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Shaping Up the Shipyards

Shaping up the shipyards

By Katherine Tam


Article Launched: 03/07/2008 03:17:19 AM PST


The riggers loft, the building that needs the most repairs on the Richmond waterfront, is a...

Empty and in need of fresh paint they may be, but they're hardly forgotten.

Four unassuming buildings near Richmond's waterfront serve as remnants of the city's wartime ship-building heyday when the port teemed with workers and moving cranes.

"There was a tremendous amount of energy," said Don Hartison, 91, who worked at the shipyards during World War II. "There were literally thousands of people there."

Sixty years later, the city wants to partner with a private developer to renovate the buildings -- the Riggers Loft, First Aid Station, Cafeteria and General Warehouse -- and put them to use again.

The developer would choose one or more of the buildings to revamp, but the deal must include the Riggers Loft, which has a damaged roof and is most in need of repair.

The developer likely would lease the building from the city, pumping fresh revenue into city coffers. Officials won't know how much someone would pay per square foot until a deal is reached, but the buildings are a combined 203,368 square feet, more than triple the size of Richmond's City Hall.

"The city is not making any money off the buildings" now, City Councilman Tom Butt said. "They're either underutilized or not utilized at all."

The welcome mat for developers rolled out last month. Interested parties must submit their financial résumés by Wednesday. Final proposals from those with acceptable financial credentials are due April 3.

The four buildings are part of a set of six in the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. During World War II, 93,000 workers, including blacks and women, poured into the Kaiser shipyards to build ships, said Lucy Lawliss, resources program manager at the park.

"There was a total commitment from everyone to make things work," said Hardison's wife, Betty, who also worked at the shipyards. "Everyone was willing to accept any adversity thrown at them, and there were many."

Betty Hardison helped find housing for workers at an employee aid office, but there wasn't enough to go around.

"With 100,000 people coming into a small community, housing was far-stretched throughout the Bay Area," she said. "In individual homes, people shared extra rooms before housing was built."

Those who didn't bring lunch often got food at the Cafeteria building. The injured were treated at the First Aid Station.

In subsequent years, some buildings were torn down to make way for new port operations, which today include processing cars. The building where Don Hardison used to work is gone.

But the Riggers Loft, First Aid Station, Cafeteria and General Warehouse survived, in some cases living a second life as storage facilities or temporary offices. Most of the space is vacant.

Of the four, the Riggers Loft is in the worst shape. Part of its roof collapsed 10 years ago.

"Roofs are critical to a historic structure. Once you have water intrusion, you start counting the days or weeks," Lawliss said.

Repairing the four buildings could cost $3 million to $4 million, Butt said.

Restoring and preserving the structures is the first priority, officials said. They hope a business that moves in will set aside part of the space for a public use, such as a small visitor center or a community meeting room.

Butt points to the Trainmasters Building as an example. The century-old building on West Richmond Avenue, a primary entry into Point Richmond, underwent a $1.5 million restoration and is now occupied by Mechanics Bank. The city facilitated its preservation but did not spend money on it.

"Although you've got a private business, the nature of the business is that a big part is a lobby," Butt said. "Anybody can go in and look around."

Some critics don't see the benefit behind saving old buildings; Butt has a different perspective.

"People say, 'We need economic development, get rid of those buildings.' But there's a lot of money in historic preservation," Butt said. "These buildings are all unique resources that can help us achieve economic development and can help change the city."

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Reach her at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Historic Buildings

Riggers Loft

ˇ  Built in August 1942

ˇ  27,000 square feet

ˇ  Also used as a paint shop and steel metal shop

First Aid Station

ˇ  Built in July 1942

ˇ  4,500 square feet

ˇ  Was a medical facility for treating shipyard workers' minor injuries and ailments


ˇ  Built in September 1943

ˇ  14,268 square feet

ˇ  Provided meals to shipyard workers and was the entertainment venue for ship-launching parties

General Warehouse

ˇ  Built in June 1942

ˇ  Four-story building totaling 157,600 square feet

ˇ  Was used to store ship supplies and facilities