Restoration: How We Spruced Up Our Historic Office Space
September 28, 2020
By Sandy Grupe Huber, Principal
When we began searching for a home for Grupe Huber, we felt strongly that it should be to University Park. Our company has been managing this 102 acre redevelopment project for nearly 20 year and we have developed emotional and practical ties to the land and community. . The campus has a unique air of calm and peace that we wanted to instill in our own employees and visitors. We could have started from scratch with new construction, but a 1929 Tudor Revival called the Spruce Building called to us.
Spruce was one of the buildings used during University Park’s previous history as the Insane Asylum of California, which was established in 1851 in the midst of the turbulent Gold Rush era. When the asylum — later the Stockton Developmental Center — closed down in 1995, Spruce was designated a historic landmark.
But she was in poor shape by the time we reached her. Previous generations had used asbestos. Her stairways were crumbling and dangerous. But the bones of the building, with its solid lines of poured-in-place concrete that are cool to the touch, were beautiful. We decided Spruce was the perfect place to create a welcoming new home.
Spruce was more than a renovation project. Previously, our teams had been divided between two locations in Stockton. But once Spruce was complete, our employees would move into the building and work together for the first time as members of the newly-formed Grupe Huber Company. Spruce would be the backdrop for the creation of a new company culture, so it was especially important to me to create an inspiring workspace that drew upon University Park’s beauty and natural resources.
As with so many projects Kevin and I have tackled over the years, a great challenge led to an amazing opportunity. The original building had a very closed feeling and low ceilings. Two staircases bookended the structure, so it seemed as if one could enter the building and walk up the side staircase and never see anyone on the first floor. It was a bit claustrophobic, and we needed to somehow add air conditioning and duct work to the space.
Kevin asked, “Why not open the first floor to the second floor?” Not only did this modification allow us to add critical infrastructure, it added beauty, volume, and connectivity. When we added the chandelier that now crowns the entry space the entire building seemed to come together.
We wanted to draw on nature as much as possible for the interior of the building and bring University Park’s magical scenery inside. Spruce’s picture windows are the perfect frames for God’s creative genius. We used glass in every door in the building so employees and visitors can look from one side of Spruce all the way through to the lake. The horizontal lines in our concrete walls were poured in place, and when the concrete meshes with the wood in open doors it’s like a history puzzle.
I walked through the campus and took a series of pictures that served as the inspiration for the building’s palette. If a paint color or piece of furniture couldn’t be matched to the colors in the photos, it didn’t make it inside. We have a rustic wood-plank and tile entry and vintage tile in the restroom that reflects the Spanish influence of Spruce’s roof tiles. The white concrete walls mirror the clouds in the sky, while the dusty green workstations are patterned after the tule grass around the lake. The overall effect is a seamless transition from the welcoming inside of the building to the verdant landscaping and cool shade outside.
When I think about the majestic oak tree that stands watch over the building, a tree that has likely stood for over 300 years, I think about everything it has weathered and witnessed. It was here with the tule elk and wolves. It’s such a privilege to be able to gaze at this towering giant every day and create a space that honors it and our native landscape.
When the pandemic began, Grupe Huber was classified as essential, which meant we could work from home yet still come to the office when needed. Masks, hand sanitizer and tape on the floor are additions we never planned for, but we are glad to have them. Having our office feel safe and comfortable during this time has been critical. Our employees have taken to the space, even going so far as to name the visiting geese outside Debbie’s window (Milly and Billy are quite the pair). The fact that this is our first cohesive space, and that it has been so welcoming during this period of upheaval, has given me great peace of mind.
I’ve never appreciated our team’s can-do spirit more than I did on moving -week! It was difficult, but accomplished with grace, caution, and cheerfulness. Each person carried their load creatively.
Of course, Spruce was a true collaboration, and I would like to acknowledge the partners who made this tremendous effort possible. Our in-house team tackled the planning and conceptualizing. Longtime partner Oak Valley Community Bank provided construction financing. Tom Bowe Architects handled the main design work and secured the approval of the City of Stockton Cultural Heritage Board. The Haggerty Construction team cheerfully provided creative solutions to every obstacle they were up against. For the finishing touches, Grover Landscaping blended Spruce seamlessly into its park-like surroundings, while MTA Inspired Spaces brought the interior workspaces to life.
We were so lucky to bring our goddaughter’s husband, Paul Whoel, on board as a special consultant. An architect with design firm DGA, Paul was working on remodels of similar buildings in midtown Sacramento. He guided us through completed projects, providing plenty of inspiration.
Artist Erin Elizabeth’s Quality Of Peace paintings are bold, modern, and stunning, and their titles – Love and Respect – certainly give us something to aspire to. Jared Rusten created a custom oak conference table that sits on an antique planer rescued from a historic building in downtown Stockton. The planer is one of many features up-cycled from historic spaces; in some ways, the entire history of our region contributed to this building.
The chalkboard in the cafe space is bordered by a door from an old farmhouse in Ripon. This month, the chalkboard features an award-winning Inspirational Message of Peace written by a student at Hamilton Middle School. We think Gino’s message is both art and instruction as we reflect on Spruce, which began with the idea for a happy home for our new company.
BELIEVE IN SEED
We want peace!
We need peace!
World leaders hear us please!
People of all color, race, and creed
must come together like Martin Luther King Jr.
and Mahatma Gandhi preached.
Peace can be achieved!
By planting a seed
Just believe . . . .
– Gino B., 8th Grade, Hamilton