This weekend marks the anniversary of the Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory storied beginnings

The Torpedo Factory in Old Town (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

This weekend marks the 105th anniversary of the Alexandria Torpedo Factory’s ironic origins.

As told in the Office of Historic Alexandria’s This Week in Historic Alexandria newsletter, the contract for constructing the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station was awarded on Oct. 14, 1918. The United States was embroiled in the First World War, but work on the building wouldn’t begin until the day after the war ended.

“Ironically, work on the building began on November 12, 1918, the day after Armistice Day, which marked the official end of World War I,” the Office of Historic Alexandria wrote. “The first torpedo was produced there in November 1920. Once fully operational, the Torpedo Station was responsible for the manufacture and maintenance of torpedoes for the next five years.”

Five years after it started operations, the factory temporarily stopped producing torpedos and became a storage facility until WWII, when production resumed at an intense rate. The Torpedo Factory website said the complex grew to 16 buildings and 5,000 employees, who were notably not segregated, which the website said was uncommon in Virginia at the time.

After the war, the Torpedo Factory briefly manufactured parts for rocket engines before shutting down permanently in 1946. In the 1950s it was used as the Federal Records Center and stored various items, from dinosaur bones to the Nuremberg War Crimes trial records — Alexandria gets a special shoutout at the start of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

In 1974, the Alexandria City Council passed a three-year pilot to allow The Art League to set up inside the neglected building. The interior was power-washed, 40 dump trucks of debris were removed, and the Torpedo Factory Art center was born.