quintessential of late 1920's Art Deco style.

Designed by prominent California architect William H. Weeks the historic Hotel Palomar building is considered to be quintessential of late 1920’s Art Deco style.

The Palomar Inn (former Palomar Hotel) in downtown Santa Cruz has been the subject of considerable public discussion in recent months. Debate has centered on whether the landmark building should be encouraged to gentrify, to be restored to its glory days of the 1920’s when as a grand hotel it served as a focal point on the national convention circuit. A separate, more important debate which has not yet emerged is whether the building should be “greened”.

Greening the Palomar would mean rehabilitating the building with the latest in current sustainable building practices. Towards this end measures which could be incorporated might include implementation of plumbing improvements to reduce water usage, provision for on-site renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics, revamping the building’s electrical power and lighting systems to reduce it’s energy use, and other best practices aimed at reduction of Palomar’s carbon footprint.

It could also include green walls.

Palomar_Final-2

By greening the Palomar Inn the owners will send the clear, unambiguous message that they are committed to sustainability in general and to sustainable building practices in particular.

Green walls, also known as living walls, biowalls, ecowalls or vertical gardens, take advantage of vertical surfaces to provide buildings with a greater degree of ecological capacity.
 By incorporating living plants into the façade of a building they directly result in much-needed carbon sequestration. Moreover they filter particulates, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants from the urban airstream, and remove effluents including heavy metals from rainwater. By introducing green microclimates they not only reduce the urban heat island effect, but result in natural habitat creation as well. By selecting appropriate plants, green walls can function as vertical edible gardens. Finally, a well-designed green wall can enhance the aesthetic presentation of a building.

Aside from the obvious practical advantages to the owner’s bottom line in terms of improved energy performance and visual appeal, greening the Palomar will symbolically accomplish three things.

Firstly, doing so will send a clear and unambiguous message that the owners of The Palomar are committed to sustainability in general, and to sustainable building practice in particular.

Secondly, given that The Palomar is among the most significant civic edifices on the Santa Cruz skyline, greening the building can and will inspire other local and regional business leaders to do the same.

Finally, as an urban landmark and widely recognized symbol of Santa Cruz, greening the Palomar will enable the City of Santa Cruz as a municipality to demonstrate to other municipalities, to California, and indeed to the green movement in general that, eight years-on after passage of one of the earliest green building programs in the country, Santa Cruz still stands in the vanguard of sustainable building practice.

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3 thoughts on “Greening The Palomar

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps

    Green walls are not very compatible with the Art Deco design. Certainly improving the insulation, windows, plumbing, heating, and electrical systems are worth doing to make the building more sustainable, but destroying its appearance just as an excuse to make green walls is silly. There are thousands of ugly buildings in town whose appearance would be improved by covering them up with plants—concentrate the green-efforts on them, not on one of the good-looking buildings.

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    1. santacruzarchitect Post author

      You are right, Palomar is an elegant, beautiful edifice. But this may be an instance where the part may need to give of itself for the betterment of the whole.

      Anthropogenic climate change is not going away, and will not go away, without significant changes in the performance characteristics of our built environment. And the appearance, the aesthetic content of that environment is the visual and the symbolic manifestation of that intent.

      Buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. A green wall can reduce a building’s heat gain on that façade by up to 30 degrees F; a green roof can reduce heat gain there by up to 90 degrees F. And yet there is not a single green roof in all of downtown Santa Cruz, ostensibly one of the country’s leading municipalities in green building regulation.

      I am not proposing to green just any building at random, nor any other building. Just this building. And that because Palomar is the most prominent building on the skyline, the one most powerful in terms of symbolic content, and thus the one best suited to communicate civic intention, if that is the will of the community.

      If attiring old Palomar in verdant splendor really could symbolize a civic intent, could spark a sea change and thus inspire an emerald isle where now lies just another urban heat island, then that is a pressing civic debate of pregnant urgency, one which the body politic of The City of Santa Cruz would be remiss to ignore.

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      1. gasstationwithoutpumps

        Sorry, you’re going to get a lot of pushback on this one. Damaging an artwork to make a political or environmental point is rarely well received. Why not demand a green roof and green walls on the “Ritt” (or as some have called it “the white elephant”)? The Cruzio/Ecology action building got some greening when it was remodeled—perhaps it could use green walls?

        MAH is thinking of ways to improve Abbott Square. Could “hanging gardens” be used there?

        There are lots of places that would benefit from green walls aesthetically—better to go after the low-hanging fruit than to destroy one of the best facades downtown.

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