The top 5 buildings in Stockton that deserve to be demolished

I recently stumbled upon an article from California Home and Design listing the top 25 buildings around the country that deserved to be demolished right now. The article lists a number of different kinds of aesthetically displeasing buildings, from city halls to malls to whole neighborhoods. While browsing some of the worst architectural and functional buildings from around the country, I could not help but wonder, what would a similar list look like if it focused on Stockton? Well, look no further. Using absolutely no real criteria, I have compiled a completely biased list of the top five buildings in Stockton that deserve to be demolished. These are the most unattractive, least functional buildings in the city, according to me. Here they are, in no particular order.

The AT&T building
Downtown has many beautiful buildings, but this monolith on the corner of Hunter and Lindsay Streets is not among them. The soul-crushing minimalism of this brutalist style building makes it an eyesore, with a nearly windowless exterior, box shape and dull facade. The seven story structure looks more like an evil fortress of doom than an office building.

The Courthouse
This is a no brainer. At one time in the city’s history, Stockton had a beautiful courthouse, featuring neoclassical architecture and amazing detail. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1961 and replaced by our current courthouse. The differences between the two could not be more stark. While the old courthouse was stately in nature, the “new” courthouse was a typical modernist monstrosity, with a pebble facade and jaundiced-tinted windows. Throw in the massive antennas atop, and you have the ugliest high rise in Stockton. It is no wonder the building also doubles as a fallout shelter. Thankfully, the courthouse will not be gracing Stockton’s skyline for much longer, as a new courthouse is coming down the pipeline. Obviously, we need the extra space as evidenced by a number of high profile incidents involving the inadequacy of the current structure, but the design for the new court house looks to be a major upgrade as well.

Fremont Street Parking Garage
One of the major aspects of the waterfront entertainment complex constructed in the mid 2000s was a parking garage capable of holding up to 592 vehicles. Unfortunately, while the garage’s function is clear, it is probably the ugliest part of the project. The garage itself is a typical structure, but the way it affronts Fremont Street creates an extremely unpleasant streetscape. Other projects attempt to hide the ugliness of their garages through nice facades, banners, or creative use of surrounding structures, but the architect for Stockton made no such attempt. The worst part is, the placement of the garage will make developing the lots on the other side of Fremont difficult, because no one wants to have a view of a giant, lifeless parking lot. The city should have either buried the parking lot (though that would have most likely been prohibitively expensive) or wrapped it with office space or something similar so that Fremont Street patrons would be spared the sight of a hulking garage. Wells Fargo recently foreclosed on the lot, I would not be sad if they decided to demolish it.

Although the stress and anxiety of making a trip to the DMV may be reason enough for residents to favor demolition, Stockton’s DMV office makes the list for a different reason. The new DMV on Market and Lincoln Streets downtown is certainly an aesthetic and functional upgrade from its predecessor, but the new location seems puzzling. I have no idea why or how the new site was selected, but I do know that the low-density nature of the building makes it a poor use of downtown real estate. DMV offices, by nature, require a large enough parking lot to accommodate parked vehicles as well as to administer driving tests. Unfortunately for downtown, a DMV parking lot does not bring in any revenue nor make the area more attractive. Moreover, a single-story building, which could be found in any strip mall or shopping center, wastes the opportunity to build a structure that can provide more revenue per acre. If the new DMV was part of a larger mixed use project on the same site, it would make more sense as a larger building housing offices and commercial space as well. As regulars of the site know, I have written before about the merits of building densely downtown. While a sparkly new DMV downtown may seem like progress, to me, the decision to build a one story, parking lot-heavy project seems like a waste of what could become desirable downtown real estate in the future.

Park West Place Wal-Mart
Readers of the site will not be surprised at this selection as I have made no secret of my disdain for the giant retailer. As far as I can tell, the new Wal-Mart in Spanos Park West store actually looks pretty nice, but the fancy facade does not hide the economic consequences of the town’s second Super Wal-Mart. You can read all about it here:


Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

34 Comments on “The top 5 buildings in Stockton that deserve to be demolished”

  1. July 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Actually you need some background information for Choice #5. It’s not what meets the eye. There is a story there but it’s not about what you think.

