|How Fate Cast Me Up in Richmond
30 Years Ago
October 4, 2003
In addition to being a member of the cast of Richmond’s weekly municipal soap opera, I actually do have a “day job.” Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Interactive Resources, the architecture-engineering firm that I participated in founding in Richmond on October 3, 1973. We celebrated last night with a party for clients, staff and other associates.
Shirley and I came to Richmond quite by accident. The summer of 1973 was a time when I had just finished graduate school at UCLA, and Shirley was due to start the Master of City Planning program at U.C. Berkeley. We were living temporarily in a apartment in Mill Valley, where I was planning, along with several friends, to set up a multidisciplinary consulting firm specializing in planning, design, construction and real estate.
We were also looking at buying a home, and with my prospective job in Marin County, and Shirley attending U.C. Berkeley for the next two years, we focused on southern Marin and Berkeley as appropriate potential locations. In numerous trips back and forth across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, we couldn’t help but notice the intriguing village of Point Richmond. In those days, the highway went right through the edge of the small business district, so we passed through it on every trip to Berkeley.
Point Richmond was very sleepy in those days. Many storefronts were vacant, and several were being used as dwellings. There were lots of bars, some frequented by Hell’s Angels. But Point Richmond had charm. On one particularly hot August afternoon, we decided to stop for a cold beer at one of the quieter bars – a place known as the Pool Hall (now Little Louie’s Deli). Next door was the real estate office of Jack Stoddard (now Vali Cooper’s office). The Hotel Mac, across the street, was a burned out hulk. “Do you have any homes for sale?” we asked. Laid back Jack replied, “Sure, here are the keys. Go check them out. If you see something you like, let me know.” That was the first time we saw the incredible views from the “back” side of Point Richmond. Being halfway between Marin and Berkeley, being really cheap, and having proximity to the Bay made Point Richmond the new focus of our house hunt.
As it turned out, we did not buy a home through Jack, but we did purchase a modest place a week later through another Point Richmond broker and local character, Ruby Hazel Carr. Hazel’s office was the building that now houses the Point Richmond History Association. I first learned about the Richmond shipyards from Hazel, who came to Richmond during WW II and found work on the Kaiser Shipyards security detail. With the number of women in the workforce, Kaiser needed to also have women on its security force. Hazel, a big woman from Oklahoma, landed one of the jobs. She had some interesting stories about corralling rowdy “Rosies” during those auspicious times.
We moved into our new (old) home in September of 1973, and in October, Interactive Resources was incorporated. Our only project was designing a garage for a triplex in Sausalito, and I was the only employee. Our office was the eight by twelve foot second bedroom in our tiny new house.
In December of 1973, my other senior partner, John Clinton, made ready to join in, and we needed some real office space. I had known John, who was originally from Illinois, since 1969, when we served together in the Corps of Engineers in Vietnam. I was surprised to run into him two years later on the Sausalito ferry. At the time, we were both frustrated with our jobs in San Francisco and were thinking of starting our own business. John was and is both a licensed architect and structural engineer.
Not only did we then live in Richmond, it seemed like a place with a lot of potential for growth, and there were almost no other architects or engineers located in town.
I went to see Realtor Jack Stoddard and noticed that he was using only about one fourth of the space in his office. “Would you be interested in sharing your space?” I inquired. “As long as I don’t have to do anything or spend any money, you’re welcome to come in,” he replied.
Carefully working around Jack during the Christmas holidays, we turned half of his office into a two-person architecture-engineering firm. Business was slow at first, but being around Jack provided one solution. I had always been interested in real estate economics and development, and in fact my master’s thesis at UCLA was a joint effort involving the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Real Estate Department of the Graduate School of Management. I had a real estate license, and I began selling real estate part-time to supplement our meager architectural income. During that first year, the real estate commissions exceeded architectural fees, and they were particularly welcome because Shirley, who had supported us when I was in graduate school, was then back in school full-time.
1973 was a recession year and also the year of the first energy crisis, resulting from an Arab oil embargo – not a great time to start an architecture firm. But we soon found a niche in solar energy applications and energy efficient design. In a couple of years, we had half a dozen employees and had taken over the rest of the ground floor of the building that we initially shared with Jack. About that time, our third long-time partner, Chuck Beavers joined the firm fresh out of Architecture school in Arkansas.
By 1977, we had outgrown the space and purchased the building that we still occupy, taking Jack Stoddard with us, where he carried in his real estate business until he retired a few years later.
Thirty years later, we are still here – one of the three largest architecture-engineering firms in Contra Costa County.