Business & Real Estate

Falling facade leads to end of historic Oak Park building

The 1915 brick building formerly home to Esther's Bakery was demolished Saturday, April 7.
The 1915 brick building formerly home to Esther's Bakery was demolished Saturday, April 7.

The historic 1915 building that was once Esther's Bakery in Oak Park was reduced to a pile of bricks over the weekend after the building's owners – who include former Mayor Kevin Johnson – asked for permission to demolish it.

While the property owners of 3408 Third Ave. say they had no other choice after the facade began to collapse, Sacramento historian William Burg called it "demolition by neglect."

"It's a building that could have been saved," said Burg. "The owner allowed it to decay for over a decade."

Property records indicate the 6,000-square-foot, two-story building was owned by Kynship Development, Johnson's for-profit company. It was assessed at $60,904 in 2017. The building was purchased in 1999.

On March 31, the city raised concerns about the failing structure after a brick fell near a public area, said Carl Simpson, the city's housing and code enforcement chief. In response, the property owners hired a structural engineer to evaluate the property. On April 7, the owner sought and received a permit to raze the building, Simpson said.

A backhoe was used to convert the building to rubble that same day.

The permit process moved quickly because people would be at risk if the building fell onto the street or an adjacent building, Simpson said. A separate air quality permit will be required to remove the rubble.

"We were worried about bricks falling and potentially injuring someone," said Jake Mossawir, president and CEO of St. Hope.

He said the safety concerns triggered the swift action.

"The sidewalk was roped off and a structural engineer came out to take a look immediately," he said. "The city also came out and deemed it a safety hazard."

The building was among some three dozen acquired by Johnson, who grew up in Oak Park, before he served two terms as Sacramento's mayor. Prior to turning to politics, Johnson had some success rehabbing buildings in Oak Park.

His accomplishments include renovating a historic commercial building on Broadway for U.S. Bank and revamping a Victorian mansion on Broadway. He also rehabilitated the old Woodruff Hotel and Guild Theater building off Broadway into the 40 Acres commercial complex that includes a coffee shop, the theater, a barbershop, bookstore and upstairs apartments.

But with Johnson shifting attention to his St. Hope charter school, some of his real estate initiatives waned prior to his taking office.

As an office-holder he was no longer eligible for government subsidies, prompting an effort to sell a number of properties in the Kynship/St. Hope portfolio. The Esther's bakery site – which has been vacant since the 1970s – was among nine properties that Johnson's group tried to sell in 2009.

The building has been the subject of four code enforcement cases since 2006, two related to graffiti. It was among 25 properties owned by Kynship in Oak Park as of 2009. Johnson's non-profit St. Hope owned another six at that time.

"Over the years, there were attempts to find redevelopment grant opportunities specifically for this site but were unsuccessful in securing funds especially after redevelopment went away," Mossawir said in an email to The Bee. "In the last couple years we had been working to revisit a few potential private partnerships/joint ventures, but were not able to find the right partner. Unfortunately, the recent storms did damage to the structure that were beyond repair and (we) wanted to ensure no one was injured."

Simpson said there isn't much the government can do to push property owners to fix failing historic buildings.

"Even if the owner wanted to do something, it would have been very costly," Simpson said.

A listing on the St. Hope website notes that the building would require more than $1 million in renovations.

"We do have rules to protect historic buildings," said Burg. "We can protect buildings but the city has to be able to enforce its own rules."