Santa Paula: Historic J.C. Penney’s Store to become Palazzo

By Sheryl Hamlin

There were two items which appeared similar on the January 24, 2017 Santa Paula Planning Commission meeting, but in fact were only tangentially related as the analysis unfolded.

Item 8A Palazzo Event Center


The property at 814 Main Street in Santa Paula had been empty and listed for lease on Loopnet for several years. Interestingly the listing shows the property as “City Tienda”, but to several locals in the audience, the building will always be the “old Penney’s store”.

After Joyce Parker-Bozlinski, contract planner, presented the project which included a detailed parking study showing that the parking could support the applicant’s planned usage given the availability of city lots and leased lots, the applicant Jose Luis Melgar, photographer and owner of Melgar Photography on Main Street, spoke to a full house.


Mr. Melgar described his vision of an elegant event center with many festive people walking down Main Street. He envisioned that his clients would patronize the local shops including the bridal rental. Everything is here in Santa Paula for a wedding, he said. Mr. Melgar had previously presented the project to the merchants and the chamber.


The staff report included an extensive survey of available city lots, as well as lots that could be leased by the applicant. Other means for large events could be valet and/or shuttle. The applicant plans to support events from 50 to 500 with a staff of potentially 69 for a large event. There was discussion about disallowing the diagonal Main Street parking, but it was agreed that such a condition was impossible to enforce, although Mr. Melgar said he will encourage his clients against such use. During discussion Commissioner Robinson brought up the Ojai Music festival at which the attendance was up to 1000 people, according to architect Appleby, and parking was not an issue.

Of the twenty-one people speaking in Public Comments, only one opposed the project due to the proximity of his apartment at 808 E. Main to the proposed Event Center. The neighbor cited concerns for noise and parking. He has a wife and small child. During discussion, the commissioners expressed concern for the neighbor, but did not require acoustical enforcement of the adjacent wall. Another tenant in the same building spoke in support of the project.

The city made changes to the proposed bronze opaque glass citing code restrictions where liquor is served.There must be visibility into the venue per police code. And, according to Parker-Bozlinski, they also suggested the room be staged so that it looks festive when not in use. Both suggestions will add positively to the dynamics of the street.

Magic Money

As a child, Commissioner Robinson said it was a very vibrant department store and described the excitement when he first saw his money disappear up the magic tube.

The pneumatic tube system for retail cash control was called the Lamson Cash Carrier and was invented in the 19th century. J.C. Penney was a Lamson customer. Based on the size of the Lamson equipment and the following picture, it would appear that the cashiering was located in the mezzanine where the tubes were carried pneumatically or by armed pulleys.


The Commission was concerned about the amount and location of the restrooms. The architect, Marilyn Appleby, and the planner assured the Commission that the calculations had been checked, but they were still waiting for final plan check according to Joyce Parker-Bozylinski.

Façade Changes

The project build out will occur in phases with the first phase façade changes limited to painting, new doors and cleanup of historic, original tile on the building. The second phase would involve more façade changes, but not the opaque windows which were cited by the Planning Department.

The project was approved unanimously by the three remaining commissioners. Commissioner Wacker died in 2016 and Commissioner Demers is moving east for a new position. According to Planning Director Minsk, the notices of these vacancies will be published Friday with interviews to follow.

Item 8B. La Terazza Expansion

The owner of La Terazza (1000 and 1008 E Main Street), Mr. Sandoval, and his representative described the project as a potential expansion of the restaurant, renovation of the façade into a cohesive statement, Sunday brunch with music but not a night club, dinner service with music and a banquet room of undermined size. The owner was unsure as to the size of the banquet facility, but he indicated the kitchen would not be expanding. Note that this project had been previously reviewed and approved in 2014, but the permit lapsed.


The extensive parking study previously referenced for the Palazzo Event Center was also used to analyze the La Terazza project. In the 2014 hearing, the city council had recommended shuttle service, but the owner said the shuttle would cost $86,000 and was not needed.

Liquor License

There is no new license, but there will be an ABC application to expand the existing permit. The owner said that he hoped to apply for a hard-liquor license. The planner said that in the case this occurred, a new CUP would be needed.

Letter from Downtown Merchants Association

The staff report included the letter and a summary as follows:


The commission felt that with the new staff conditions, the downtown could support two facilities, particularly because it appeared that the La Terazza expansion would become more of a restaurant expansion with a small banquet room. They also felt the shuttle requirement imposed previously by the council was an overkill.

The project was approved unanimously. Both projects will now go to council for final approval.

Other Planning News

Planning Director Jana Minsk reported the following:

  • The Food Truck issue would be appearing on the February 6th 2017 council meeting.
  • The Update to the General Plan would appear as a status report on the February 6th 2017 council meeting.
  • Commissioner Sommer asked about “the lawsuit” to which lawyer Kettles said that because this is on-going, there would be no comment, although he did say that there was no stop work injunction. Tom Tarantino asked Mr. Kettles to clarify the project for the record to which he answered “Hardison Project”.

The commission voted to move the time of the meeting to 6:00 pm rather than 6:30 pm. The chair suggested that perhaps a high school student could be found if they did not find new commissioners. There was also discussion about the Design Assistance Committee to which Mr. Demers had been assigned.

To listen to the audio or download the material, click here.

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