Reid Lerner with the 400 Block corner building behind him under construction. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Reid Lerner with the 400 Block corner building behind him under construction. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Architect Reid Lerner has worked on projects as diverse as the restoration of the historic Miller Red Barn in Gilroy, constructed in 1891, and National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, once described as “the most important building in the world” for its work in advanced fusion technology.

A graduate of UC-Berkeley, the Gilroy architect is now making his mark in Hollister with three projects that are part of the renovation of San Benito Street: the recently completed Epicenter Building, the in-progress 400 Block building, and the renovation of the Pendergrass Building.

“One of the first projects I worked on out of college was a post office at Pine and Larkin streets in San Francisco,” Lerner, 64, said. “The instruction to us was, ‘Don’t make a statement; make a building that fits in with the neighbors.’ And that is important. People think of architects as trying to make iconic buildings, but more often than not, you are trying to be part of the neighborhood rather than sticking out.”

Lerner’s innovative design for the post office blended in with the other buildings in the area and provided four stories of senior housing above it, as well as a two-level parking garage below it.

Although the Epicenter Building, on which Lerner did engineering, opened in March, he was first commissioned by Del Curto Brothers Construction to work on the 400 Block building next door at San Benito and Fourth streets. 

“This land used to have two-story buildings on it before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake knocked them down,” he said. “The Hollister Successor Agency [formerly the Redevelopment Agency] saw the chance to plant some seeds for revitalization. The contractors interviewed us and liked what we proposed. And the city staff has been amazing in supporting us.”

During a period when construction stalled at the Epicenter building, Del Curto Brothers invited Lerner to work on the 400 block building as well, bringing in two different design ideas, each with its own particular “fit” into the neighborhood.

“We wanted to do buildings that had character and identity but would align with the rest of the buildings in downtown Hollister,” Lerner said. “In the case of the 400 Block Building, most of the other buildings have stucco finishes and earth tone colors, so ours will too. The older buildings have traditional tile roofs and arches. You don’t see that much in modern buildings, but ours will have tile and arches, too.”

Lerner said plans for the three-story building include two restaurants and retail shops on the ground floor, and 22 condominium units on the two floors above.

“We were lucky enough not to need to put parking in the building because of the garage behind it,” he said. “Since we don’t know what the eventual businesses are going to be, we have given them a very open plan without many columns and walls, and there will be windows on all sides.” 

The design of the Epicenter took a different approach, though still within the style of other county structures.

“It is a Mission-style design with a red tile roof,” he said, “which is what a lot of buildings in this area were like. It is only two stories, but it is designed to look like three stories. It is  next to the third highest building in town, the Vault building, so they wanted it to look more monumental.” 

Lerner helped with structural engineering on the design and major donors, Randy and Rebecca Wolf, had clear ideas regarding the interior.

“This building had floor plans already figured out,” Lerner said, “and the donors had a vision of how they wanted it used. They also had a business model because even though you are a nonprofit, you still have to cover your expenses. So the offices are smaller, in line with what the organizations renting could afford to pay—but they are still getting well-lit, brand-new offices.”

BenitoLink is one of nine nonprofits with offices in the Epicenter.

Lerner is also working on the renovation of the Pendergrass Building, a block away at 500 San Benito Street. Soon to be home to the Baler Bar and Grill, he is overseeing the conversion of the upper four floors to apartment units.

“When the people renovating that building saw what we were doing with Del Curto Brothers, they asked us to get involved in their project,” he said. “I am glad to be part of it. We are doing a structural upgrade on the whole building, with a bigger elevator, bigger stairs, and a bigger lobby on the first floor.”

For Lerner, the Pendergrass project is an example of smart planning using existing resources.

“Redevelopment in its purest form is that kind of rehabilitation and adaptation of a site,” he said, “If the folks of Hollister decide they do not want to grow horizontally, then they do have to backfill and grow vertically.”

Lerner is hoping that the three San Benito Street projects will lead to more people considering investing in Hollister’s downtown area.

“The utilities are already in the streets,” he said. “The infrastructure is already here. You just have to wake it up and take a risk. People need to stop buying paper—things like mutual funds and stocks—and think in terms of buying something of value with their money. The contractors here are investing their money in the city, and that can make a big difference at the end of the day.”


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