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A Martinez renaissance right before our eyes!

By HAMILTON FISH
Special to the Tribune

Martinez is entering a renaissance. Renaissance – literally a rebirth – a time of rapid change for the better.

The point was driven home on a visit to San Francisco. It happened to be SantaCon day. There were thousands of folks dressed up as Santa, elves and reindeer. Most looked to be twenty-somethings. There were a few old-timers (like us). All having a blast.

We took BART home late at night and found – as we almost always do nowadays – standing room only. A couple of nice Santas offered us seats, which we gratefully accepted.

It was satisfying to return to the quiet of Martinez. San Francisco is bustling these days, but we prefer it here where it’s quieter. Along with San Francisco, Martinez is changing. More slowly than The City to be sure, but in keeping with the Martinez style.

Earthquake ordinances are finally kicking in. Rehabilitation and earthquake reinforcement seem more popular than demolition. The old Sunflower Garden restaurant building has been demolished. Rumor has it that the Martinez Gazette building is slated for demolition too.

The Telfer-McMahon building’s future is unknown (to us). It’s a beautiful building and we hope it’s retrofitted and preserved. The old DiMaggio Restaurant building in the 700 block of Main Street was abandoned after a fire; its future is unknown.

Underneath the ugly 1960s era aluminum facade is beautiful brick that’s well worth preserving.

The Cassells building next to Saucie’s is being rebuilt and will be a huge asset to the City. The Old Post Office building has been retrofitted and now hosts States Coffee and the CalFit exercise establishment. The old “Sharkey Buildings” on Court Street north of the Main Street clock used to host the Martinez Gazette. These “Streamline Moderne” buildings are being modernized and earthquake reinforced. The southern building (630 Court St.) has had the interior lath and plaster removed, exposing magnificent brick walls. With any luck it’ll soon host a restaurant.

States Coffee hit the ground running. Clientele includes lots of young women and sometimes young men out jogging with their baby carriages. These young parents are all over town, creating a new mood.

Coffee shops are sort of like auto rows. They synergize, leading to better experiences for all. Martinez seems to have passed the critical coffee-shop juncture. We’ve got a bunch, and they’re all thriving. The more the merrier.

Martinez has one craft brewery – Creek Monkey. Wouldn’t it be great to have several more! I bet craft breweries complement each other like “auto-rows”and coffee shops.

Main Street Martinez has successfully hosted a variety of events, many drawing a younger, affluent crowd. The beer crawl, the ice-skating rink, and the farmers market are all successes. The Campbell Theater is open again. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” was great fun. The “Big Fat Year End Kiss Off Comedy Show XIII” looks to be fun too. We’ll see. The Wine Stroll is always a success. The next one is coming on Feb. 7.

Martinez’ image is likely to be increasingly bound to Joe DiMaggio. Joe was born here but his family moved to The City when he was young. Family in town brought him back often. There are lots of locals around who remember Joe and are happy to talk about his visits. Just ask. The new non-profit “Hometown Hero Project” seeks to draw on Joe to promote the town. Joe’s boat, the “Joltin Joe” has been magnificently restored by a group of dedicated and skilled volunteers. Plans are afoot for a Joe DiMaggio statue, a giant bat, and a mural. The whole world knows of Joe DiMaggio His fame can do Martinez a world of good.

Lemon Grass Restaurant is already drawing customers from the Highway 24 corridor and even Berkeley. This trend should continue. We’ll see more people – more affluent people – looking to Martinez as a destination for shopping, eating, drinking coffee or craft beer, hanging out, walking, hiking and fishing.

Martinez runs at a slower pace than Walnut Creek or The City. The future of the town looks to be tied to small, specialized businesses. A renaissance is happening right before our eyes!

Hamilton Fish is a local resident with a propensity to look on the sunny side of life.

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