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  The Plight of and Opportunity for the Historic Shipyard 3 Cafeteria Building
February 1, 2023

Figure 1 - Historic Cafeteria Building

The historic Cafeteria Building located on Canal Boulevard is one of only six remaining intact buildings in historic Shipyard 3. It was completed in September 1943, and although substantially altered in the interior, the exterior shell retains most of its original materials and appearance. Unfortunately, the City of Richmond has made minimal effort to maintain the building and find a buyer or lessee that will purchase it or pay rent, rehabilitate it, and use it.

In 2007, the City Council adopted Resolution 100-07, which directed the city manager to:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council directs the City Manager to prepare and implement a plan for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the four vacant or underutilized historical buildings that will result in meeting the following long-term objectives: 1. Beneficial occupancy by paying tenants 2. Positive cash flows that exceed existing cash flows 3. Opportunities for new jobs, particularly for Richmond residents 4. Uses consistent with Resolution 129-99, Resolution 46a-00, Goal OSC-E of the General Plan and Policies LU-A.5, CF-K.2, ED-C.3 and OSC-E.2 of the General Plan and the adopted General Management Plan for Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park and the updated Richmond General

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council directs that such plans to include consideration of public-private partnerships, grants, tax benefits and other creative incentives to achieve these objectives.

The Cafeteria Building is a significant historic structure. It is part of the Shipyard 3 Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a California Historic Landmark. It is also part of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

The property is potentially very developable. It includes not only a 14,268 SF building but a large parking lot with space for 74 cars. Because it is a historic property, it can be used for almost anything with conditional use permit. It is located less than a mile from the Canal Boulevard interchange on I-580.

If the property is sold, a new owner rehabilitating it can claim a 20% Historic Preservation Tax Credit (https://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives/taxdocs/about-tax-incentives-2012.pdf), as can a lessee with at least a 39-year lease. A tax credit is essentially a discount, for example, reducing a $1 million construction cost only $800,000. An owner can also seek a Mills Act contact and use the California Historical Building Code to save money.

At this time, no one is maintaining the building, which remains boarded up and continues to deteriorate.  There has been a history of vandalism, and there is no active security. There are leaks in the roof, and wood siding and trim is falling off and suffering from decay. However, unless the building continues to deteriorate, the shell remains mostly viable. The building would require a new roof, including diaphragm, insulation membrane and flashing, new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and repair work on the exterior wall, windows and doors. The cost of rehabilitating to a “cold shell” would be about $2 million, and about $3 million to a “warm shell.”

In the 15 years following adoption of Resolution 100-07, City staff has made a half-hearted attempt, at best, to comply with Resolution 100-07 and to pursue beneficial occupancy of the Cafeteria Building by paying tenants. The City has made no attempt to market it since 2019.

Figure 2 - Google Earth view of Cafeteria

Figure 3 - Site Plan of Cafeteria

Figure 4 – Original drawings of the Cafeteria Building

The Richmond Municipal Code addresses prohibition of Demolition by Neglect (15.04.303.140.E), and the lack of maintenance of the Cafeteria Building constitutes Demolition by Neglect.

Prevention of Demolition by Neglect. 1. General Obligation. The owner, lessees and any other person in actual charge or possession of an historical resource shall prevent demolition by neglect.

There are consequences (15.04.303.150):

A. Any person who violates a requirement of this article or fails to obey an order or permit issued pursuant thereto shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

B. Any person who constructs, alters, removes or demolishes a historic resource or Landmark in violation of this article shall be required to restore the building, object, site or structure to its appearance or setting prior to the violation to the extent such restoration is physically possible. Any action to enforce this provision may be brought by the City or any other interested party. This civil remedy shall be in addition to, and not in lieu of, any criminal prosecution and the penalty or other remedy provided by law.

There is also a requirement for the Zoning Administrator to take a proactive role (15.04.303.140.D):

C. Notice to Comply. If the Zoning Administrator determines that a historic resource or any other property in an -H District or any designated Landmark is being neglected and subject to damage from weather or vandalism, the Zoning Administrator shall meet with the owner or other person having legal custody and control of the historic resource or Landmark to discuss with them ways to improve the condition of the property. If no attempt or insufficient effort is made to correct any noted conditions thereafter, the Zoning Administrator may issue a Notice to Comply requiring the owner or other person having legal custody and control of the historic resource or Landmark to take action to require corrections of defects in the subject property in order that such historic resource or Landmark may be preserved in accordance with this section, except if the property owner can present clear and convincing evidence to the Zoning Administrator that his/her ability to improve the condition of the property is constrained by limited financial resources of other immediate and substantial hardship. If a financial or other hardship is found to exist, the Zoning Administrator shall make a written finding to that effect which specifies the facts relied upon in making such a finding and withdraw the order to comply until such time that the work needed can be accomplished.

