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Monday, September 22, 2014

Fun facts and history of the Torpedo Factory, Alexandria Va.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is a building that has been restored, renovated and revitalized. Today the building has been totally revamped and is a hub for the artist community. The building is home to 82 artist studies, 6 art galleries, an art school, and the Alexandria Archeology Museum.

I wrote about visiting the Torpedo Factory Art Center back in June, however, wanted to delve a bit more into its history with this post. Before becoming a central location for the artist community to come together and showcase work, the building's history is an interesting one. The building's origins was rooted in the manufacturing of torpedoes and had originally been built at the end of World War I. Placed on the shore of the Potomac River in Alexandria, which undoubtedly was chosen for its prime location with direct access to the waterfront.

For many years the facility served as a center for manufacturing and maintaining torpedoes; it also served as a munitions storage area for a period of time. During World War II, the manufacturing of torpedoes resumed in full swing and the facility produced Mark XIV submarine torpedoes and Mark III aircraft torpedoes. Over the course of time more buildings were added and in all there were 11 buildings at the height of production.


At the end of World War II in June 1945 production of torpedoes ceased since the demand was no longer in place. The building sat stagnant until the U.S. government decided it was a good location for storage.

Over the years the Smithsonian institute stowed important artifacts, including dinosaur bones, and Congressional papers were also placed into storage at this site. Even the U.S. military housed important items which were placed in sealed vaults and stored at the facility for a time.

The building was sold in 1969 to the City of Alexandria and plans began to decide on a different use for the building. Finally, after some deliberation, it was decided the building would be renovated to become working studio space for local artists.

In 1974 the renovations and cleanup process began; there apparently was a lot of accumulated debris that had collected in the building for over 5 decades. Once the cleanup was complete, walls were constructed to create separation of the large space and individual studios could be built.

Later that year, in September, the plan was brought to fruition, the facility was re-opened which included open invitation to the public. There were still many renovations which needed to be done, such as reliable heat and air conditioning systems, and this didn't happen for many years.


It was in 1982-83 the building underwent its second renovation; this time it was a major one which including gutting the facility, installing the heating/cooling systems and an addition of a second floor.

The hard blood, sweat and tears of those dedicated to the project paid off. Today the former torpedo factory has become a dynamic artists' center and thriving art community; it is also a popular tourist stop. Each year visitors from near and far come and enjoy what the building has to offer.

The history of the Torpedo Factory Art Center is an interesting one and a neat place to stop by and visit if you're in Old Town. Its got such a pretty location too, right on the Potomac Riverfront.


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