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Restoration ‘full steam ahead’ of Pier 70’s former shipyard

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After the restoration project at Pier 70 is complete, the space will be available for private businesses and public events, like farmers markets and concerts. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
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Inside the crumbling walls of a former shipyard machine shop at San Francisco’s Pier 70, construction crews are humming along, repainting the century-old red bricks that are losing their mortar by the minute.

Broken windows, with panes dating back to when the workshop was constructed in 1885, line the 62-foot-tall walls. Dirty skylights, partially covered by corrugated metal, will soon shine with daylight once again.

In less than two years, the room where iron workers once slapped together ships used by the U.S. military in the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II will brim with employees of yet-to-be-named companies and, for the first time, the public.

This is Building 113, the oldest of eight structures within the historic core of Pier 70 that comprises the most intact 19th century industrial complex west of the Mississippi River.

Orton Development, the team charged with restoring Pier 70’s historic core, envisions an atrium will cut through Building 113 and open up into the former machine shop courtyard that will be used for farmers markets, concerts and other public events.

The $80 million restoration of the 20th Street Historic Buildings began early last month, after the master lease for the property was signed between Orton and the Port of San Francisco, which oversees the land. Each of the eight buildings will take up to two years to rehabilitate, meaning the project is expected to be finished by late 2017.

“Our goal at the end of this project is for this piece of Pier 70 to feel like it’s always been part of the neighborhood,” James Madsen, Orton’s project manager for the Pier 70 site, said of the sleepy Dogpatch community that once served as a major industrial hub.

The historic core is a section of the Port’s puzzle to revitalize the nearly 70-acre Pier 70, which includes a mixed-use development planned by Forest City along the waterfront and BAE Systems San Francisco, operator of the largest floating dry dock on the West Coast. Crane Cove Park is also getting a makeover.

But Building 113, which functioned as a shipyard until the early 2000s before it was red-tagged five years ago, is on the verge of collapse and crews are racing against the clock to stabilize the building before a major earthquake or the “Godzilla” El Niño storms anticipated this winter.

“Both we and the Port have been watching the buildings deteriorate with an increasing sense of alarm,” Madsen said.

Madsen, wearing a white construction hat inside Building 113, pointed to a section of crumbling bricks. “There’s bricks falling out each
day,” he said.

Some, he added, fell when two magnitude-4.0 earthquakes rattled the Bay Area this summer. And while there’s even a piece of the building that boasts a scar from the 1906 earthquake, a larger magnitude temblor could potentially bring down the entire structure.

There is also the threat that the strong El Niño storm predicted for this winter could bring heavy rain to the area and further damage the already delicate building, said Phil Williamson, project liason for the Port of San Francisco.

“Some people thought it would never come into public use, and it would probably fall apart,” Williamson said of Building 113. “The Port has always seen it as a historic asset for the working waterfront. It’s a great representation of what was accomplished along the waterfront of the last 150 years, and saving it has been one of our goals.”

To prepare for the potential strong winter storms, crews are weatherizing the buildings including repairing the roof and gutters. In the next
six weeks a new structure will be
built inside the current one to support the roof.

“Really, it’s full steam ahead,” said Madsen.

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