Although it has stood empty and unused since the 1930s, the simple warehouse building on the East end of Yerba Buena Island has managed to cause a disproportionate amount of problems, due to its inconvenient location directly below the new Bay Bridge span.
This unassuming neo-classical building was built by the Army in 1891 to house submarine mines, then referred to as “torpedos” designed to be used in defending the bay against attack. The San Francisco architectural firm of Percy & Hamilton was employed to design the building to store 1100 torpedos, but it is perhaps not surprising that a smallish warehouse on the far side of Yerba Buena island is not considered the pinnacle of their craft. It is however notable for its use of reinforced concrete designed to look like stone work, pioneered by Ernest Leslie Ransome of the city’s Pacific Stone Company.
Despite successful construction and transfer of the torpedos from Alcatraz, the building only saw a short functional lifetime. Once surrounded by other support buildings, it is now the only remaining building on the island from the Army’s period of occupation at what was once known as “Camp Yerba Buena”. The island was eventually handed over to Naval control, and the torpedo storehouse was allowed to sit empty.
Recently, the building is best known for disrupting the design and construction efforts of the new Bay Bridge span, which will now pass directly over the historic building. The demand to preserve the building may have had less to do with the building itself however, and more to do with a point of leverage in the complicated politics involved in building the bridge.
The bridge supports now closely straddle the old building, gingerly avoiding actually touching it.