Point Richmond Gateway

Trainmasters Historic Building – Gateway to Point Richmond

Move assures preservation of historic Richmond building

Two of Richmond’s Finest at the wonderful new Trainmasters Building
(Jeff Lee can be seen next to the clock of Mechanics Bank)
Photo by David Moore

A Relaxing Stroll in The Gateway to Point Richmond
Photo by Jeff Lee

Interior of the Trainmasters Building
Photo by Malcolm Lubliner

The Grand Opening of the Point Richmond Mechanics Bank in the restored historic Santa Fe Reading Room/Trainmaster’s Office got a lot of good ink. Read the full stories below.

October 26, 2007: East Bay Business Times: More than a century after it was first used as a reading room to improve the minds (and morals) of Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad . . . >>

October 26, 2007: The Point Richmond Gateway Foundation Grant Recipients – Details >>

June 11, 2007: Historical Richmond Railroad Line Has Deep Roots – KGO-TV Show

April 20, 2007  West County Times: Bank injects life into historic buildingMechanics to move into century-old Trainmasters facility, bringing economic hope to Point Richmond (The new owners of this newspaper opted to discard its archives – sorry, this story is no longer available)

March 30, 2007: East Bay Business Times: Mechanics Bank to take over Trainmasters Building

October 25, 2007: TOM BUTT E-FORUM: Restored Santa Fe Reading Room to be Reborn as Mechanics Bank on October 29

After a $1 million + makeover, one of Richmond’s oldest and most unusual buildings reopens with a public ceremony at the new Point Richmond Gateway Plaza at the corner of Garrard Boulevard and West Richmond Avenue, across the street from The Plunge and adjacent to the wig-wags, at 9:00 am, Monday, October 29. The project is a testament to the dedication and civic devotion of hundreds of volunteers as well as Richmond’s oldest bank, Mechanics Bank.

Here is the short version of how this came about:

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was created in July 1902, using the infrastructure of the previously existing Santa Fe Pacific Railroad and the San Francisco & San Joaquin Valley Railway. What later became known as the Trainmaster’s Office was originally the Employees Reading Room, one of dozens of such unique institutions created by the railroad to serve railroad employees across the west. Many of these reading rooms have been restored in cities across the western states. The assumed construction date is 1903, making the building 104 years old and the oldest surviving building of the original yards that were, along with what is now the Chevron Refinery, the reason the City of Richmond was founded.

The clearest description of the Reading Room is recorded in a 1910 souvenir magazine edition of the Richmond Independent, printed in celebration of Richmond’s founding ten years earlier.

Santa Fe Reading Room – Last, but not least, comes the reading room system under Mr. S.E. Busser. The motto of the department is:   “Give a man a bath, a book and an entertainment that appeals to his mind and hopes by music and knowledge and you have enlarged, extended and adorned his life; and as he becomes more faithful to himself, he is more valuable to the company.” All of the citizens of Richmond can vouch for the quality of the entertainments, which are well attended at each season. They are the best that can be obtained and they are free to railroader and non-railroader, alike. There are about five hundred books, all current magazines, pool and billiard tables, and bath rooms at the Richmond reading room of which Mrs. Ida B. baker is librarian. Mr. Busser says that the high mental and moral tone of Santa Fe employees is due to the reading room system. The people of Richmond have no argument to offer on that score because they realize that the Santa Fe men are uniformly high-minded, clean-lived citizens and if, to the reading room system belongs the credit then long live the system!

In 1944, the Santa Fe Passenger and Freight Depot and the Reading Room were moved 200 feet to the east of their original site and remodeled with stucco exteriors to make room for track expansion associated with the war effort. By 1992 ,the operations housed in the Trainmaster’s Office moved to a new location within the Rail Yard, and the building became unused and unoccupied, and as part of a project to construct a Repair-in-Place Facility, the Santa Fe Railway Company proposed to demolish the former Reading Room.

