Polishing a gem

A painter applies an undercoat to the filagree of the Jefsen Building on Main Street in downtown Watsonville. — Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

New Jefsen owner making $350,000 in repairs, upgrades

WATSONVILLE  A local historical landmark is going through some much-needed repairs.

The Jefsen Building at 500 Main St. recently received a new roof, updated key locks and a new camera system, as well a fresh coat of paint on a few upper sections of the building.

Owner Chip Kirchner, who in late March purchased the property from Swenson Builders for $5 million, said roof repairs alone cost roughly $110,000. He said he plans to invest about $350,000 in the property in the first year alone.

Kirchner said he would like to add a solar system on the roof in the near future, and wants to decorate the currently-barren hallway walls with art.

“It was looking like it hadn’t had a lot of love in the past few years,” Kirchner said. “It’s a nice building, and I think has some real character.”

Built in 1903 and designed by William Weeks, the Jefsen Building was first a hotel with a checkered history that has slowly developed into one of Watsonville’s essential affordable housing locations in the downtown corridor.

It was heavily damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was set to be demolished until Housing For Independent People, which runs the Resetar Residential Hotel, purchased the property in the early ‘90s.

That company, however, went through financial struggles while trying to rebuild the building, and for nearly eight years the now-landmark was one of downtown’s biggest “eyesores,” according to a Pajaronian article from 1996, as most of the exterior was covered in plywood.

Reconstruction of the building did not begin until Swenson Builders teamed up with the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Watsonville in 1997. That partnership came with an affordability agreement that required no less than 29 of the property’s 34 rental units to be available for low-income persons until 2028, an agreement that Kirchner inherited when he purchased the property earlier this year.

The property also came with eight commercial buildings, which house El Dorado Fashions and Domino’s Pizza, among others.

Watsonville Councilman Felipe Hernandez said he’s happy to see the upgrades to the historic building that he used to call home while attending UC Santa Cruz in the late 90s.

“I look forward to them making the improvements there. It’s nice to see people investing in downtown again,” said Hernandez, who added that the recent revitalization efforts in the corridor match up with the city’s direction.

“When I was there it was a great little place,” Hernandez said. “It was a mix of all different professions. We had some students, doctors and others who worked at some local stores.”

Kirchner is also the owner and operator of the 50-unit Watsonville Royal Apartments on 615 Blackburn St. and 362 East Lake Ave. That property is also friendly to low-income residents and has seen more than $400,000 in upgrades since he purchased the property in 2011.

Kirchner said he has spent most of his time in Watsonville since purchasing the Jefsen Building, and that his new tenants have started to grow on him — the community, too.

“I can’t get away from it now,” Kirchner said. “I love Watsonville. It’s a great supportive town.”

Kirchner said he plans to continue to make gradual improvements to the Jefsen Building in the future.

“That’s what we said we’d do and we walk the walk,” he said. “It’s a longterm plan.”

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