Riggers loft renovation nears completion
on October 30, 2013
The Riggers Loft was never the most eye-catching building in Richmond. With gray corrugated metal walls, it does little to separate itself from other nearby manufacturing buildings.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and despite its simple outward appearance, Alan Dreyfuss says it was worth saving.
“I think it’s a beautiful building,” said Dreyfuss, a historic architect with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, who served as the project manager for the Riggers Loft renovation. “From the outside it’s pretty simple and utilitarian, but from the inside you get these 25-foot ceilings and wide-open spaces.”
The Riggers Loft was built by the Kaiser Corporation between 1941 and 1942 as part of Richmond Shipyard Number Three. The single-story building served as a venue for assembling prefabricate ship parts, and it included sheet metal and paint shops. Renovation work began last year, and it is likely to be completed by year’s end. A new Operations Security Center for the Port of Richmond is scheduled to fill about one-fifth of the building.
Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt is one of the Riggers Loft’s biggest defenders. The city originally planned to put the security center in the old Terminal 3 control tower. The city had about $3 million to spend on the project, but the cost of renovating the control tower would have exceeded that. Butt had been looking for a way to rehab the crumbling Riggers Loft, so he proposed moving the security center inside the historic building.
City Manager Bill Lindsay initially opposed moving the security office to the Riggers Loft due to cost and location. It would have been less expensive to have the security center in the control tower, Lindsay said. And the Riggers Loft is also more difficult to access, because you have to take a long, circuitous route to get there.
Butt ultimately got his wish in June 2012, when the city council voted to move the security center to the Riggers Loft.
“I had my votes on the city council,” Butt said. “It was an extremely hard-fought kind of thing, but eventually I was able to get four or five votes, and we just voted to move the money over here.”
Even though Lindsay would have preferred to keep the security office in the control tower, he is pleased with the outcome of the Riggers Loft renovation project. “I do think that the restoration of the Riggers Loft was a good idea, but I just thought that it would have been more economical for a lot of reasons to wait,” Lindsay said.
The building has survived 70 years—but barely. When Dreyfuss and other members of the design and structural engineering team began working on it, a large portion of the roof had caved in, and the building was in very poor condition. Over time, drains clogged and water accumulated, and the additional weight broke the large wooden trusses supporting the roof. “The roof was totally shot,” said Dreyfuss.
About half of the wooden roof trusses needed to be replaced, Dreyfuss estimates. The exterior siding was heavily corroded, and many of the windows were broken. “It was in pretty rough condition when we got it,” he said.
Despite the challenges, major construction only took about nine months, and most of the work was finished in July. Now, workers are just waiting for final approvals before building out the security office. Once construction begins, Dreyfuss estimates it will take about two months to complete.
The Operations Security Center is scheduled to fill only about 5,000 square feet of the 25,000-square-foot building. The rest of the building will be commercial space.
“Probably the hottest prospect for the Riggers Loft now is a winery,” Butt said. No commercial tenants have signed lease agreements yet, though.
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