Sausalito unhappy with VA treatment of historic building in California
By MARK PRADO | The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 1, 2018
Sausalito’s World War II-era machine shop is structurally unsound, with one of its walls near collapse — the latest issue that faces the building.
City officials are blaming the poor condition of the building on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which acquired the 27,500-square-foot structure in 2006. The VA has put out a call for developers to rent, operate and fix the hangar-like structure. Seven developers submitted proposals and three were selected, with presentations due in April.
As an interim step, in October the VA began reinforcing the roof, replacing broken windows and generally protecting the building — located in Marinship — from more deterioration, part of a $10 million project.
In the course of that work, it was discovered that the north wall showed a risk of collapse and the mothball work has been halted. A structural engineer will be brought in to assess the stability of the north wall and other walls before continuing.
Councilman Ray Withy said the latest issue is part of a pattern by the VA, which he said has not done enough over the years to protect the building.
“They continually go around in circles, they continually make excuses, that’s why everything is not getting done,” he said. “It’s not neglect, it’s negligence.”
Planning Commissioner Vicki Nichols voiced similar concerns.
“This building has historical landmark status,” she said. “This is not working the way it is.”
Veterans Affairs officials said they are doing what they can at the site.
“We have always been actively involved with this building,” said Judi Cheary, VA spokeswoman. “We understand it’s a cultural icon to the community. We understand the frustration.”
The machine shop has a long history. The area surrounding the building was once a marshland; it was developed in the 1870s, when the former Northwestern Pacific rail yard was built.
The rail yard was replaced in 1942 with the Marinship shipyard. Work on the machine shop started on Oct. 30, 1942, and was finished on March 22, 1943. The shop for the nonstop war effort had three shifts of machinists working around the clock. Many of the workers were black and were women, a fact of civil rights significance, historians note.
Tail shafts, bearings, stern tubes and liners, bolts, stern frames and rudders were among the items manufactured in the shop. All had to be machine finished precisely varying no more than one one-thousandth of an inch, according to a history of the Marinship compiled in 1947 by the Marinship Corp. The shop also made parts for areas of the shipyard — which had 20 other buildings — that had broken equipment.
It was instrumental in helping build 93 Liberty ships during the war effort that delivered critical cargo between 1942 and 1945.
In 1946, after the war, the Marinship ship yard was placed with the War Assets Administration, which in turn transferred the parcel to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1948. The machine shop building was converted to a geotechnical testing laboratory in 1950 and analytical laboratory capability was added in the early 1990s. The laboratory closed in 1997 and the building has sat idle since, its windows broken and paint peeling.