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Inside the Icon: Western Metal Supply Co.

Intervention by historical advocates spared this 108-year-old brick building from demolition to become an essential piece of Petco Park


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Photo by John Bahu

Visit the Icon

215 Tony Gwynn Drive, Downtown

Heavy Metal

Brothers Bernard and George McKenzie established the Western Metal Supply Co. in 1888 and the building was completed in 1909. Its architect, Henry Lord Gay, had placed second in the competition to design Rome’s famous Il Vittoriano. The company initially sold supplies for wainwrights and blacksmiths, later transitioning to auto parts and plumbing. It stayed in the family for over 80 years and went bankrupt in 1975.

 

Not SOHO Fast

When the city began eyeing the warehouse district for a downtown ballpark, the Save Our Heritage Organisation leapt into action. Under intense press and public scrutiny, the city reached a settlement with SOHO to preserve 10 structures there, including Western Metal. The 3-million-pound Showley Brothers Candy Co. was relocated one block east, making the Guinness Book of Records as the largest unreinforced masonry building ever moved.

 

A Chip Off the Old Block

By the 1990s, new ballparks were trending toward smaller, retro-classic designs that fit in naturally with their neighborhoods. Taking inspiration from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which had incorporated a historic warehouse along its right field in 1992, Heritage Architecture & Planning designed San Diego’s new park around the Western Metal building, establishing its southeast corner as the left field foul pole and retrofitting the entire structure to bring it up to seismic and safety codes.

 

Good as New

Heritage’s president, David Marshall, received a Governor’s Historic Preservation award for the work. Today it houses the Padres team store on the ground level, party suites on the second and third floors, and a restaurant on the fourth. It’s also now the only brick in the ballpark.

 

Raise the Roof

A ball that hits the building’s east face is considered a home run, but for 12 years, no one had made it all the way to the roof during a game. (A few visitors managed it during Home Run Derbies.) That changed last September when rookie Hunter Renfroe cracked a two-run homer against the Dodgers, sending it 434 feet to the rooftop.

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