Erika D. Smith

A fiery blow to development on R Street

The historic Crystal Ice and Cold Storage warehouse went up in flames last weekend, destroying was to be a focal point of the Ice Blocks, a collection of shops, restaurants, offices and apartments. A small fire rekindled within the collapsed roof on Wednesday.
The historic Crystal Ice and Cold Storage warehouse went up in flames last weekend, destroying was to be a focal point of the Ice Blocks, a collection of shops, restaurants, offices and apartments. A small fire rekindled within the collapsed roof on Wednesday. esmith@sacbee.com

It didn’t take long for R Street to settle back into an eerie silence. The kind that comes with old, empty buildings and that, for too long, dominated the blocks between 16th and 18th streets.

Last Saturday, a fire brought it back. Flames gutted the long-empty Crystal Ice and Cold Storage warehouse. It took 75 firefighters several hours to extinguish the three-alarm blaze with flames shooting through the roof.

On Wednesday, some smoldering material rekindled the blaze and the Sacramento Fire Department had to return to make sure the rubble on 16th and R streets wouldn’t turn into another conflagration. It didn’t. But the warehouse, with a collapsed outer wall and its guts exposed, appears to be a total loss.

The cause of the fire is still unknown and is likely to remain that way for a while.

Meanwhile, the two blocks of R Street are rather still now, and that’s sad. Really sad. After the fire trucks pulled away on Wednesday, a guy straddling a bicycle seemed to get that. He stood wordlessly, smartphone in hand, snapping pictures of the destruction.

Even for me, a Sacramento newbie, it’s clear that R Street was on the rise. Every weekend, bars and restaurants just west of the Crystal Ice building are packed with young professionals. Bike racks are full, as are the patios, even in this chillier weather.

The street, as much as anything, represents the new midtown. It’s a sleek signature corridor – once a gritty industrial one, then a decrepit abandoned one – that Sacramento can be proud of. Unfortunately, the now decimated 82,000-square-foot Crystal Ice warehouse was a key part of finishing it.

Long fought over by city officials, the building, along with several others surrounding it, was purchased recently by developers Mike Heller and Mark Friedman. The building was going to be the focal point of the Ice Blocks development, a multiblock mecca of retail shops, restaurants, offices and apartments.

I never saw the inside of the building, but the pictures I’ve seen show it to have been full of historical character, with columns, floors and beams of thick wood, exposed brick walls and massive, sliding metal doors. It was the kind of building to which the young professionals would be drawn. Indeed, the developers had already lined up tenants, including Sacramento Republic FC. Several architecture and engineering firms also had expressed interest in the top floor, along with a few retailers in the ground floor.

Friedman and Heller have vowed to finish the Ice Blocks development. Indeed, plans for other buildings on the two blocks of R Street are right on schedule. And Friedman told The Bee’s Hudson Sangree and Bill Lindelof that he’s certain they can come up with something “cool,” if new, in place of the gutted warehouse.

I don’t doubt them. What I worry about is a loss of momentum for development on R Street. I worry about that eerie silence.

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