    • Stockton City Limits
      July 11, 2012 at 1:29 am #

      Hello Dean,

      Always happy to learn more information. Please feel free to bring any additional info/insight into the discussion, the more the merrier.

      • July 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

        How do you want to conduct the conversation?

        IMHO we ought to organize it in 5 interconnected categories.

        1. The land planning aspect of it (where you also seem to have a UCLA background).
        2. The dirty, yet unseen, monopolistic behavior of a few local merchants (counted on one hand) which at present provide awful service and want to preserve the right to dominate the local market in perpetuity.
        3. Stockton’s demographics (you mentioned Whole Foods, so we ought to examine a bit in depth why Whole Foods has repeatedly denied requests to locate here).
        4. Stockton false association of poor self-image with new development(and to some extent redevelopment) as a means of erecting an artificial facade of hiding its real problems.
        5. Stockton “for hire” politics and abysmal failure of leadership.

        Perhaps we ought to dedicate time discussing each section separately and once we pretty much exhaust it we could then move to the next sector. I would strongly encourage the greatest possible participation in this conversation; so you may want to get the word out before we start.

      • J T
        July 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

        the first building that comes to my mind is the Greyhound Bus Depot – that thing is hideous!

    • Stockton City Limits
      July 12, 2012 at 10:22 pm #


      That is certainly a hefty list. I think facebook would be an appropriate venue to discuss these points, that way it’s visible to all page visitors who wish to chime in. I think breaking this conversation into segments is the way to go, please visit the facebook page, I will let you make the first comments and we can go from there. Cheers.

      • July 13, 2012 at 3:57 am #

        o.k. I just did. You may consider opening a new thread there so that we can examine the topic in depth.

  2. July 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I’d agree that the courthouse has gotta go, and will in a few years if the courts get their way. Beyond that one, your choices are way down on my list, which is comprised of mostly low-bid commercial buildings along Fremont & El Dorado, and is topped by the Ambassado Hotel on Channel & Sutter. This hotel might still be able to be rehabed, but the longer it sits empty, which it has for decades, the less likely it can come back. Meanwhile, the city wants to tear down buildings twice its age that are in better shape. The Ambassador’s owner must have the goods on someone at the city.

    • Stockton City Limits
      July 11, 2012 at 1:32 am #

      Hello William,

      There are a ton of dilapidated hotels I could have thrown into my list, I decided I couldn’t choose just one. Plus, I am always hopeful that older buildings can be reused, not torn down, though I realize some of these structures may be past the point of no return. As far as the Ambassador hotel, I don’t know too much about it. Would be interested to learn more. Thanks for the comment.

      • Christina D. B. Frankel
        July 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm #


        We are working on a solution for the “dilapidated” hotels. We call the effort Downtown, AGAIN! and are starting with the Commercial Bldg, built before cars, before Main Street was even paved, in 1878. More to come on the effort!

        Thanks for commentary.

      • Stockton City Limits
        July 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm #


        Would love to hear more about your group and its efforts. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Anthony Ballon
    July 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    There are many way’s that big “chunky” and dull buildings can be manipulated to become interesting or even beautiful. Sometimes it just takes creativity and a little imagination. Fresh paint, Murals, Green Roofs/Walls, Art Wall, Adaptive Reuse/Re-design, Exoskeleton/skins, Knocking walls & Adding windows, Artistic Lighting Schemes, and other ways to improve some of these buildings you mention here in this article. There are a gazillion examples of what I’m suggesting here as an alternative to demolishing existing structures. I do not disagree with your opinion that these buildings are quite sad and they are nothing to be proud of by any citizen of Stockton. (what a terrible design/location for the DMV!!!) I believe that by adapting some of these buildings using these techniques, the city can create new points of interest for visitors but more importantly it would be nice to see the city is part of a more progressive and creative movement to re-imagine cities from their current forms. For now the architecture/urban design scene in Stockton remains: blah.

