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Restored Sante Fe Reading Room to be Reborn as Mechanics Bank on October 29










After a $1 million + makeover, one of Richmond’s oldest and most unusual buildings reopens with a public ceremony at the new Point Richmond Gateway Plaza at the corner of Garrard Boulevard and West Richmond Avenue, across the street from The Plunge and adjacent to the wig-wags, at 9:00 AM, Monday, October 29. The project is a testament to the dedication and civic devotion of hundreds of volunteers as well as Richmond’s oldest bank, Mechanics Bank.


Here is the short version of how this came about:


The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was created in July 1902, using the infrastructure of the previously existing Santa Fe Pacific Railroad and the San Francisco & San Joaquin Valley Railway. What later became known as the Trainmaster’s Office was originally the Employees Reading Room, one of dozens of such unique institutions created by the railroad to serve railroad employees across the west. Many of these reading rooms have been restored in cities across the western states. The assumed construction date is 1903, making the building 104 years old and the oldest surviving building of the original yards that were, along with what is now the Chevron Refinery, the reason the City of Richmond was founded.


The clearest description of the Reading Room is recorded in a 1910 souvenir magazine edition of the Richmond Independent, printed in celebration of Richmond’s founding ten years earlier.


Santa Fe Reading Room - Last, but not least, comes the reading room system under Mr. S.E. Busser. The motto of the department is:   “Give a man a bath, a book and an entertainment that appeals to his mind and hopes by music and knowledge and you have enlarged, extended and adorned his life; and as he becomes more faithful to himself, he is more valuable to the company.” All of the citizens of Richmond can vouch for the quality of the entertainments, which are well attended at each season. They are the best that can be obtained and they are free to railroader and non-railroader, alike. There are about five hundred books, all current magazines, pool and billiard tables, and bath rooms at the Richmond reading room of which Mrs. Ida B. baker is librarian. Mr. Busser says that the high mental and moral tone of Santa Fe employees is due to the reading room system. The people of Richmond have no argument to offer on that score because they realize that the Santa Fe men are uniformly high-minded, clean-lived citizens and if, to the reading room system belongs the credit then long live the system!


In 1944, the Santa Fe Passenger and Freight Depot and the Reading Room were moved 200 feet to the east of their original site and remodeled with stucco exteriors to make room for track expansion associated with the war effort. By 1992 ,the operations housed in the Trainmaster’s Office moved to a new location within the Rail Yard, and the building became unused and unoccupied, and as part of a project to construct a Repair-in-Place Facility, the Santa Fe Railway Company proposed to demolish the former Reading Room.


Pursuant to CEQA requirements relating to mitigation of negative impacts on cultural and historical resources, two consultants failed to recognize the historical significance and appreciate the historical integrity of the building and did not recommend that it be saved, but  in 1998, a third consultant retained by the City of Richmond, Carey & Co.,  identified the building as the former Reading Room, documented its historic significance and concluded that it could be successfully moved to a different location and rehabilitated.


The  Carey & Co. report enabled the City of Richmond to forestall demolition of the building, and in 1999, the City of Richmond took responsibility for it.


In 2003, the City of Richmond entered into an agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to settle litigation, with the settlement providing, among other things, that title to the wigwags would transfer to the City and BNSF would grant to the City an option to purchase the 0.85 acre (37,026 square feet) parcel across the street from the Plunge (“Plunge Property”) for $8.00 per square foot, a total of $296,208. The intent was that the property would become the future home of the Trainmaster Building. In 2003, the City was able to secure a commitment from MTC to pay for a one-time relocation of the building. The City of Richmond issued an RFP for a developer to move and rehabilitee the Trainmaster Building in exchange for conveyance of the option to purchase the “Plunge Property.”


In 2004, Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, Inc., and Point Richmond gateway, LLC, were the successful respondents to the RFP and entered into a disposition and development agreement with the City of Richmond.  In 2005, the Richmond Design Review Board considered and approved Application DR 1101873, Relocation and Rehabilitation of the Historic Trainmaster’s Building (Santa Fe Reading Room) from its current location on Garrard Boulevard to a new location at the entrance to Point Richmond at West Richmond Avenue and Dornan Drive (S. Garrard).


In 2007, the non-profit Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, Inc., entered into an agreement with Mechanics Bank to lease the building to Mechanics Bank, which would, in consideration, complete the rehabilitation of the Reading Room/Trainmaster Building and construct a plaza that would become the gateway to Point Richmond. Any excess cash flow from the lease would be used for community improvement projects.  In October 2007, rehabilitation of the Reading Room/Trainmaster Building will be completed by Mechanics Bank, and the building will become the Point Richmond Branch.


This project that preserved for adaptive reuse one of Richmond’s earliest and most significant historic structures was carried out by an innovative public-private partnership that raised $1.5 million of private capital and will continue to provide cash flow for other community projects, all of which was accomplished at no cost the City of Richmond. The many individuals and organizations that contributed, many pro bono, to a successful 15-year effort to preserve the last surviving original building of the railroad company that was a primary reason for the founding of the City of Richmond are listed below:


·         Richmond City Council, Richmond City Attorney’s Office, Planning Department, Building Regulations, Public Works, Community and Economic Development, Design Review Board and Richmond Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (Litigation, Disposition and Development Agreement, Planning and Permitting)

·         Point Richmond neighborhood Council, Point Richmond Business Association and Point Richmond History Association (Endorsement and support)

·         Interactive Resources (pro bono architecture-engineering services for the original move and rehabilitation)

·         Carey & Co, and Charles Duncan, Architect(Historic preservation evaluation and consulting)

·         Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Partial funding of building relocation)

·         SGPA Architecture + Planning and David Janes, Architect (Exterior and site design, including pro-bono conceptual design)

·         Berman Hardin Architects (Interior design)

·         Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, Inc., and Martin McNair (Building relocation and initial rehabilitation)

·         Point Richmond Gateway, LLC (Plunge parcel acquisition and initial funding of building relocation and initial rehabilitation): Margaret Morkowski, Robert Lane, Joshua and Elaina Genser, Jeff Lee and Janice Cook, Mark and Susan Howe, Kyong Suk “Annie” Janes, Douglas and Rosemary Corbin, Margi Celluci, Kent Kitchingman.

·         Veolia (free sewer extension!)

·         Mechanics Bank (Final rehabilitation)

·         Volunteers too numerous to list


For more information, see http://www.pointrichmond.com/gateway/index.htm.