1973 Measure A Extends Reach

Photos courtesy Historic American Building Survey    Union Iron Works paid $1 million — $18.3 million in 2020 dollars — to build this turbine machine works in 1918. For a time it stood as the largest structure on the Pacific Coast. Supporters of the 1973 Measure A played a role in the building’s demolition in 1985.

More on housing measure’s history

Last evening a contentious Planning Board meeting at City Hall featured a discussion of the 1973 Measure A. In its Jan. 23 edition, the Alameda Sun will cover that meeting in detail and offer another installment of this series about the measure. 

From 1918 to 1985, Union Iron Works Turbine Machine Shop stood tall south of the shipways that served the Bethlehem-Alameda Shipyard on the Oakland Estuary. The five-story building encompassed 90,000 square feet and 1 million cubic yards. This shop was the only facility at the shipyard to remain in operation after World War I. In the midst of the Great Depression, workers manufactured much of the structural steel for both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge within its walls. 

World War II brought new projects to Alameda and to the shop, which most had dubbed the “Red Brick Building.” In 1942, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation built four large concrete shipways on the north side of the machine shop. These shipways jut from the Alameda shoreline into the Oakland Estuary even today. Between 1942 and ’45, some 6,200 men and women worked on these shipways, turning out eight 23,000-ton troop ships — each named for an admiral. Workers also repaired hundreds of other ships and set wartime records for speed of construction.

In 1948, the shipyard closed its doors, although work fabricating structural steel continued in the Red Brick Building. That work ceased in 1956, and Bethlehem Steel sold the entire property that once housed its shipyards to Calpak, Del Monte’s parent company. The sale included the Red Brick Building. 

Calpak planned to demolish the building and replace with high-rise apartments. Then came Measure A, which forbade the construction of residential units larger than a duplex. The measure passed and a City Charter amendment prohibited Calpak from going ahead with its project. Del Monte’s parent sold the property to Vintage Properties in 1976. Vintage drew up plans that included 272 units, a mix of condominiums and apartments on the Red Brick Building’s top three floors, along with an indoor shopping mall on the ground and second floor. 

While work was going on at the site, the Red Brick Building became a State of California Historical Resource. On April 10, 1980, it found a place on the National Register of Historic Places. The city saw fit to list the Red Brick Building as a City Monument on Oct. 10 that same year. Vintage Properties hoped to renovate this City Monument.

In order to accomplish this, voters had to waive the Measure A prohibition of construction of dwellings with more than two units. The city placed the waiver on the June 5, 1984, ballot as Measure C. Supporters of the 11-year-old Measure A feared that allowing construction to move forward at the Red Brick Building would jeopardize Measure A’s ban on multiple dwellings.  

When the voters went to the polls, they defeated Measure C, voting 8,500 against the waiver and 6,500 in favor. When Measure C lost, the City Council had little choice but to approve the demolition of the City Monument. Wrecking crews arrived in 1985. Instead of preserving a historic landmark, the 1973 Measure A played a role in destroying one. 

 

Two of the eight troop ships built during World War II stand on the shipways at the Bethlehem-Alameda Shipyards on the Oakland Estuary. The turbo machine shop — the “Red Brick Building” — stands just south of the shipways. The building came down in 1985.