Pursuant to CEQA requirements relating to mitigation of negative impacts on cultural and historical resources, two consultants failed to recognize the historical significance and appreciate the historical integrity of the building and did not recommend that it be saved, but  in 1998, a third consultant retained by the City of Richmond, Carey & Co.,  identified the building as the former Reading Room, documented its historic significance and concluded that it could be successfully moved to a different location and rehabilitated.

The  Carey & Co. report enabled the City of Richmond to forestall demolition of the building, and in 1999, the City of Richmond took responsibility for it.

In 2003, the City of Richmond entered into an agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to settle litigation, with the settlement providing, among other things, that title to the wigwags would transfer to the City and BNSF would grant to the City an option to purchase the 0.85 acre (37,026 square feet) parcel across the street from the Plunge (“Plunge Property”) for $8.00 per square foot, a total of $296,208. The intent was that the property would become the future home of the Trainmaster Building. In 2003, the City was able to secure a commitment from MTC to pay for a one-time relocation of the building. The City of Richmond issued an RFP for a developer to move and rehabilitee the Trainmaster Building in exchange for conveyance of the option to purchase the “Plunge Property.”

In 2004, Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, Inc., and Point Richmond gateway, LLC, were the successful respondents to the RFP and entered into a disposition and development agreement with the City of Richmond.  In 2005, the Richmond Design Review Board considered and approved Application DR 1101873, Relocation and Rehabilitation of the Historic Trainmaster’s Building (Santa Fe Reading Room) from its current location on Garrard Boulevard to a new location at the entrance to Point Richmond at West Richmond Avenue and Dornan Drive (S. Garrard).

In 2007, the non-profit Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, Inc., entered into an agreement with Mechanics Bank to lease the building to Mechanics Bank, which would, in consideration, complete the rehabilitation of the Reading Room/Trainmaster Building and construct a plaza that would become the gateway to Point Richmond. Any excess cash flow from the lease would be used for community improvement projects.  In October 2007, rehabilitation of the Reading Room/Trainmaster Building will be completed by Mechanics Bank, and the building will become the Point Richmond Branch.

This project that preserved for adaptive reuse one of Richmond’s earliest and most significant historic structures was carried out by an innovative public-private partnership that raised $1.5 million of private capital and will continue to provide cash flow for other community projects, all of which was accomplished at no cost the City of Richmond. The many individuals and organizations that contributed, many pro bono, to a successful 15-year effort to preserve the last surviving original building of the railroad company that was a primary reason for the founding of the City of Richmond are listed below:

  • Richmond City Council, Richmond City Attorney’s Office, Planning Department, Building Regulations, Public Works, Community and Economic Development, Design Review Board and Richmond Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (Litigation, Disposition and Development Agreement, Planning and Permitting)
  • Point Richmond neighborhood Council, Point Richmond Business Association and Point Richmond History Association (Endorsement and support)
  • Interactive Resources (pro bono architecture-engineering services for the original move and rehabilitation)
  • Carey & Co, and Charles Duncan, Architect(Historic preservation evaluation and consulting)
  • Metropolitan Transportation Commission (Partial funding of building relocation)
  • SGPA Architecture + Planning and David Janes, Architect (Exterior and site design, including pro-bono conceptual design)
  • Berman Hardin Architects (Interior design)
  • Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, Inc., and Martin McNair (Building relocation and initial rehabilitation)
  • Point Richmond Gateway, LLC (Plunge parcel acquisition and initial funding of building relocation and initial rehabilitation): Margaret Morkowski, Robert Lane, Joshua and Elaina Genser, Jeff Lee and Janice Cook, Mark and Susan Howe, Kyong Suk “Annie” Janes, Douglas and Rosemary Corbin, Margi Celluci, Kent Kitchingman.
  • Veolia (free sewer extension!)
  • Mechanics Bank (Final rehabilitation)
  • Volunteers too numerous to list

RICHMOND, CA, March 30, 2007–The Mechanics Bank today announced it will move its Point Richmond office to the historic Trainmasters Building, located at the entrance to the community. The move not only assures the century-old building’s preservation and restoration but guarantees a steady stream of community income for the nonprofit Point Richmond Gateway Foundation Inc. which holds the title to the building.

