Before Michael Goldman was a massage therapist, he was a night janitor at Wrigley’s gum factory on Santa Cruz’s Westside.
That was before the Wrigley company left the building in 1997, and a developer took over and built the University Business Park, today’s bustling commercial center.
Goldman recalls the building’s cavernous rooms and the conveyer belts carrying long, hot sheets of gum. Back then, sugar dust was everywhere, Goldman says. His crew had just four hours to clean the floors and machinery before the morning shift came.
“You have a brand-new, clean room that you just finished and here come the guys,” Goldman says. “There’s already tire tracks all over with the sugar dust, and you’re constantly covered with the sugar dust every day.”
Upstairs, the factory had spearmint, peppermint, and winterfresh “flavor vaults,” and the scent reached for miles, he says.
“You’d be going down the street and you could tell what they were making,” says Goldman, now 63, who began working at Wrigley in 1989.
Before that, Goldman found a bit of fame as the world’s fastest downhill skateboarder. In 1977, wearing a red and green leather suit with a Santa Cruz logo, he hurtled down a Los Angeles hill at 50 miles per hour, breaking the skateboard speed record. In an interesting twist, his son, Jamie Goldman, has inherited his daredevil talent. For years, the younger Goldman was a sponsored mountain bike rider for Santa Cruz Bicycles, one of several successful companies now headquartered in the former gum factory.
Today the Wrigley Building houses around 45 businesses, ranging from tech startups to art workspaces and fitness studios. At 385,000 square feet—the area of nearly seven football fields—it is Santa Cruz County’s largest commercial space. The building has also become a well-known Westside cultural landmark, drawing locals to its First Friday art events and Saturday farmers markets.
When commercial real estate developer William Ow and his family purchased the majority share of the Wrigley Building in 2004, he considered several plans for the space, such as student housing and large retail space for a home improvement store.
Market forces directed him elsewhere. Over the next few years, the building became an incubator for tech startups and artists.
“I think we’re quite a bit more advanced than an incubator now,” says Ow. “Those businesses that are here are established, and they’ve reached a maturity where they need a bigger physical space.”
His tenants include LifeAID, a four-year-old beverage company with 20 employees that ships 750,000 cans each month to 18 countries. The company sells three beverages, including FitAID, its most popular drink, targeted at CrossFit athletes. Its largest retailer is the Vitamin Shoppe, but its drinks will soon come to GNC and Whole Foods Market.
LifeAID’s revenue doubled in 2015, and the company is expanding its footprint in the Wrigley Building, exchanging its old 1,200-square-foot office for a 4,500-square-foot one with ocean views. The company also rents a warehouse in the building.
Ow rents his space for around $1.10 per square foot, which is not only more affordable than office space in Silicon Valley, but also closer to the beach and bike trails, attracting lifestyle-oriented clients, he says.
Westside resident Kyle Doerksen, CEO and founder of the electronic skateboard startup OneWheel, rides his invention to work. It’s a two-mile trail ride from home to his company’s Wrigley Building headquarters.
“I just put my headphones on and it feels exactly like snowboarding,” Doerksen says.
The Stanford graduate grew up snowboarding in Canada, and said he’s engineered a board that replicates the feeling of carving through fresh powder—unlike anything else on the market.
The board, which sells for $1,499 with a six-week lead time, can hit 16 mph and run for eight miles on one charge. With a single fat go-kart wheel, it handles off-road hilly terrain.
For five years, Doerksen tinkered with prototypes in his garage, while working as a project manager at IDEO in Palo Alto. When he finally launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, he raised $630,000—more than six times his goal—and left his dream job at IDEO to further develop the skateboard.
OneWheel was founded in Mountain View, but in late 2014 Doerksen moved to the Wrigley Building, in part for its proximity to trails. The team frequently tests the board on the dirt and sand at Natural Bridges State Beach, a block away from its current headquarters.
“We’re really creating a new action sport, so Santa Cruz is really the perfect place,” Doerksen says.
In the past year, the company has posted quick growth: revenues are up by 300 percent and 10 new employees have joined. OneWheel is also expanding its offices to include a research and development lab in the Wrigley Building.
The Westside was once the city’s industrial center, home to not only the gum factory but also to Texas Instruments and Lipton Tea factories—representing around 1,500 jobs altogether. The latter two companies left Santa Cruz shortly after Wrigley’s did, Texas Instruments in 2001 and Lipton in 2002.
Light industrial manufacturing still exists on the Westside, but the balance has shifted toward retail and services, says Bonnie Lipscomb, Santa Cruz’s economic development director.
