Westbank, Urban Community, Prepare for Revamp of San Jose’s Iconic Bank of Italy

Westbank, Urban Community, Bank of Italy, San Jose, RMW, BIG
Courtesy of City of San Jose

By Meghan Hall

One of the oldest skyscrapers in Silicon Valley is preparing for a major—and long needed—facelift. After several years of ownership, Canadian luxury developer Westbank and Urban Community have submitted a preservation permit application and design documents to the City of San Jose for the reimagining of the Bank of Italy. The tower, located in the historic district, has not seen any major retrofits within the last 40 years.

Designed by San Francisco architect Henry A. Minton, the Bank of Italy tower completed construction in 1926 and remained the tallest building between San Francisco and Los Angeles until 1970. The building features a three-level podium, tower spire and expansive brick façade. Limestone columns work to anchor the storefronts while glazed terracotta ornamental banding also serve as a feature. 

“[The] historic Bank of Italy building is a visible reminder and the most significant building of the city’s period of commercial growth in the first half of the twentieth century,” design documents state. “It is distinct from the contemporary development of the downtown and a reminder of the location of San Jose’s historic city center.”

Urban Community, led by developer Gary Dillabough, and WeWork acquired the asset and its adjacent lot for $30.6 million in 2017. Westbank and Urban Community announced their development partnership for the project in February of this year, after WeWork divested itself form a number of San Jose Properties, including the Bank of Italy, for $184 million. WeWork sold its share of the Bank of Italy for $33 million.

The Bank of Italy, located at 12 South 1st Street, is Urban Community’s and Westbank’s first endeavor together. The pair of firms also has plans for Museum Place, BoTown Valley Title, the Fountain Alley Building and 255 West Julian.

“Ultimately our goal for Downtown San Jose is to create a community for the creative economy that brings companies out of their existing ‘industrial parks’ and integrates them within the city’s urban fabric,” said Westbank Founder Ian Gillespie in a statement initially announcing the partnership. “Our ambition is to demonstrate how strong city-building can help address some of our greatest challenges. Our goal is to respond meaningfully to the climate emergency, help create more healthy, diverse communities and build the elements of life that are essential to our happiness, such as beauty, nature, social interaction, and a sense of belonging, into each of our projects.”

The new iteration of the project will be designed by Bay Area-based RMW Architecture and Interiors and New York-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The project team intends for the repositioning to accommodate future space for offices, food and beverage, as well as a music venue. Outdoor terraces will also be offered on the roof and mezzanine level for the restaurant.

Plans submitted to the city that of the 130,700 square foot interior, 22,112 square feet—most of the podium—will work as a music venue. 12,527 square feet will be allocated towards food and beverages, while 88,342 square feet will be utilized as office space. 12,684 square feet will be outdoor amenity space, including a restaurant terrace.

One of the most notable changes to the building’s exterior will come in the form of cantilevered balconies that peel away from the core of the building and also act as a staircase. The stair core will not just act as a required second egress from the building, but will be clad in vegetation with a series of vines climbing on steel cables in an effort to bring greenery into the office spaces. The balconies will be able to function as breakout, meeting and workspaces as well. The stairs and balconies will span from the ground floor all the way to the building’s roofline.

On the podium, a restaurant terrace will act as an extension of the stair core balconies and expand over the single-story part of the podium roof. Both the stair and outdoor podium space will face the Fountain Alley, which the project team hopes will become home to an array of cultural and social experiences on the site. 

On the second story podium, a roof terrace will be added to provide the building’s offices with additional outdoor amenity space. Canopies and social gathering spots will be programmed into the terrace.

A number of retrofits, including updates to the façade in line with previously used materials, as well as the installation of operable windows and the opening of the upper awning, will work to bring better access, air and light into the building.

The timing of the retrofits and completion of the project is unclear, with the project team just submitting preliminary documents to city officials. However, once complete, Westbank and Urban Community hope that the repositioning will cement the Bank of Italy’s importance in downtown San Jose for the next generation to come.

As of this writing, Westbank has not returned The Registry’s request for updated comment.

West Coast Commercial Real Estate News