AKA: Ford Motor Company, Factory, Richmond, CA; Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, CA

Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings - factories

Designers: Kahn, Albert, Associates, Incorporated, Architects and Engineers (firm); Albert Kahn (architect)

Dates: constructed 1930-1931

2 stories, total floor area: 525,000 sq. ft.

1414 Harbour Way South
Marina Bay, Richmond, CA 94804

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Built just as the Depression was beginning, 1930-1931, this Ford assembly plant produced cars between its opening on 08/01/931 and 02/1953. It resembled horizontal structures developed for auto mass-production by the noted Detrot architect, Albert Kahn (1869-1942), throughout the Midwest. In 1936, Ford had three facilities on the West Coast, two assembly plants in Long Beach, CA, and Richmond, CA, and a distribution headquarters in Seattle, WA. Several notable strikes in 1937 were organized at the Richmond plant by workers seeking union representation at Ford.

Building History

Albert Kahn didn't design a large number of factories on the West Coast, but he produced plans for other facilities in Seattle and Los Angeles for Ford and GM respectively. This plant consisted of an ensemble of buildings including a two-story portion, one-story building, train shed, craneway, boiler/power plant with a tall smokestack. During World War II, the plant joined in wartime production of jeeps, tanks and other armored vehicles for the US military. Its production was generally sent to serve troops fighting in the Pacific. In 02/1953, Ford stopped production of passenger cars here, and had shuttered the factory completely by 1956. Much of the complex remained unused for over 50 years.

Ford located this generation of factories to be able to maximze use of rail and steamship transportation. In this case, and that of its Long Beach, CA, plant, Ford officials scouted out locations along major ports. Rail spurs served the ports operated by CA's two main railroads, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific. The Berkeley Daily Gazette wrote in its edition of 07/24/1931: "The Richmond plant of the Ford Motor Company, which will be formally opened to the public August 1, is another step in the Ford policy of establishing branches accessible to rail and water transportation. Ford ocean steamships coming via the Panama Canal from the Atlantic Coast plants at Edgewater, New Jersey and Chester, Pennsylvania, discharge their cargos of Ford parts directly into the plant over the dock. Unloading will be accomplished by a Gantry-type crane. Parts manufactured at the Long Beach, California plant or by suppliers and shipped by rail will be delivered at a loading dock facing a depressed railroad track running the entire length of the east end of the plant. In selecting a 72 acre site at the foot of Tenth Street, facing Richmond Inner Harbor, the company was motivated primarily by the excellent decking facilities available. In carrying out the design and construction of the plant nothing was subordinated to that one central idea. The railroad facilities and connections with the Southern Pacfic and Santa Fe railroads have been constructed with a view to prompt and economical handling and with each form of transportation supplementing the other, substantial savings will be effected." (See "New Ford Plant Will Stimulate State Shipping," Berkeley Daily Gazette, 07/24/1931, p. 9.)

The same article described the new Richmond facility: "The plant is 950 feet long by 320 feet wide, with a covered craneway 400 feet long by 100 feet wide adjoining the building at the south end and fronting on a 500-foot dock lining a dredged channel connecting with the Inner Harbor. A second story, given over to offices and body manufacturing, covers one-half of the plant, being 950 feet long by 160 feet wide. The design and construction of the plant, every feature of the architect's skill and all the experience of the Ford Motor Company were utilized to combine manufacturing efficiency and economy with healthful working conditions. The exterior of the plant is designed to harmonize with the prevailing type of architecture in California. From the time a Ford steamship docks at the plant or a freight car is spotted in position alongside the loading dock inside the plant until the finished motor car is driven off the end of the final assembly line there are no unnecessary steps, no heavy manual labor that can be accomplished better with cranes, conveyors or machines." (See "New Ford Plant Will Stimulate State Shipping," Berkeley Daily Gazette, 07/24/1931, p. 9.)

In 1937, Ford factories in Detroit (at River Rouge) and Richmond, were targeted by striking workers seeking the company's recognition of union representation. An article in the Pittsburgh Press stated: "Strikers from the Ford assembly plant threatened today to close every Ford plant on the Pacific Coast to obtain recognition from their United Automobile Workers' Union. More than 1500 employees of the Richmond plant walked out yesterday and threw a picket line around the gates. Frank Slaby, business manager of the UAW local, said the strike would continue until national recognition was given the union by Ford officials. Reports from Detroit that Ford executives were considering the abandonemnt of the Richmond plant, which has been closed three times in recent months by strikes, drew the warning from union leaders today that they would retaliate by closing all Ford plants on the West Coast. The strikers prepared a list of eight demands on the Richmond plant management, which included union recognition and a basic wage scale of $8 for a six-hour day. The scale had been $6 for an eight-hour day, based on a five-day week, but union leaders said the men had been working only four days a week for the past several months. Yesterday the men employed the old-fashioned walkout method. Union leaders forbade another sit-down. Five hundred pickets were posted at the gates and they admitted only watchmen and maintenance men into the plant. The previous sit-down strikes ended when union leaders said that Henry Ford had agreed to negotiate with the union and that this was tantamount to union recognition. Later, Ford officials denied any such agreement." (See "Strikers Threaten All Coast Plants," Pittsburgh Press, 05/27/1937, p. 8.) UAW organizer, Homer Martin, decried the "intolerable local conditions" at the Richmond facility. (See "'Local Conditions' Blamed for Strike," Pittsburgh Press, 05/27/1937, p. 8.) The year 1937 proved very turbulent with regard to strikes, as the pulp and paper workers in Seattle, mine workers in Illinois and steel workers at Republic Steel in Chicago all staged notable clashes with management and police. Ford did not agree to UAW representation until 04/1941.

Building Notes

Employing 1,631 people in 1936, the Richmond plant in 1936 could produce 400 cars per day; it turned out 60,228 vehicles in 1935. Its monthly payroll was, on average, $200,658.43. The Berkeley Daily Gazette cited the Richmond plant's impact on the locat economy: "Operating reports of the Richmond plant reveal to what extent west coast shipping has been stimulated by the establishment of this assembly point. There were 10,399 carloads of freight handled during 1935, 1,115,164 pounds of express, amounting in its entirety to almost one and one-half millions of dollars in transportation charges. Adhering to the policy of localing the manufacture of Ford products as much as possible, it was shown that the Ford Motor Company spent more than $5,000,000 on its Northern California property--the Richmond plant." (See "Automobile Business Stimulated in West," Berkeley Daily Gazette, 07/13/1936, p. 5.)

In 1937, Clarence A. Bullwinkle was the top manager of the Richmond plant.


The factory suffered some damage from the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 10/17/1989, as did other sections of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties.

The factory, after 2008, became used as a multi-purpose events center called "The Craneway." According to its current owners, "The 45,000 sq ft bay front Craneway Pavilion, the southernmost partition of the complex, now offers the largest and finest event space in the Bay Area, with stunning architecture and breathtaking views." (See "Craneway Pavilion: History," accessed 01/07/2015.)

National Register of Historic Places (1988-06-23): 88000919 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 5995