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Berkeley’s Pacific Steel Casting closing after 84 years

Foundry flounders, ending Berkeley’s industrial era

According to the auction site United Asset Sales, almost the entirety of the on-site equipment from Berkeley’s 84-year-old Pacific Steel Casting foundry goes up for sale to the public September 11 and September 12.

“Everything must go, building lease expiring,” the auctioneer writes, promising over 1,000 lots ranging from 15-ton cranes to 30-inch saws.

That means the end of Berkeley’s industrial era: Pacific Steel Casting, Berkeley’s last big factory at 1333 Second Street, will finally close its doors. In a longform story about the history and plight of the foundry, Berkeleyside cites “a confluence of events” for the closure, including:

The 2008 economic downturn, an immigration audit in 2011 that led to the layoff of 200 highly skilled workers, and a costly $5.4 million class-action labor lawsuit filed by employees. Those events prompted Pacific Steel Casting, long owned by the Genger and Delsol families, to file for bankruptcy in 2014.

[...] Optimism about the company’s prospects faded, however, as oil prices collapsed and China stepped up its casting production, making Pacific Steel Casting unable to withstand current economic vicissitudes.

This is not the first time that the Pacific Steel Foundry, which opened in 1934 and was owned by the same family for 80 years, has approached death’s door.

In October of 2017, employees received notice that the plant would close a week before Christmas and that management “[expected] these plans, when finalized, to be permanent, and the company’s entire operation in this location will be closed.” That notice turned out to be premature but also, evidently, inevitable.

According to Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio, in 2009 Pacific Steel was the “third largest foundry of its kind in the country” and employed roughly 500 people. The factory was a “specialty casting heavy manufacture” plant turning out machine parts.

Five years later the plant filed for bankruptcy and sold to a public equity company for more than $11 million.

At the time, company spokesperson Elisabeth Jewel told KQED that business was good and blamed the filing on “a cavalcade of unfortunate circumstances.”

A mainstay of local employment for decades, the factory was often a source of ire for Berkeley neighbors, who complained about the overwhelming smell of the metalwork.

The factory settled a suit with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in 2007, promising to cut down on emissions.

Berkeleyside notes that cleanup at the site will continue through October. What will happen to the eight acres of property on Berkeley’s west side in the future remains to be seen.