The latest, most dramatic change to the 140-year-old Borreo Building is best appreciated from the inside – the new view out toward the heart of downtown.
Starting last week, workers have used an assortment of saws to slice six rectangles through the 2-foot-thick stone walls separating the Borreo’s interior from the surrounding city. When renovation on the building is complete, the new apertures – each sealed by an overhead roll-up glass door – will let patrons of a Stone Brewing gastropub turn their gaze westward, through a new patio, across the Napa River and toward a bustling downtown beyond the water.
Once obscured by adjoining Third Street buildings that have long since been razed, the formerly bare west wall of the Italian Renaissance-style edifice will become the Borreo’s main window on the city when it reopens as a haven for craft beer and fine food.
On Tuesday – with the stone-cutting not quite half done – the owner of the Napa firm handling the renovation was able simply to absorb the novelty of the panorama that is opening up.
“Think about it – you’re having a problem, and then you’re having a pint and enjoying this view, and all of a sudden your problem is fixed,” joked Nelsen Dougherty of Dougherty Construction as he pointed to the wide shafts of afternoon light from two near-complete openings upstairs.
Below him were saplings and brush that will be cleared for a waterside patio. Beyond the river were the Third Street bridge, the Riverfront complex, the turfed semicircle of Veterans Memorial Park, and the Archer hotel rising in the distance.
Restoration at the Borreo, vacant since 2001 and the subject of two failed sale attempts by the city, began in June 2016. But a new phase that started April 17 has begun linking the landmark to its surroundings as never before, by turning its fortress-like west-facing wall into a gateway.
Using a pair of truck-mounted lifts as platforms, workers with Cal-West Concrete Cutting of Union City have carved at the stonework with a succession of rotary saws – starting with a 30-inch-wide wheel for the first cuts, then switching to a 4-foot blade and finally a fiver-footer to slice the wall’s full depth. The fragility of 1870s stonework requires workers to take a gradual approach, spending 20 minutes or more per pass, according to Randall Jesch, site supervisor for Dougherty Construction.
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“If this were rebar, we could cut a 20-foot line in seven or eight minutes,” he said during a tour of the Borreo. “Here, a loose rock will jump around and get loose,” risking snarling the saw, he added.
A look at the side of a freshly cut top-floor opening revealed a sandwich-like structure, and the reason for such caution. Packed between stout-looking outer and inner layers of large stones was a filling of much smaller stones mixed with rubble.
A touch of Dougherty’s finger sent a tiny flake dropping away, falling 15 feet to the ground. (A framework of steel beams was added to the Borreo’s interior in the 2000s, and engineers have credited that reinforcement with minimizing damage during the August 2014 earthquake.)
Work on the west-facing portals is expected to continue into late next week, said Dougherty. Steel frames will strengthen each aperture, and the second-floor openings will be equipped with railings. Later, earth will be banked to the level of the first-floor doorways, which will become the passage to a patio overlooking the river.
West Pueblo Partners, a partnership of Napa-based developers, purchased the Borreo from the city in 2016 and began reconstruction that June. The development team also announced a deal with San Diego-based Stone Brewing, one of the most popular craft-beer makers in the U.S. and the nation’s 15th-largest brewer by volume.
Changes made in the months before the opening of the west-wall openings have included demolition to open up Stone Brewing’s floor plan, which will place its brewery and kitchen on the ground floor and the dining room upstairs. Workers have cleaned and refreshed the stone-block exterior, opened up the rafters of the arched roof and removed one stairway, among other changes.
Months of construction lie ahead before the Borreo receives its first visitors in its new beer-and-food guise, although Stone Brewing has not announced its target completion date. For the time being, Jesch, the site supervisor, was content to take a moment’s break to admire the newly created view from his temporary upstairs office – even if he had to roll up blueprints as the winds swept across his drafting table.
“The view from my office is the best in town,” he said. “For a few more days.”