Few cities have a more fraught relationship with authenticity than Anaheim, California. And yet, under the shadow of The Matterhorn and blocks from Downtown Disney, one of America’s great suburban cities is rediscovering its downtown.
Built in 1919, the Sunkist Packing House processed and distributed Orange County’s namesake crop. The citrus industry gave way to tract housing decades ago. The city’s small but lively downtown suffered an even more ignominious fate. In the mid-1970s, the city razed roughly 100 supposedly blighted acres, following a wave of largely misguided urban renewal projects that swept the nation at the time.
“The neighborhood became unglued,” said John Woodhead, community development director for the city. “A lot of significant historical resources were lost.” But the Packing House was spared.
Dormant for decades, the Packing House, now full of food stalls and cafés, reopened last year as the centerpiece of a new “foodie district,” a multi-block area that also includes a repurposed Packard dealership and Farmers Park, designed by Ken Smith. Nearby is the Center Street Promenade retail area and over 1,000 units of new multifamily housing. Woodhead said that the city is finally atoning for its “former sins.”
Renovated by Newport Beach–based Thirtieth Street Architects and developed by LAB Holding, a local retail developer, the Packing House is marketed as a destination for artisanal food enthusiasts in the spirit of Seattle’s Pike Place, San Francisco’s Ferry Building, and Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market.
The project exemplifies California’s complex relationship with historical styles. Its facade is pure Mission Revival, with stucco walls and a pair of stubby towers. The 42,000-square-foot interior is industrial. The two levels of former packing floors were linked by conveyor belts and illuminated by factory-style clerestory windows.
Thirtieth Street Architects’ James Wilson oversaw the renovation. He cut through the ground level to create an atrium reaching down to the basement. A broad stairway now connects the two, with balconies overlooking the sub-floors. Stalls and restaurants are located along the perimeters of both levels.
“The basic premise was not to go higher than the bottom cord of the trusses of the interior,” said Wilson. “That way, all the natural light would still flow and it would keep the character of the clerestory lights.”
Wilson said it was crucial to install food service infrastructure from the onset rather than require tenants to fit out their spaces on their own. Every stall includes power and gas hookups, fire prevention technologies, and waste disposal.
“The vision was what they called plug-and-play,” said Wilson.
What was once dedicated to a single commodity crop now houses over a dozen purveyors, offering everything from poutine to soul food to hot pot. This culinary variety, coupled with the building’s architectural authenticity (it is under consideration for designation on the National Register of Historic Places) is luring downtown residents and even tourists.
“On their third day (at Disneyland), they’re going to want something different,” said John O’Brien, vice president of development at Brookfield Residential, which developed much of downtown Anaheim’s multifamily housing. “They’re going to come to the Packing House for some beer and some awesome culture.”