Published February 19, 2008
Volume 16, Number 2

Contractor Has Local Roots, Broad Horizons  

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Paul Larson has developed an interesting mix of traditional and non-traditional pursuits in his life. He’s not quite a native of Pleasanton, but his roots in local tradition go deep. When he was five years old, his family moved from Oakland, putting him in the first kindergarten class in Pleasanton’s new Walnut Grove elementary school. A graduate of Amador Valley High, Larson moved out of Pleasanton in early adulthood, living in Livermore and Alamo, among other places. But once children came along, he decided that his old hometown provided the best environment for the family life he envisioned and has been living here ever since.

Also on the traditional side is his annual fly-fishing trip with some good friends. The last trip he took, however, was anything but conventional.  A year and a half ago, Larson and his traveling companions, a friend and his wife, trekked to Christmas Island, a coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific. The island first became known to Western civilization when Captain James Cook landed there on Christmas Eve 1777.  In modern times it landed in the headlines when the British military tested its first H-Bomb there in 1957.  Today it has undergone significant restoration, and its “unbelievably clear and clean water” is a top breeding ground for bonefish, Larson relates. The fishing is all catch-and-release, he adds, so there was no guilty conscience for him after the pleasure of snaring a little black shark.

The pristine spot has all the natural attractions and drawbacks of a remote society, Larson continues. There’s only one plane in a week. Accommodations are an old military base from the 1940s called the Captain Cook Hotel. A discussion of the room standards concludes with the classic admonition, “my wife would probably hate it,” referring to a host of inconveniences that would discourage all but the most adventuresome travelers: the bugs, the humidity, the lack of potable water.

Larson was touched by the beauty of both sea- and landscape , and, encouraged by his friends, he took time out to visit with the local children. Their smiles and easy sense of friendship broke through the language barrier. The openness also made their impoverished lifestyle that much more poignant.. “These people have nothing, even less than the inhabitants of the poor villages in Mexico I’ve visited,” he realized.

That flash of insight, especially stark in contrast to his own life back in Pleasanton, stayed with him beyond his return home. With characteristic determination, last spring the father of five pulled together a team of friends and family to collect some basic supplies for the Christmas Island natives. “We shipped about 1,000 pounds of clothing, food, books, shoes--things you just don’t have when you live on an island in the middle of the Pacific,” he reminds us. “It was gratifying to be able to do this.”

The Entrepreneur
What enables Larson to carry out such good deeds is the construction  business he started back in 1985, when he was only 23 years old. He’s not sure exactly where his love to build came from, but it’s been with him since he was a child. “My father was an executive for Alameda County Transit. He knows how to swing a hammer,” he says, but there wasn’t much talk of construction as he was growing up. The product of Pleasanton schools, he gravitated to construction during and after college, soon plunging in on his own.

“We started out small and progressed slowly,” he recalls. Noting that he’s always enjoyed managing his own company, he remarks, “I have no dreams to do anything else.”

Although he’s worked all over the Bay Area, the Pleasanton projects are his favorites, and when he puts on his developer’s hat, he always looks to the home turf first. As he gazes through the window of his office in Hacienda’s Taylor Building, eyes alighting on Mount Diablo, he waxes enthusiastic about his surroundings. He knows first-hand that the community today owes much of its success to the dialogues, compromises, and consensus-building that began 30 years ago. 

Unlike many of the other municipalities in the region, Livermore, Fremont, Santa Clara, for example, Pleasanton has been a master-planned community from way back, he points out. Listing the city’s attributes, he mentions the strong balance of homes, the solid business mix, and the well-planned and designed business park. Proximity to the 580/680 corridor and direct access to the freeway and the entire Bay Area are other attractions.

“The Pleasanton economy is tremendous,” he says. “It’s a great niche in the area, and people want to be here, especially in the park, where there are only a few spots left.”

Larson has done a lot of repeat business with a few developer partners, Jim Tong of Charter Properties and Marc Barkdull of PJMB Commercial, Inc. These relationships have blossomed into deep friendships “very dear to my heart,” he says. “Jim and I go back to the first day I started work, in July 1985. Marc came into the picture in about 1990, and I have worked with him ever since.  Now we even live on the same street.”

The most special project just might be the one he and the firm’s 25 employees currently occupy, Hacienda’s Taylor Building, which Barkdull developed. Shared with Compuware Corp., the software provider on the ground floor, the 24,600-square-foot structure combines striking architecture with technologically advanced building controls that monitor energy consumption, making sure air-conditioning, lighting, and other systems operate efficiently. Exceeding basic LEED requirements, the environmentally sound design was a deliberate decision, spurred by Larson’s exposure to green techniques and sustainability over his 20-plus years in business. The migration to the new standards has been surprisingly smooth. “Certain projects have required LEED certification now for several years,” he reports. “It’s the wave of the future. I think it’s received positively by the business community. People here are very interested in having a green environment, and they are willing to pay a little more for it.”

The Family Man
The same year he opened his business Larson married his wife, whom he had met a year before, “at a Halloween dance on her birthday,” at CalState Hayward. He closed on his first house in Livermore—“an $85,000 townhouse, which back then was a lot of money”--the week before the wedding. Working on the relationship, staying busy with their five children, and involvement with their church has kept them “happily married every since.” Longevity runs in the family, too. In mid-February his wife was heading off to Butte, Montana, to help her grandmother celebrate her 101st birthday. His parents still live here in Pleasanton.

Two of the Larson children are college students at Utah State. The older, a 6’1” girls volleyball star, was offered a scholarship to the university, and her younger brother, impressed with the campus, followed her there when he finished high school. The household is still lively with three children at home, a five-year old kindergartener, a 10-year old elementary student, and, upholding the family tradition, a senior at Amador, the alma mater of the college students as well. The cross-generational ties to the high school inspired Larson to ante up for a new high-tech scoreboard for the football field. 

“We lived in Alamo before we moved back here,” he says. “My kids have really enjoyed the school system and the great sports programs here. We’re all very ‘thumbs up’ for Pleasanton.” 


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