Petaluma’s Silk Mill getting a makeover

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Once feared to be at risk of destruction from a combination of age, vandalism and neglect, Petaluma’s iconic silk mill building is getting a major seismic overhaul on its way to a new life as a 76-room boutique hotel.

Workers are in the midst of fortifying the stately brick building at 450 Jefferson Street, a behind-the-scenes project that will allow the upcoming hotel conversion to go forward, said Perry Patel, a partner of the project developer BPR Properties.

If all goes according to plan, Patel said he hoped to have building permits in hand to authorize the hotel conversion work in September. The revitalized Silk Mill could open its doors to guests as soon as spring of 2017, he said.

“We’re pretty close to starting the actual construction work inside,” Patel said. “When you’re working with an old, existing building, it just depends on what you uncover while you’re working through it. But thus far, it has been pretty smooth.”

Granted status as a national historic landmark in 1986, the first portion of the Petaluma Silk Mill went up in 1892. The building was most recently home of Sunset Line & Twine, which churned out specialty cordage for consumers and government.

After surviving the 1906 earthquake and more than a century of change in the surrounding community, the old Silk Mill faced an uncertain future when Sunset closed down the factory in 2007. The vacant, brick-clad monolith soon became the frequent target of break-ins, stoking fears of a fire risk amplified by floors soaked with decades of industrial oils, said Skip Sommer, a Petaluma developer and historian who led a group that purchased the building in 2008.

As part of a partnership that included Bhupendra “B.B.” Patel, BPR’s CEO, Sommer said his group had originally sought to redevelop the Silk Mill as residential condominiums. Chief among his goals was to preserve the building itself, a mainstay of the Petaluma skyline for more than a century.

While those plans ultimately did not go forward, Sommer lauded the current project, and praised the developer for the seismic and restoration work that will preserve the historic structure.

“I’ve been in love with the building myself for about 30 years, as have many, many Petalumans,” said Sommer, who writes a regular history column for the Argus-Courier. “The Patels have done historic preservation, so they know how to preserve history.”

BPR received approval during a public hearing of the city’s planning commission in February to convert the building into a history-minded hotel.

“It looks great. It’s amazing to be able to walk in that building and go on the second floor — it almost feels like you are seeing a football field in there. It’s massive. It’s beautiful seeing it all cleaned up,” Patel said.

Among BPR’s earlier projects is a boutique hotel in Portland called the Hi-Lo Hotel, which also exists in the envelope of a historic building.

The Silk Mill project also includes a revamp of the nearby Sunset Park, a half-acre “pocket park” fronting Lakeville Street, to include more drought-tolerant landscaping, seating and a water fountain. Petaluma’s Recreation, Music and Parks Committee considered plans for the site earlier this month, but put off its approval following a request for more information.

As the Petaluma City Council’s liaison to the committee, Kathy Miller said the design should make it clear that the park is for the public, and not just patrons of the future hotel. It would be one way for the public to benefit from the preservation of the Silk Mill, a project she said she supported.

“I think it’s wonderful that it’s being reused and renovated, and turned into a hotel, which is something, quite frankly, we need more of in town. I think it’s a win-win for the community,” she said.

Patel said his company is now lining up contractors that will embark on the hotel phase of the project.

(Contact Eric Gneckow at On Twitter @Eric_Reports.)

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