Lemon House

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Chapter 12

The Lemon House

     Like I said, when I started working at Powell, the demand for the company's products was so strong that the factory couldn't keep up. My hiring was part of the expansion of the Facilities crew, which was needed to continue modifying new leased space around the Gutierrez street neighborhood. Each time we acquired a new building, there was machinery to be moved into it, set up, powered, vented, etc. It seemed cumbersome to have all these different buildings at the time.

     It's easy to assume when your sales are enjoying rapid growth, that it will continue. George could envision the need for even more space in the near future and was running out of possibilities down there on Santa Barbara's Lower East Side. He found a building out near the Santa Barbara Airport in Goleta that had been an enormous lemon packing facility, over 180,000 square feet, quite a bit more space than we were currently occupying. It was going to be "PCHQ" Powell Corporation Headquarters. There would be expanded room for all departments all under one roof. Sales, screenprinting, huge woodshops for the decks, big urethane department, massive warehouse space, huge Facilities shop in the basement, big penthouse art department, retail factory outlet store, theater, and, we just might have enough extra space to build an indoor skatepark.

     The factory complex was in need of extensive remodeling, since we weren't going to be packing lemons. It would be six months or so before the company could move into it. It was composed of eight 60' x 150' dark and musty bays, and two high ceiling 150' x 150' bays with a 50' x 100' penthouse on top of the two. It needed skylights for natural light in all the bays; loading docks around in back; new entrances into the parking lot; a new facade along La Patera Lane for the offices and retail space; new pavement all the way around, perfect for skating. And, of course, the whole thing would have to be painted inside and out in multiple tones of gray.

     One more thing the property had. Next to the front gate there was a separate 1000 square foot building that had been the Lemon Association's offices and accounting department. It was offered that JW and I live there while the factory remodeling went on, to be an on-site presence, security and company rep on nights and weekends when the construction crews were gone and go to my regular job at the Horton Building during business hours. We had been living in a studio apartment in Carpinteria. JW was in his senior year in high school and had his own car, a red 1969 Dodge Dart. It was about a 25-mile commute from the factory to Carp High. No problem.

     The building wasn't set up like a house. It had a counter facing the front door, a huge open room that once had rows of people working at desks, which we used as our living room, a small glassed-in corner office that became JW's bedroom, a big bedroom for me whose windows faced the La Patera Lane entrance to our main parking lot, a couple of half baths, no shower, no kitchen. It had a walk-in vault that was used as a fire-safe storage for company records. I built a shower, we set up a rudimentary kitchen, and it was our pad for the next two years while the PCHQ building was being completed. We first helped build a skatepark in the parking lot outside our window, and then moved it all inside to form the beginnings of the indoor SkateZone, right across the driveway.

     When JW was younger, he would spend part of his summers with his grandparents on the mainland. They took him golfing a lot, and the kid was pretty good at it. He got pretty obsessive about drawing pictures of golf courses, usually a view from the tee-off point with contours, doglegs, sand traps and the putting green off in the distance. After he got hooked on surfing and skateboarding, the subjects of his drawings were surf spots with breaking waves or ramps and skateparks, real or imagined. Starting with the Animal Chin ramp, he made renditions of all the ramps we'd experienced in our travels. We covered the walls of the Lemon House with those drawings.

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