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Obituary for a Building
April 23, 2003

I report with great sadness and anger today a murder in our fair city. For a City more familiar with homicides (Latin for “murder” -- of a person), today marks a aedificiumicide, probably really bad Latin for murder of a building.

The Boiler Assembly Shop of the Prefabrication Plant serving Kaiser Richmond Shipyards 1 and 2 was torn down today after receiving a secret demolition permit form the City of Richmond. This extraordinary 200 foot wide by 400 foot long timber trestle structure was completed in 1941 as a part of the innovative prefabrication complex that enabled Richmond’s yards to produce more ships than any other shipyard in the world during World War II. It was the only surviving building of the Shipyard 1 and 2 Prefabrication complex and the last surviving structure directly associated with the production of Liberty or Victory ships in the Richmond shipyards.

Not a single Richmond official lifted a finger to attempt to save the structure.

For some years, the structure had been owned by Plant Reclamation, perhaps fittingly, a demolition firm owned by the Glueck family. The building is included in the National Park Service's Feasibility Study for Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park among the group of nationally significant structures that could still be used to interpret the WWII Homefront theme and period. The structure has been documented for the Historic American Engineering Record with measured drawings, and the National Park Service had commissioned additional research into the specific history of the structure and the Prefabrication Plant itself. According to Nancy Stoltz, Richmond’s historic preservation consultant, the structure was eligible for inclusion  in the National Register of Historic Places.

On January 27, 2003, the Richmond Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, after months of discussion beginning in 2002, (see <http://www.tombutt.com/forum/020520.htm>) voted to recommend to the Richmond City Council that the building be identified as a Richmond Historic Resource and be placed on the Richmond Register. Before the recommendation could be brought to the City Council for public debate, City officials dismantled and de-funded Richmond’s historic preservation program. In Richmond, a demolition permit remains a “ministerial” action, not subject to CEQA or public debate, unless a building is listed on the Richmond Historic Register or the demolition is part of a larger project subject to discretionary review, and therefore CEQA. The Gluecks have maintained that they have no future plans for the property, but credible sources indicate the property has been discussed as a potential site for the proposed Indian Casino.

Fred Glueke said on April 23, 2003, that he had explored every avenue to save the building, but no one had stepped forward with a viable use. He admitted that he had not consulted with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation or any other resource with expertise in historic preservation. The Gluekes had opposed designation of the project as a historic landmark for months and had enlisted the Richmond Council of Industries and several City Council members in defending their plan to demolish the structure.

In a letter dated February 4, 2003, the Council of Industries stated: “The COI (Council of Industries) understands that the Pre-assembly Building has been nominated to Richmond’s Register of Historic Landmarks against the owner’s consent. We believe that this is not in the best interest of the business community nor the City of Richmond…As we see observe the Pre-Assembly Building today, it certainly does not appear worthy of preservation, especially when considering the needs of Richmond.”

Granted, preserving the building would have been a challenge, but perhaps a challenge worthy of a fair shot. The sad thing is that no one cared. I have always believed that we are stewards of our environment - built and natural. This building and the City of Richmond played a major role in winning World War II. It was such a significant role that the National Park Service chose Richmond as the best and most appropriate place in America to tell that story to untold generations of future Americans. The building owner, who let the structure deteriorate over the years, was more concerned with the almighty dollar than the heritage of a nation. Richmond industries were more concerned with protecting their own than pitching in to look for a solution. City officials kept the demolition permit secret until it was too late, but didn’t give a damn anyway.

Richmond is a great place to call home.

A more detailed history of the building with photos is in the attached PDF file.