HOLMBERG: The river story, and fate, of Richmond’s Sugar Warehouse

Posted on: 11:59 pm, April 12, 2013, by and , updated on: 05:10pm, April 15, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Richmond is full of history, much of it involving its river, the reason the city was built.

Some of that history we take for granted. We drive by it every day without hardly noticing.

Such is the case with 3101 E. Main Street. The Intermediate Terminal Warehouse #3.

Water Street runs right under its 40 piers. Thousands of drivers, every day,  go through the tunnel it creates.

But few know what it is. Even fewer have been inside.

Richmond’s Department of Public Works, which owns the building, opened the doors to CBS-6 Friday.

It was built in 1937, along with its riverside sister warehouse, what had become a derelict homeless haven that  was demolished six years ago.

But the old sugar warehouse was built of sterner stuff, on stilts.

It was the post steamship era. Richmond, port city.

Smaller ships would load and unload here at the Intermediate Terminal – a million and a half tons in 1939.

Mostly sugar and tobacco coming in, the raw sugar mostly used to make cigarettes.

Refined sugar and scrap iron out.

It was the upper reach of Richmond’s harbor, guarded by the fireboat and icebreaker Thomas Cunningham.

Floods came and went.

So did the small ships that used the shallower upper terminal.

The downriver Deepwater Terminal got all the traffic and the warehouse on stilts became a storage facility for city office equipment and the old voting machines.

There’s long been a plan to demolish this solid old building.

Go inside the building and our video, and see how tough this 76-year-old warehouse is, how much potential is there.  There’s hardly a leak. Even the old copper guttering is in good shape.

The elevator still works great – oiled and ready. The place now is as clean as a hound’s tooth, except where the pigeons have been roosting.

It was assessed at $159,000 10 years ago.

But other riverfront development nearby has jacked up its value to nearly $4 million.

Yes, it’s only two stories. Hardly enough for a big residential palace.

So right now, rugged old Warehouse 3, sitting on 40 piers , is a big question mark, but is probably doomed.

But even though this building doesn’t have any real historic significance, wouldn’t it be a great bar/restaurant/dance hall/pavilion?