Union Iron Works Powerhouse

Aerial photo of ship dock in San Francisco.
Union Iron Works, 1918

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 42535, Public Domain

Quick Facts
2308 Webster St. in Alameda, California
National Register of Historic Places

The history of the Union Iron Works Powerhouse is inseparable from the shipyard it was once part of. Established in the early 1900s by the United Engineering Company, the yard was purchased by Union Iron Works (later called Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation) in 1916 and came to be known as the Alameda Works. The building is one of many designed for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG & E) in northern California between 1905 and the 1920s. The site was expanded from seven to 75 acres with facilities for constructing up to six major vessels simultaneously, making it one of the largest and best equipped yards in the country. After 1923, the Alameda Works ceased making ships but continued its dry docking and ship repairing operations.

At the beginning of World War II, the Alameda Works was re-established as the Bethlehem Alameda Shipyard, and modernized and expanded to include new shipways and on-site worker housing. During the war, the yard repaired more than 1,000 vessels and produced P-2 troop transport ships, and it continued to produce structural steel. Shipbuilding came to an end in the early 1950s and the yard was closed in 1956.

Designed by San Francisco architect Frederick H. Meyer, the Union Iron Works Powerhouse stands as the last remnant of the Alameda Works Shipyard. Meyer was one of San Francisco's leading architects between 1905-1955 and is best known for his role in the development of the San Francisco Civic Center, for his many downtown San Francisco office buildings and for his careful and imaginative use of orthodox ornamental detail. The Union Iron Works Powerhouse is a one-story rectangular industrial building, 25 feet high, 53 feet wide and 110 feet long, which rests on a concrete base. Borrowing imagery from classical antiquity and the Renaissance, the powerhouse is an excellent example of a building type--the "beautiful" power house--for which the Bay Area was nationally known. It contained several large generators and was constructed specifically to meet the massive electricity requirements of the yards. Today, the little building that once powered an entire shipyard has been converted into private office space.

The Union Iron Works Powerhouse is located at 2308 Webster St. in Alameda, California. Now a private office space, it is closed to the public.

Discover more history and culture by visiting the World War II in San Francisco Bay Area travel itinerary.

Last updated: September 16, 2020