Martinez is preserving the exterior shell of the 150-year-old brick building and creating a mixed-use two-story structure within the old walls - a building within a building.
"Really it would have been easier to just tear down the whole thing and start from scratch," said Martinez. "But I wanted to preserve what I could and keep some of its
flavor, so here we are."
When complete, the 8,000-square-foot building will boast three studio-loft apartments, six office spaces upstairs and room for five retail businesses downstairs.
Preserving the Casino building's heritage while creating a modern, safe structure has become time-consuming and costly. "It takes a lot longer to do things when you're working on an old building," said Martinez.
"We had it retrofitted to make it earthquake-proof, of course. And then I've also tried to preserve some of the original beams to create that lofty, San Francisco atmosphere. It's different and fun, but also a lot more work."
Built in l864 by the Galloway and Boobar Lumber Company, a grain and feed store, the building is located in what was originally Antioch's Chinatown district. Destroyed by a fire in l885, the structure was rebuilt with brick and has since served as a skating rink, a vaudeville house and a movie theater.
During its remodeling in l911, an Indian burial ground was also discovered. In more recent times, the building has housed a variety of retail and commercial businesses.
But where the name Casino came from is unclear. According to Martinez, who owns a l930s-era picture of the building, the marquee reads "Casino Theater."
"It obviously was a theater at one time," said Martinez, who plans to restore and save the current Casino sign. "So I'm guessing that's where the name came from, but I'm not positive."
As you wander through the skeletal structure, the old brick - for the time being - is still visible. Only the framing and stairs are new. Though scratched and discolored, the
exposed crossbeams in the ceiling are still on the job.
Having already restored the old blues club, pool hall and J. Ross building in Rivertown, Martinez seems to be systematically preserving the downtown's historical integrity one building project and brick at a time - and city officials couldn't be more thrilled.
"What Joe is doing is a great thing for downtown," said Brian Nunnally, Antioch's economic development analyst. "There has been a renewed interest in downtown for small projects like the ones Joe does - and that's what we're looking for, small successes. What we like about this particular project is that it has the residential component. We want people to come downtown and stay."
With unobstructed views of the San Joaquin River from the upstairs windows, it's "Sausalito at a third of the price," laughs Martinez. "I've already got a few people signed on for the office space and I'm sure the rest will come. I'm excited about this building. It's got some nice bones to it, and a lot of charm. It's a good spot."