Building restoration uncovers 90-year-old historic tiles

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) -- A routine renovation of an old office building in Palo Alto recently uncovered 90-year-old tile panels hidden in the walls that had been presumed lost forever.

The job of restoring the former University Art Center building bit by bit is a painstaking process.

"There's just layer and layer of really cool history here," said Senior Project Manager Steve Torres.

The building was erected in 1929 by one of Palo Alto's master architects, Birge Clark. And it was designed to house a the medical/dental building and the Post Office.

Developer Roxy Rapp hopes to return it to its former glory.

"That's what I love to do, is to bring it back to the original look," explained Rapp.

It just so happened that Stanford University had the original blueprints. When Rapp looked at them, he noticed two decorative panels that he didn't see on the side of the building.

"The fellow, whoever did the replaster -- whoever plastered over them -- did kind of a lousy job. You could sort of see the lump, the outline that there was still something behind there," said Rapp.

And so he hired a special historical contractor, who came in with Italian tools he used to chip and brush away at the plaster.

Underneath, he found the panels.

"I was amazed. I mean I was absolutely in shock that it was in such good shape," said Rapp.

One set of tiles shows a US Postal Service plane and train. The other depicted a ship. Part of the original post office facade, they had been hidden for decades.

"So it's really returning a piece of the city's cultural heritage back to the community," said Matthew Weintraub, planner with the City of Palo Alto.

"This is actually priceless, to be able to pull something like this," said Rapp.

Of course, that got him wondering, what else might be hidden in the building. The plans show more tiles above the main entrance.

"But we don't know if it's there yet. So that's what we're going to start on next week," says Rapp.