Trainmasters Building photo taken on March 31, 2007

Photo by David Moore of SincereDesign

The Trainmasters Building was moved to its present site a year-and-a-half ago through the efforts of a broad coalition of local residents. Richmond City Council member Tom Butt, an architect and passionate preservationist, had been working for more than 15 years to save the building from the wrecker’s ball. 

When a series of events created the opportunity to move the building to its present site, a group of local citizens donated their time—and considerable amounts of materials—to help lay the foundation, clean out the building’s interior, start the landscaping process, and begin the painstaking process of restoration.  Interactive Resources, a Point Richmond architecture and engineering firm, provided pro bono about $30,000 of architecture and structural engineering services required to obtain entitlements and permits for the project. A local roofer provided roofing material and labor at a deep discount.  A carpenter donated her time to put in the doors, which required individual attention due to the age of the structure.  Trees donated to the group by the Lopez family were partially used on the lot, and also became “bartering chips” to trade for other necessities.

“It’s just a miracle that the building’s still standing,” Butt said. “We just kept snatching it back every time people tried to demolish it.” 

Now, the Trainmasters Building has a new lease on life and a new purpose as the home of The Mechanics Bank, a 102-year-old community bank that has been headquartered in Richmond for nearly a century. 

The match-up is almost perfect; the building and the bank have a history in common. E. M. Downer, founder of The Mechanics Bank, began his career as a railroad transfer agent and telegrapher in the East Bay. After he founded the bank in the same year the Trainmasters Building was erected, one of his major corporate customers became the Santa Fe Railroad, which built and used the Trainmasters Building as one of its “Reading Rooms.”  Like The Mechanics Bank itself, the Reading Room served a community purpose, since it and others were designed to be cultural and intellectual havens for railroad employees and their families at a time when most train stations were surrounded by bars and brothels.  The building provided a place that employees could feel safe and enjoy some cultural amenities. 

Later, the Richmond Reading Room became the home and headquarters of the local Richmond Trainmaster, and at one point in its history, it was even used as a school.  Finally, it sat vacant for two decades, slowly decaying into an eyesore that the railroad didn’t want, but couldn’t just demolish because of its historic significance.

Nonetheless, the Trainmasters Building became a target of demolition as new development moved in to its old Richmond location.  Only the contributions and tireless efforts of a variety of local residents and a small group of activists kept it standing.  Finally, a compromise agreement led to its relocation at the entrance to Point Richmond, where it has sat for the last 15 months on an abandoned right-of-way. The agreement included the requirement that the building be restored and the property landscaped, including the creation of a small public park on the land.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with the community to fulfill this dream and preserve this important piece of the town’s history and heritage,” said Martin McNair, a member of The Mechanics Bank board who became an advocate for the restoration project long before The Mechanics Bank became interested in the site. McNair, a Point Richmond resident since 1980, said he was thrilled to learn that The Mechanics Bank was interested in moving its Point Richmond Office there, although he played no part in the final deal.  “I just think it’s a beautiful example of how a community bank can make a positive difference.”

By paying rent to the Point Richmond Gateway Foundation, The Mechanics Bank will provide a continuing stream of revenue to Point Richmond that can be used to meet a variety of community needs.   And, the building itself will offer an appealing vista at the entrance to the community.  The deal gives the foundation a much-needed tenant with the resources to restore the building interior and provide the means and upkeep for the nearly one-third-acre Gateway Park to be constructed in front of the Trainmaster’s Building to help the foundation perform the landscaping on the parcel.

In return, The Mechanics Bank gets a location with superior visibility and a building that resonates with its own century-long history of serving the Richmond community.

“This is such a winning proposition for everyone,” said McNair.

The newly restored office of The Mechanics Bank should open in the fall, and will be headed by Robert R. Connolly, himself a newcomer to Point Richmond who joined the office this month.  He has been with The Mechanics Bank for six years, and his 30-year banking career has included stints with Concord Commercial Bank (acquired by U.S. Bank several years ago) and American Savings Bank (acquired by Washington Mutual.)

