Business & Real Estate

SMUD invested $72M to renovate its headquarters, and give Thiebaud’s mural a new shine

Go inside SMUD’s newly reopened historic headquarters building

The historic SMUD headquarters building in Sacramento reopened on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. First opened in 1960, it has been recognized for historically significant architecture. It also has a mosaic mural by famed Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud.
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The historic SMUD headquarters building in Sacramento reopened on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. First opened in 1960, it has been recognized for historically significant architecture. It also has a mosaic mural by famed Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud.

SMUD just rebuilt the Sacramento Municipal Utility District Headquarters from its concrete foundations up, restoring the original shine of internationally-acclaimed artist Wayne Thiebaud’s mural mosaic as part of a total renovation budget of $72 million.

“It’s something that we’ve been needing to do for a while,” said Facilities Project Director Doug Norwood in an interview with The Bee. “We wanted to take a building that is historic and bring it into the modern era.”

The project took nearly five years to complete. The company’s board approved the renovation and upgrade project in 2014, began demolition and abatement work in 2017 and approved a construction bid to begin rebuilding in early 2018, SMUD said in an online project description.

A central piece in SMUD’s ‘rehabilitation’ project, the Thiebaud’s mural mosaic was repaired, strengthened and polished.

The mural – ‘Water City’ – located in East Sacramento off Highway 50, shows a fleeting bird-eye’s view of the city surrounded by drops of water and sparks of flame-like sunlight. It was completed in 1959 when the headquarters opened and wraps around two sides of the building.

“We completely restored it,” Norwood said. “Some (of the tiles) had been damaged, some had just fallen out.”

The monetary value of the mural is unknown, but Norwood said the piece holds a lot of value for the Sacramento community being a historical landmark as well as one of few expressionist full-scale works in the nation by the American pop artist.

Thiebaud’s signature on the front wall’s lower right corner might alone reach a considerable sum after one of his pieces sold for over $1 million dollars last year.

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National Register of Historic Places

The larger part of SMUD’s budget went towards renovating its historic 166,000-square-foot office building.

The company struggled to get the budget to $72 million, they told Sacramento Business Journal in 2016. They originally planned to spend $68 million, but for nearly a year their lowest contract bid summed up to nearly $100 million.

“Getting the best value possible was first and foremost in the planning to revitalize the SMUD Headquarters building,” SMUD said in a news release. “SMUD used a two-step collaborative design-build process, which delivered a guaranteed maximum price of $72.6 million.”

Local construction company Roebellen took care of demolition and rebuilding, SMUD said in the release.

The design part of the process was managed by Dreyfuss and Blackford, the same architectural firm that originally designed the building in the late 1950s. Norwood said the design team was crucial in preserving the building’s historic structural elements, while keeping costs at a manageable level.

The building might look just about the same from the outside, but SMUD said it has made the 60-year-old structure safer and more energy-efficient, while purposefully maintaining its original charm.

The building’s clear-span steel frame and glass curtain walls were reinforced during the renovations, preserving the post World War II modernist glass and metal gridded box feel that got the construction listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

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National Register of Historic Places

SMUD said it expects the restored building to fulfill employees’ expectations and hopefully attract newcomers.

“It’s really important to us to attract the best and the brightest as we move into the future. We are trying to build a workplace that really does that. Someplace where people would be very excited to come work,” the release said.

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Caroline Ghisolfi, from Stanford University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and health care. She grew up in Milan, Italy.
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