    • Stockton City Limits
      July 11, 2012 at 1:38 am #

      Hello Anthony,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that a little ingenuity could go a long ways in sprucing up unattractive buildings (for example, what Baltimore is doing in the Station North neighborhood with its “open walls” project), and while the title of the article says “demolished,” I really did not mean that literally. The word demolish was just used to mirror the article I referenced to, and, admittedly, the headline generates more attention.

      • Anthony Ballon
        July 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

        Well Dean, your choice of title sure did it’s duty in this case. So glad that you are starting a conversation about the issue. I am also very happy that you mention a solid project of “reuse” and ingenuity that is right here in the States. Cities “that get it” and are progressive enough to, I hate to use this term anymore though it fits…”step out of the box” like so many European cities have been doing for some time, are completely transforming the local architectural/urban design vernacular of their towns. And please (readers) stop picking on the courthouse (LOL) and don’t you dare mention what I always imagined as on of Stockton’s most interesting buildings: The Greyhound Station. I know someone has thrown this into the mix but if you really think about the bones of both the station and the courthouse they have so much potential. It’s unfortunate that what was supposed to be a diamond of modern design becomes so diluted and neglected. Redesign NOT demolish City of Stockton!

  4. Starks
    July 11, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    I agree with PWP walmart! I wish it will be demolished!

  5. Enrique Lopez
    July 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    The new DMV location has sat unused for more years then I can remember. If memory serves me right, a childcare provider had previously looked at the site, or one near by, as a possible location for a large child care facility however. If anyone paid attention to the area, they would know that the area near Weber Ave. and Lincoln St would know that no retail outlet would be interested in the lot any time soon with mostly industrial or mixed industrial businesses a block away, the area lacks extensive enough foot traffic to make it profitable…unless you’re looking to sell crack

  6. July 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    For as long as I have lived in Stockton (1970), there hav been many individuals & groups; that have brought forth great ideas & actual designs to improve Stockton. These have addressed in-fill, transportation, traffic, bike lanes, services for poor neighborhoods, beautification projects to name a few. The bottom line is the local building industry blocks many of these attempts. They find it more profitable to sprawl, which you have touched on. Perhaps, with our current state of crisis, some of these past suggested improvements, could come to fruition. I’m impressed with your continued concern and engagement with your hometown. Keep up the good work.

    • Stockton City Limits
      July 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm #


      Thanks for the comment. It’s my hope that a crisis of this magnitude will give citizens and city leaders reason to rethink the business as usual approach that has led us to this point.

  7. Das Bass Boot
    July 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Re: AT&T Building

    Yes, the At&T building may not be aesthetically pleasing but you must take into consideration that ALL AT&T buildings that house telecom switching equipment are built like that (ie, windowless, bunker-like fortresses). They’re not office buildings and are built the way they are for a reason. You also have to take into consideration the era most were built, and the importance of national/international telecommunications infrastructure.

    “…AT&T buildings are ugly, but for a good reason: they are designed as giant fallout shelters.

    You’ll note that most have air intakes high above the ground (no sucking up hot dust), massive ferroconcrete construction w/masonry or granite veneer (gamma radiation shield), few or no windows (windows = holes in radiation shield), and few ground-level entrances/exits (fallout collects at ground level).

    They also generally have ceiling clearances twice that of an ordinary skyscraper (18-20′ ceilings are not uncommon) and are constructed to civil engineering standards, some capable of supporting hundreds of pounds per square foot of floor. The building heights (distance) plus lack of windows (shielding) means that these buildings possess lots of middle-floor interior spaces vulnerable only to skyshine from fallout — and the thick walls block that.

    AT&T knows that come-what-may the phones have got to work. That’s why they put their 4ESS switches into buildings that are built like fortresses. They are proof against fallout, quakes, floods, and (yes) physical attack by armed enemies.

    AT&T’s buildings are great examples of functional architecture, not works of art, and it is not fair to judge them on an aesthetic basis…”

    • Stockton City Limits
      July 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      Das Boot,

      I was wondering when someone was going to call me out on my lack of background research on this. After I wrote this piece I started to wonder why, in other cities, telecommunications buildings all seem to lack windows and look like bunkers. After doing a little digging, I found out some, but not all, of the info you just provided here. So yes, the AT&T buildings is not an office building and is instead built for functionality. Thanks for providing this info, it’s important for people (like me) who look at the building and just see an unattractive structure to understand the significance behind the appearance.

