A historic relic becomes a super-cool 21st-century workplace
It took seven years of searching, but Bob Alten finally found the perfect location for the new Alten Construction headquarters — a spot in Richmond’s historic waterfront industrial district just two miles away from his company’s former office. The only problem with the proposed “new” HQ? The property’s very old building.
Alten collaborated with architect Andrew Butt on the renovation, a yearlong project that involved extensive repair and historic salvage as well as creative design and masterful execution. Ultimately, the team was able to reveal and celebrate the gem of a structure that lay under decades of neglect and decay.
The building, a mid-century, brick-and-stucco industrial relic at 1141 Marina Way S., was built just after World War II by National Oil Products (NOPCO), a nutritional manufacturer that made Vitamin A pills using byproducts from nearby fishing concerns. Later the building housed lighting manufacturers. But in recent years, it had been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair.
Still, Alten saw the potential in the space itself as well as its location, half a mile from where Richmond’s new ferry will dock when it begins operating next year. Butt, a northern Californian native, had long admired the building’s design. “Architecturally, it’s interesting and unique, especially for an industrial building. Most of them are pretty bland.”
First, though, the team had to address the historic building’s existing features. They sandblasted and seal-coated the exposed wood ceiling, which had been flaking paint, and polished the concrete slab floor to a terrazzo-like shine. They also preserved the building’s unique roof monitors — window-lined pop-up areas about eight feet above the rest of the roof that flooded the space with natural light. There were more than 200 steel windows, each with 12 panes. Alten had the windows’ original steel frames sandblasted down to the bare metal, powder-coated and reset with energy-efficient glass.
From there, the builder and architect created 30 private offices, an open office area, conference rooms, kitchen/break room, deck, conference rooms, bid room, restrooms, shower, janitor/storage and lobby area. The overhead roll-up doors were replaced with a glazed storefront, and an unremarkable loading dock was turned into a scenic outdoor deck fronting both Alten Construction’s office and the company’s conference room. The project also included minor structural work, new roof and stucco, accessibility improvements, energy-efficient electrical and mechanical upgrades, new restrooms and plumbing fixtures.
There’s even a taproom, an employee perk that Alten brought over from the company’s previous locale. Situated in the middle of the building, adjacent to the staff lounge and opening up to a courtyard plaza, the new, high-ceilinged tap room, formerly a utility space, serves beers made by Chad Casper, an Alten Construction project manager and one-half of Richmond’s Casper Benoit Brewing Co.
“It was really important for me and Bob to accentuate the raw, modern industrial bones that were buried under all the rust and flaking paint and grime for god knows how many years,” says Butt. “To basically polish this gem that was there all along.”