Richmond Civic Center

The RCC’s historical significance is based on its identified importance to the history of the City of Richmond and, in particular, to the City’s historical development in the context of WWII.  It was named as a memorial to the Second World War, which was not yet over by the time planning was fully and realistically underway.  On August 3 of 1945, the Richmond City Council deemed the name of its future civic center the “Memorial Civic Center.”  On August 6 and 9th, respectively, the U.S. launched atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  By mid-August, the War was over. 

The RCC’s significance is furthered by its being a singular, local, unified example of the Modernist period and architectural style.  The case is strengthened by the RCC’s association to persons important to regional history, including the then Richmond City Manager, Wayne Thompson; the architect Timothy L. Pflueger, who is considered a regional master, who authored the design of the RCC, and which was the last of his designs to be realized; and the landscape architect H. Leland Vaughan.

Rehabilitation of the c1950 RCC was more than a decade in the making. The completed work comprehensively upgraded the historic landscape – the Civic Center Plaza – along with rehabilitation of three of the primary historic structures – the City Hall, the Auditorium, and the former Public Services building, which was adapted to become a City Hall annex, including the relocated City Council chambers. 

At the outset of this project, the existing facility was not necessarily a candidate for rehabilitation.  As an existing civic center complex, it was unified and modern, but not an obviously excellent example of the Modernist style.  Although WWII is an important historical context for the City of Richmond, the RCC dates to the post-WWII years.  And by the 1990s, the RCC landscape and buildings were worn, even in part dilapidated.  For example, the basement of City Hall, where a lunch room and storage areas were located, flooded regularly.  The City Hall structure also posed a seismic risk, eventually requiring its closure.  Additionally, the RCC was not identified as an historical resource at any level of consideration.  In fact, it had not yet been evaluated.

At the City’s direction, the initial master planning effort recorded the property’s conditions and, at the same time, completed a preliminary historic resource evaluation.  Those evaluations identified the RCC’s reuse potential, and also identified it as a potential historic resource.  But such determinations were tentative, indicating that, in the eyes of city and professional representatives, there was reuse potential.  Whether or not the resource would be retained was up to the community, who were not yet directly involved.

Subsequent public workshops were well and positively attended.  At these, options for the future of the RCC were presented and debated.  In the course thereof, participants from the community affirmed the retention and rehabilitation of the existing civic center, though their strong sentiments were not driven by historic preservation concerns.  Rather, the primary concern was the RCC’s geographic location, where it literally establishes a civic center.  Thus, the direction of the project was substantially based on a concern for the surrounding neighborhoods were the RCC to depart, and in that sense was also a confirmation of the importance of the RCC as an emblematic center of the City of Richmond.

In the course of the project, several important alterations were made to the RCC landscape and buildings:

  • Redesign of the Civic Center Plaza, yet following the characteristic forms and patterns of the original.
  • Infill of the originally open ground floor of the City Hall, allowing for expanded city offices, while undertaking this alteration in a manner that clearly expresses the alteration as an intervention.
  • Replacement of windows at the City Hall and former Hall of Justice, with new aluminum windows replicating original designs.
  • Reuse of the former Hall of Justice as the City Hall Annex, to include new Council Chambers (the alternative having been to add a new structure alongside the City Hall).
  • Removal of the street-side porte-cochere on the east side of the former Hall of Justice.
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Ford Assembly Building, Richmond

Since its closure in the late-1980s until early-2000, the Ford Assembly Building stood unoccupied.  Yet, the property is a very significant historic resource, as well as a fundamentally sound design for an industrial building, both of which were key factors to its successful reuse.

The scale of the Ford Assembly Building is extraordinary, and which was a centrally important redevelopment and preservation issue. With such large, industrial quantities, the rehabilitation effort did not allow for finite conservation and restoration work.  Rehabilitation design solutions needed to be implemented at a voluminous scale.  Orton Development appropriately understood that the scale of the endeavor would require both imaginative leasing and industrial scaled contracting, as the following quantities illustrate:

  • The overall building, consisting of the assembly building, craneway and boiler house, measures 1,050 feet – or 1/5 of a mile in length, and combines to cover nearly 8 acres of land.
  • The assembly building measures 950 feet by 320 feet.  Its second floor is equally long and half as wide.
  • The craneway is 400 feet by 100 feet by 50 feet in height.
  • The total net area of the assembly building is 524,216 sf.
  • The total area of the Craneway is 43,500 sf.
  • The total leasable building area is 567,700 sf.
  • The assembly building and craneway have 361,300 sf of roof area.
  • The area of restored roof monitors totals some 47,000 sf.
  • There is some 36,000 sf of restored, industrial steel sash windows.
  • The south parapet at the craneway is 360 feet in length and over 6 feet tall, which amounts to 2,200 sf, and to a total of some 14,000 bricks, nearly every one of which fell to the deck during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Parapets at the south towers add another 500 sf of area and some 3,300 bricks, many of which also either fell or were in damaged condition at the outset of the project.

A wide range of rehabilitation options were evaluated for the missing parapet.  Based on consideration of historical and existing conditions, the solution reconstructed the full height parapet using a lightweight yet stable substitute material, Fiberglass Reinforced Polymer (FRP), which was formed to match the form, dimensions, pattern and color of the original brick and limestone parapet, yet does so in an honestly and discernibly.

An additionally important aspect of the project was that of implementing green building technologies in the context of an historic rehabilitation project.  The work included installation of photovoltaic panels across the roofs, the implementation of which was not previously accomplished on an historic building in the context of a Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit application.

The final component of the project, the oil house, a separate yet integral building, is in the process of becoming a new visitor’s center for the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park.

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