It’s not just Ow’s Wrigley Building that’s booming; it’s the neighborhood, she says.
Swift Street Courtyard’s restaurants, the Delaware Addition’s live-work space and the emergence of breweries and wineries have created a new feel to the community.
A Fairfield Inn & Suites is being built catty-corner to the Wrigley Building, and a block away, UC Santa Cruz is constructing a $54 million biology building, the first step in its long-range development plan for the area.
“I think the Wrigley Building is an amazing story of successful adaptive reuse,” says Lipscomb. “It’s been transformative in that area. What William has done is really remarkable. He’s a creative visionary leader and I think that the Wrigley Building—how large it is, and how eclectic and funky—you go in there and it’s its own little world.”
This month, nearly 2,000 solar panels were installed on its roof, and soon more will be added to its parking lot, making the Wrigley Building one of the largest solar projects in the city, says Ow.
Ow’s next plan is to create an incubator lab for spin-off businesses from UCSC’s Genomics Institute, which in 2000 was the first to sequence the human genome and publicly release it on the Web. So far, six companies have been born out of the institute’s research, including DoveTail Genomics, which was originally housed in the Wrigley Building.
Ow said he’s been in “deep discussions” with the institute’s director for about a year, and a deal is close. He already has a 5,000-plus square-foot space earmarked for the lab.
THE FACE OF SANTA CRUZ BICYCLES
The story of the Wrigley’s transformation into an economic hub is really the story of the people who have transformed it, and Rob Roskopp, CEO of Santa Cruz Bicycles, is one of them.
The metallic sign and floor-to-ceiling glass of his company’s storefront is the most conspicuous section of the Wrigley Building’s exterior, which is mostly beige and grey concrete expanses. Since 2012, the building has housed not only the company’s retail space and worldwide headquarters but also its factory, where workers custom-build each bike by hand. Previously, the company was in Santa Cruz’s old Seabright Cannery, but business grew so fast that the parking lot doubled as a warehouse.
Wearing a black long-sleeve shirt and an intense stare, Roskopp, 52, resembles a bald and athletic version of Steve Jobs. He sits on a black leather couch at the back of the company’s showroom, behind rows of colorful high-end mountain bikes.
Last year, Roskopp sold the company to the multibillion-dollar Dutch conglomerate Pon Holdings. The deal’s details are not public, but Roskopp says he sold so he could expand distribution to Europe and Asia. His role as CEO remains unchanged.
“It’s my baby and I want to see it grow to its ultimate fruition,” Roskopp says of the company.
Before Roskopp co-founded Santa Cruz Bicycles at age 29, he was a professional skateboarder. At age 19, with $600 in his pocket, he took a Greyhound bus from his father’s home in Cincinnati to San Jose, to begin his career. Within one month he met Rich Novak, co-founder of NHS, the iconic Santa Cruz skateboard company, who gave him a job and a sponsorship.
“He brought me up through the ranks. I did everything: tradeshows, sales, product management, R and D. I got business training with Novak as my mentor,” Roskopp says.
Roskopp was part of the hardcore punk skateboarding scene of the 1980s. He skated in half-pipe contests and movies and had his own NHS skateboard line, vintage decks which today sell on eBay for up to $350.
Toward the end of his skateboarding career, Roskopp began cyclocross bike racing. Novak approached him with the idea for Santa Cruz Bicycles, when full-suspension mountain bikes were still in their infancy.
Roskopp thought the market was ripe and jumped onboard. In 1993, the duo co-founded the company with engineer Mike Marquez.
“Our first bike sold in February ’94, and by ’96 we were doing a few million [dollars] in sales with 10 employees,” Roskopp says.
Today, the company employs 120 people in Santa Cruz, 350 in China, five in Taiwan and is still growing. Since 2010, the company has posted double-digit sales growth every year, Roskopp says.
Roskopp now lives in Saratoga, raising three teenage children with his wife. He commutes to Santa Cruz three days a week.
“I don’t skateboard anymore. I did with my son a bit when he was younger, but all my kids are in club soccer, which is a job in itself,” Roskopp says.
Painter Michele Giulvezan-Tanner works in her Wrigley Building studio four days a week. If she’s looking for inspiration, she sits with her enormous paintings of abstract figures or browses her piles of art books.
She jumps and paints furiously for a few minutes, then sits down again, waiting for her muse, like a game of hide-and-seek.
“There’s a trick you do. You come in, you don’t look at your painting. You maybe sweep the floor and you have 15 seconds to look at the painting with a fresh eye, and then it’s gone,” Giulvezan-Tanner says.