At The Mechanics Bank, he was the manager of the Call Center before coming to Point Richmond.  He immediately fell in love with the community, and has already become a member of the Point Richmond Business Association and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

“I love the heritage of this town, and the wonderful architecture,” said Connolly.  “So it’s particularly gratifying that my new office is helping to preserve an important piece of the city’s past—as well as helping it build the future.”

For more information about the Trainmasters Building and the history of railway “reading rooms,” go to http://www.pointrichmond.com/gateway/

The Mechanics Bank is headquartered in Richmond, California.  The 102-year-old family-owned community bank is one of the largest independent banks headquartered in Northern California, with more than $2.7 billion in assets. The bank has 30 other retail offices in the Greater Bay area.

Contact: Hatti Hamlin, The Mechanics Bank – (925) 872-4328

December 29, 2005 Update from Jeff Lee  The physical move of the building went very well and is a tribute to the skill of Mike Rogers and his House Moving Company.  His years of experience and resourcefulness were invaluable to the process.  In the weeks following the arrival of the building there have been several community work days with wonderful support from residents here in the Point.
    The interior of the building has been cleared of all trash and interior structure leaving only the original walls, floor and ceiling.  This effort consisted of about 20 man days and resulted in four large trash containers being filled and hauled to the dump. 
   New plywood and roofing paper were put up just prior to the heavy rains so the interior is dry and secure.  Once the building is settled on it’s new foundation the historically correct roofing shingles will be installed. The first priority is to restore the exterior of the building.  We expect the building to be lowered onto it’s permanent foundation the first week in January.  With that accomplished we will be able to repair and/or refabricate all the original windows.  It is expected that that will be completed by the end of January.  Restoration of the exterior redwood paneling will be completed as weather permits. 
   Water and sewer service have been run to the site and we will be placing a work order with PG&E for electrical service as soon as they a final quote.  Electric service has been paid for and should be in place by February. We paid BNSF $10,000 to facilitate the physical move.

The Trainmaster’s Building in its new location.
Photo by David Moore

On June 10, 2004, various members of the Point Richmond Business Association submitted to the City of Richmond a response to their Request for Proposals. The City stated that the final plan was to incorporate the restoration of the Santa Fe Historic Trainmaster’s Building into a project located on “adjoining land” composed of a portion of West Cutting Boulevard to be vacated by the City and a 0.9 acre BNSF parcel. This combined land parcel is located across from the “Plunge.” Now that the City has accepted our response to their Request, we have formed a limited liability company titled the “Point Richmond Gateway, LLC.”

Our goal is to protect this land from development as a Fast Food Franchise or similar project (as proposed in the mid-1990s), save the Trainmaster’s Building and provide a Gateway park at the entrance to Point Richmond

As required by the City’s Request for Proposals and as stated in our response to the City, “The Objectives of this project are to:
 Relocate, redevelop and preserve the historical significance of the building to add ambiance and interest to the Point Richmond Historic District
 Grade, pave and attractively landscape the site to create much needed additional parking adjacent to the Point Richmond Business District … and for Plunge patrons
 Fully restore the building which could function as a Visitor’s Center, Bay Area Trail “Richmond Headquarters,” host private parties and community events or meetings, exhibit historical Richmond materials and/or related commercial activities
 Improve the appearance of the “entrance” to the Point Richmond Business District by creating a welcoming “gateway” to visitors, employees and residents of the District”

Point Richmond Gateway Project current status as of July 15, 2005

The original June move date for the building had to be aborted when BNSF failed to follow through on their end to facilitate the move over their property. This caused the project partners and especially Rogers Home Moving Co. significant inconvenience.
We are currently waiting for BNSF to conclude their internal “Engineering Study” before we can once again schedule a building move date. That is not expected until mid-August.

In the meantime the Partners are proceeding with supporting tasks such as arranging for utility hookups and foundation plans. The project has been successfully presented to the City’s Design Review Board. The Building will be positioned along the north curb on the abandoned portion of Cutting Blvd just east of the old bus stop.
It is our plan to procure and position large planter boxes in place of the existing ugly, City-owned K rails.


Should you have any questions about this project and/or would like to help, please contact Martin McNair at 510-232 4232

Come visit our town!