Figure 5 - Southwest corner of Cafeteria

Figure 6 - Deteriorated wood siding on west façade

Figure 7 – Deteriorated wood siding on south façade

Figure 8 - Wood trim and columns falling off south facade at door

Figure 9 - Decayed wood framing at south door
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Figure 10 - Deteriorated canopy at south façade
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Figure 11 - Deteriorated framing at west door
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Figure 12 - Deteriorated wood siding at south façade
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Figure 13 – Deteriorated porch at southeast corner

Figure 14 - Deteriorated porch at main entry, east façade

Figure 15 - East elevation
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Figure 16 – Northeast corner
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Figure 17 - Broken stoop at northeast corner

Figure 18 - Deteriorated wood siding on west façade

Figure 19 - Interpretive exhibit

From the Historic American Engineering Record, Kaiser’s Richmond Shipyards With Special Emphasis on Shipyard No. 3:

Meals and Other Amenities in the Shipyards

One of the surviving buildings at Richmond shipyard no. 3 is the cafeteria, which gives the impression that shipyard workers had a pleasant environment for a meal at mid-shift.
Actually, the cafeteria was not available to union shift workers. Rather, it was for officials, supervisors, and exempt employees (those who were exempt for federal overtime regulations). A description of the regulations governing the cafeteria at yard 3 have not surfaced, but a description of the cafeteria at yard 2 may have applied to yard 3 as well, because yard 3 workers who wanted cafeteria service had to use the one at yard 2 until the yard 3 cafeteria opened in September 1943.92

The cafeteria at yard no. 2 was located outside the gates and was operated for the Kaiser organization by Brennan Commissaries, a caterer based in San Francisco. The cafeteria operated on a strict schedule while serving full dinners in a dining room that seated 250. The dining room opened each day at 11:00 am. During the first forty-five minutes it served only superintendents, quartermen, leadermen, and officials of Maritime Commission. Then from 11:45 until 5:00 pm the dining room was open to exempt employees of the shipyards, employees of the Maritime Commission, and any shipyard workers who were not working. According to a 1943 report, the line for people waiting to dine at 11:45 extended as long as 150 feet. It took as much as twenty minutes for people in that line to get their food, an acceptable length of time because as exempt employees they had an hour for lunch. There were more than 1,500 exempt employees at yard 2. The cafeteria served about 3,000 meals each day, so the cafeteria must have been serving quite a number of exempt shipyard employees from other yards and Maritime Commission employees as well. The caterer also operated two lunch stands outside the gates that were available to shift workers either on their way to work or after completing a shift. The stands sold box lunches, cigarettes and cigars, chewing tobacco, candy and chewing gum, and ice cream. A box lunch contained three sandwiches, some salad in a paper cup, a piece of fruit, and a cookie or piece of cake.93

The caterer serving yard no. 1 was the Duchess Lunch Company of Oakland, which initially served hot meals but then discontinued the practice in early 1942. Thereafter, the caterer sold only box lunches, sandwiches, salads, pies, pastries, milk, and coffee at yard 1. Food was prepared at the Duchess Company's plant in Oakland and trucked to a depot in Richmond just beyond yard 1's east boundary, where it was transferred to smaller service trucks. Each day, for each shift, caterer's crews wheeled the trucks into position at various locations within the yard. During the lunch break, workers could pass by either side of a truck and select items from shelves, pour cups of coffee, and then move to cashiers' stands to pay for food.
According to a report, lines moved quickly, and within ten minutes all workers who wished to purchase lunch were be served. Most workers brought their own lunches to work with them. The caterer also operated a small kiosk stocked with peanuts, tobacco products, candy and gum, sale of which therefore did not interfere with operation of the lunch trucks. The Duchess Lunch Company also used the trucks to sell lunches outside the gate at Pre-Fab.94


91"Shipbuilding and Ship Design Practice," University of California course announcement dated 1943, and M.P. O'Brien to Donald Hardison, letter dated 28 July 1943, both in the collection of Donald Hardison, El Cerrito, CA.

92F.W. Johnson, et al, "Industrial Health and Safety Survey of Richmond Shipyard Number Two," unpublished report dated May 1943, pp. 28-30, in NARA RG-178, entry 95A, box 529, Richmond Shipyard #2 file; data sheet accompanying Kaiser Company, Inc., "Cafeteria," drawing dated 30 June 1944.