      • Das Bass Boot
        July 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

        Yeas ago, I had always wondered why AT&T buildings looked like bunkers–I just attributed that to AT&T’s corporate work culture (“let’s put our drones in windowless fortresses and suck the joy out of their lives!”). I eventually figured out the windowless buildings house telecom equipment and I notice them a lot more whenever I’m visiting another city.

        The one in San Francisco is very important to the NSA since all international calls go through that building! I imagine that one’s a real fortress…

    • July 18, 2012 at 10:39 am #


      I understand the functionality component but is there any reason the building needs to be located downtown vs. 3-4 miles away?

      • Das Bass Boot
        July 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm #


        I’m not in the telecom field so I have no idea. Maybe the physical nature of networks require a hub and such a layout was necessary during an earlier era of telephony? Telecommunications is probably way more advanced today so maybe they actually do build switching centers in the outskirts…

    • Stockton City Limits
      August 10, 2012 at 8:12 am #

      Dean, Thanks for sending this article a long. This is quite interesting, it appears that Wal-Mart itself is suffering from the Wal-Mart effect as its own stores are taking away sales from each other. I wonder the extent to which the smaller Wal-Mart opening up at the old FoodMaxx site will affect the two existing super centers.

  8. Jon Seisa
    March 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Lol, David, fun article… despite ‘functionality’, and in the spirit and focus of your aesthetical critique, I wholeheartedly agree with you on the atrocious AT&T building. Aren’t they embarrassed to have their name emblazoned on that thing? To me it looks like a formidable and behemoth mausoleum. Perhaps the shortsighted city leader who flagrantly approved the demolition of Stockton’s once “Glorious Crown Jewel”, the 1860 Neoclassic Courthouse, is mummified and permanently entombed there in hopes of resurrecting from the dead to right his dreadful deed.

    But really, they could have integrated the design of a concealing and decorative façade membrane for this AT&T Mausoleum. Well—- “Praise the Lord” that Stockton’s skyline isn’t marred by one of the two more formidably cold and imposing AT&T monoliths below…

    And seriously, from 2013 onward there needs to be a complete and total moratorium on the construction of any more urban blight parking garages and parking lots downtown on high priority land. Subterranean parking must be mandatory for all new construction projects —PERIOD—, just like more savvy metropolises implement to maximize valuable downtown land use. Cars need to be out of sight, out of mind.

    Or at the very least conceal the parking garage structure by locating it away from the street, isolate it in the core of the lot, and construct office, retail or housing AROUND it, like a casing shell. Don’t architects use their heads anymore? They should be providing these solutions and options instead of being dictated to by design novices.

    I agree with you on the new DMV and its irrational location and poor land use. It is so ‘suburban’ that it’s unbelievable. And how incongruent to locate a DMV for vehicles downtown when a city should promote urban pedestrian walkablity and minimize vehicular activity. It’s like an oxymoron. Instead, the DMV should have been located on a peripheral site away from the city urban core, because you need to bring your vehicle there anyway, it doesn’t require walkability… very odd, their rationale; not well thought out.

    Additionally, this doesn’t really look like a DMV for a metropolis of 300,000 people, or one to meet the demands of the anticipated 1 million metro residences projected in 20 mere years, or so. It is so modest, and more so appropriate for a small town like Manteca, Tracy, or Lodi.

    Who on earth is approving these projects? They clearly are not qualified and need to be adroitly ousted for more competent personnel.

    • David Garcia
      March 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

      To be fair, I have since learned that telecommunications buildings need to be fully insulated for technical purposes, so I am not sure if there is any type of design that could make this type of building look presentable.

      As for the parking garages, I don’t think most decision makers in Stockton have seen how well they can be integrated into the fabric of downtown. They can be buried or wrapped with residential or retail space, or adorned with greenery, amongst other things. For the longest time, any construction downtown was good construction, and most were simply happy that something was being built (for example, the cineplex downtown is a great asset, but I think an opportunity was missed by only making it one story). Unlike most other cities, Stockton does not have a design board that approves projects, which is a shame because then you get ugly looking garages and suburban DMVs. Fortunately, from my interactions with those working in and with the city, I don’t think design decisions will be made so nonchalantly in the future.