She moved to the studio in 2012, from a space near the Tannery. She says she gets better space for her money at the Wrigley Building, and more exposure.
More than a dozen people visit her studio each week, including one time when 30 people from the yoga studio down the hall wandered in, admiring her work.
Giulvezan-Tanner’s paintings are priced between $1,000 and $8,000, and her sales and commissions are up since relocating to the Westside, she says.
She paints people and faces, hidden behind thick blotches of color.
“I started experimenting with how much of the figure I could take away and how much I could leave there. It’s a constant battle,” she says.
In high school, an art teacher told her that she didn’t have talent, and she gave up painting for 20 years until returning to college in her 30s. Ever since, she’s been playing with the line between realism and illusion.
“I’m trying to push that abstraction further. It’s like I’m trying to annihilate the figure completely, which I think has a lot to do with aging,” says Giulvezan-Tanner, now 63.
Besides the nay-saying art teacher, Giulvezan-Tanner lists her mother as one of her biggest early influencers on her career.
“My mother was constantly working on the house, and I was fascinated by what she could do given the confines of wallpaper and paint. I love architecture and I love looking at rooms. It translates into more than just painting,” she says.
“When I walk into a room, I see the possibilities.”
SENSE OF MOVEMENT
One of Ow’s projects when he took over the building was adding interior walls to divide the factory’s immense spaces into attractive suites and offices for tenants.
Though signs with arrows direct customers through the industrial labyrinth, it still takes a few visits to grasp the serpentine layout.
Massive amounts of white walls means more room for art, says Ow.
“We said hey, we’ll make wall space available [for local artists] and we’ll rotate it about every two months, and we’ll do it for free,” Ow says. “We get the benefit of hanging beautiful art, and they’re getting some exposure.”
As Ow walks through the building, telling the stories of not only the companies, but also of the artwork he passes, he pauses in the second-floor lobby. Near the ceiling, dozens of brilliant ceramic fish have been hung by artist Andrew Ward. The fish circle the walls of the second-floor lobby and head down a long hallway toward Aerial Arts Santa Cruz, a studio teaching pole classes and acrobatic dance.
“You know that room at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with all the fish swimming in a circle overhead?” Ow asks. “If you hang it in a direction, you create a sense of movement.”
The Wrigley also features an exhibit of a dozen Italian vintage motorcycles—some from Ow’s personal collection—inspired by the Guggenheim show “The Art of the Motorcycle.”
“Why are these things stored away where people can never see them?” says Ow. “To me, it’s a shame. It’s just like good art. It doesn’t do anyone in the greater community any good if they’re hidden away.”
An offbeat, artistic community has arisen in the building, and includes the popular R. Blitzer Gallery headed by the renowned painter and sculptor Robert Blitzer.
Some of Ow’s tenants have traded technology careers for artistic businesses, such as Brian Kaufman, who worked at Amazon in Seattle for five years before founding Dog Days, a vintage guitar-strap company based in the Wrigley Building. All the straps are handmade by Kaufman and his parents, who also work at the company. Dog Days is also developing an electronic costume tail that moves to the beat of music.
Another techie-turned-art-entrepreneur is John Fleskes, a former Sun Microsystems system administrator who now runs Flesk Publications, an art book publishing company, in the Wrigley Building. Fleskes and his team design the books online, which are printed overseas then delivered to a distributor in Tennessee. A small subset of the copies, meant for direct customers, end up in Fleskes’ Wrigley Building warehouse.
Most of Fleskes’ publications are graphic novels and fantasy, and book-jacket posters of stylized dragons, elves and mythical creatures hide the stacks of boxed copies that nearly touch the 17-foot-high ceiling.
Ow also rents to tech geeks wanting a “hobby/passion” space, such as two brothers, both Silicon Valley programmers, who run a silkscreening company and luthier business in their free time.
“This is almost like their man cave,” Ow says, passing a bare anteroom with a curtain hiding the workspace behind it. “Unfortunately, they’re almost never here.”
A rock band called the Ghost Collective, comprised mostly of tech professionals, rents a studio.
“They all have lives and families. They’ve been a band since the ’80s, and they jam on Tuesdays,” Ow says.
Ow says that in the past decade, he’s seen an economic boost on the Westside. At first, he had difficulty attracting tenants, but now he has a waitlist for his few remaining spaces.
“Initially, this was the end of the Earth for people in Santa Cruz,” Ow says. “Since this has happened, we’re part of that big transition that has made the Westside the place to be.”