Q: Reader Leonard Baron asked Sonoma West, “What’s going to be built on the large parcel next to the Redwood Shopping Center in Sebastopol?”

A: The property at the corner Gravenstein Hwy. North and Tocchini Street, next to the Taco Bell, has been vacant for more than 20 years. Formerly the home of Harold’s Exxon and Tire Service, the site will soon host a new, 3,400-square-foot Exchange Bank branch. 

Construction started over a month ago — though it’s mostly trenching and earth-moving at this point.

Ann Hudson, senior vice president of retail banking for Exchange Bank, said the new building should be finished by September 2020.

The bank has a branch in the neighboring Redwood Shopping Center, which will move over to the new site when the building is completed.

“We’re committed to the community, and we wanted to have a permanent site, where we could own our own building,” Hudson said.

TLCD Architecture of Santa Rosa designed the new building, and Sebastopol’s Design Review Board gave the project the thumbs up in 2018.

TLCD’s website describes the design for the new building as a nod to Sebastopol’s agricultural past, drawing on architectural “influences as diverse as the apple and wine industries, barns and even Luther Burbank’s experimental farm.”

“The design concept clicked with a modern interpretation of the agricultural heritage that is Sebastopol. Form and texture in nature became one of the guiding principles for this project,” Project Architect Jeff Blechel wrote in his description of the building on the website.

Hudson noted that one key component of the building’s exterior is the OkoSkin (rain screen) cladding, “which provides a variegated texture and a soft, rich feel,” she said.

According to the TLCD site, “These panels were selected to recall traditional agrarian materials such as weathered barn boards, apple crates and rural fencing in a very abstract and subtle manner.”

The challenges of old gas station properties

Researching the history of this property, we came across this obituary for Harold Dale Homan, owner of Harold’s Exxon and Tire Service, which captures in a few short words a mid-century life in Sebastopol. 

“Harold owned a service station and tire sales company in Sebastopol, that was his living and his life. It started as an OK Tire Center and evolved into an Exxon Service Station. He loved playing cards. He relished a good steak, a beer and a Camel.”

Harold died at age 69 in 1999.

The site sat empty for many years because, like many old gas station sites in Sonoma County, there was petrochemical contamination.

“They did an extensive remediation to clean the soils up,” said Sebastopol building official Glenn Schainblatt.

Part of this remediation process includes letting a site “sit for a number of years before it’s declared safe,” he said. Over that time, soils are continually tested.

“This site had been remediated and signed off,” Schainblatt said, “and now development is charging forward.”

— Laura Hagar Rush

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