      And don’t get me started on the DMV. Bad location. poor design. terrible decision.

      • Jon Seisa
        March 29, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

        Hopefully, David, your continued drum-beating and lone voice in the wilderness efforts to champion Stockton to ever newer levels of design reality will soon open eyes wide shut and pay off in positive dividends for all.

        If you’re not yet aware of this FABULOUS and SUMPTUOUS new massive urban design and planning resource book that came out in 2010 (804 pages, 500 subject matters, and 9 pounds in weight), then you’ll totally flip over this, which the Stockton municipal decision makers need to invest in as part of their city design arsenal to be relied upon with their every waking breath, a crucial MUST HAVE in today’s world for cutting edge concepts, ideas and design strategies for cities, an urban redesign bible, hailed as a timely and essential “New Urbanism Encyclodictionary”, opulently rich in examples (2,500 diagrams, illustrations, plans and photos), a literal visual feast, a superb source of creative inspiration and the grasping of the new architectural vernacular and terminologies in a unified and concise manner… it is entitled:

        “THE LANGUAGE OF TOWNS AND CITIES: A Visual Dictionary” by Dhiru A. Thadani (and 50+ professional design contributors).

        It is a definitive work on the subject of city design and a crucial design tool for literally every city on Earth and every urban enthusiast.

        I love Thadani’s eclectic approach to New Urbanism that encourages integration of Modernist Design Style and other diverse styles, traditional elements, movements and ages, as opposed to excessive focus on the synthesized and sanitized style prevalent amongst hardcore NU design advocates. It is this eclectic variety that creates a totalism of enriched sensory environmental and urban experiences that satisfies the multifaceted tastes and style palettes of a city’s and culture’s diverse citizenry; because, frankly, one style direction cannot be all things to all people. Thadani’s vision was to establish, once and for all, and for the architectural and planning world, something it completely lacked, a common language to define and discuss urbanism, and to do away with word misuse and misinterpretations which is rampant in urban design by visually defining terms and ideas related to the built environment, illustrating their use, application, and best practices.

        Check it out:


  1. Stockton’s five eyesores - July 10, 2012

    […] and native Stocktonian David Garcia writes about the city’s five buildings he’d like to have demolished on his blog, Stockton City Limits. The “soul-crushing” courthouse is a no-brainer, but […]

  2. Thank you, Stockton! SCL celebrates one full year of blogging | Stockton City Limits - March 14, 2013

    […] SCL’s busiest day was July 10, 2012 with 479 views. Not coincidentally, “The top 5 buildings in Stockton that deserve to be demolished” was posted that same day, and subsequently has become SCL’s most-commented […]

  3. Thursday notes: Lots of news about downtown development | Stockton City Limits - July 25, 2013

    […] is definitely an upgrade over the current courthouse. In addition to being named one of SCL’s “Top Five Buildings That Deserve to be Demolished,” the current courthouse has endured a series of high-profile safety incidents belaboring the […]

  4. Could we convert the county courthouse into jail space? | Stockton City Limits - October 17, 2013

    […] an article last summer, I identified Stockton’s five-ugliest buildings. Among those buildings was the San Joaquin County Courthouse, which has been much maligned both for […]

  5. What should this empty lot on Stockton’s waterfront be? | Stockton City Limits - November 12, 2013

    […] was never built may actually be a blessing in disguise. I’ve already pointed out the center’s poorly situated parking garage, but there is still time to improve upon the retail space design. It’s important that this parcel […]

  6. New San Joaquin County Courthouse construction to begin | Stockton City Limits - December 11, 2013

    […] conditions leading to high-profile security incidents (not to mention also being dubbed one of Stockton’s ugliest buildings by […]

  7. The top 5 buildings in Stockton that should NOT have been demolished | Stockton City Limits - January 8, 2014

    […] 2012, I wrote a story entitled “The top five buildings in Stockton that deserve to be demolished” about what I thought to be the city’s ugliest buildings. The post quickly became one of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: