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Warehouse Artist Lofts: Ali Youssefi’s vision

When the Lawrence Warehouse was completed in 1915, it was distinguished for an important reason. Now, a century later as Warehouse Artist Lofts, it has regained distinction for another achievement.

Transformation story

Built on the south side of R Street alongside Southern Pacific’s railroad tracks as a facility for storing, receiving and shipping merchandise, the Lawrence Warehouse was among the earliest reinforced concrete buildings erected in Sacramento. Designed by noted architect Clarence Cuff, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it fell into disuse after World War II, as industries relocated elsewhere.

After standing for more than a century, the six-story former warehouse at 1108 R Street has attained greater prominence than ever as Warehouse Artists Lofts (WAL), a live-work haven for artists. Momentum for the revival of the building began in the 1990s, during the community visioning process for renovation of the R Street corridor.

“Representatives from CADA and other agencies and groups who became involved with R Street in the ’90s recognized opportunity for the Lawrence Warehouse to become a catalyst for change in that neighborhood,” said Todd Leon, CADA development director. The warehouse, with its large windows, obviously would make an excellent housing site for artists who prefer natural light.

The redevelopment project, initially known as Capitol Lofts and conceived as a market rate condo project, was fraught with complications, including environmental remediation, historic preservation restrictions and changing economic conditions. When the initial development team bowed out after 15 years with little progress, CADA found a perfect match: Ali Youssefi of locally based CFY Development.

“Ali loved that warehouse, and it was his vision of providing affordable artist housing that made the project what it is today. It all came together at the right time with the right person in the right location on R Street,” Leon said. Construction of the $41.5 million project, renamed Warehouse Artist Lofts, was completed in early 2015 following two years of construction work. The project encompassed construction of a new adjoining building containing 67 lofts. Artists and musicians literally lined up on the street the first day that rentals were offered, and WAL filled up immediately. Three-quarters of its 116 lofts are designated affordable housing, income-restricted units, with the remaining 25 percent of units rented at market rate.

“I consider WAL Ali’s crowning achievement in his short career, which tragically was cut short by fatal illness,” Leon said. The R Street revitalization is Youssefi’s legacy.

“The public investment in R Street improvements and the WAL project immediately catalyzed private investment in and around that area. Every single property that fronts R Street adjacent to the WAL project has either turned around or has been sold to somebody with plans to invest money in it. So WAL had a transformative impact on the economics of the neighborhood. It’s a hip place that people want to see and experience now.”