Manhattan Beach breaks ground on historic Roundhouse Aquarium renovation

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With the turn of shovels in a box of sand, Manhattan Beach officials surrounded by generous donors marked the start of renovation work Monday on the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier.

The $4 million remodel designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, a world-renowned creator of educational aquariums, stands to be the largest improvement to the Roundhouse Aquarium since 1992 when the structure was completely rebuilt. It also represents one of the biggest public-private partnerships in the city’s history.

Skechers CEO Michael Greenberg, who together with the Harrison Greenberg Foundation, named after his late son, raised more than $1.5 million along with members of the Greenberg family. An additional $1.75 million came from a variety of local contributors.

Another $1 million is being raised to fund an endowment for the Oceanography and Teaching Stations (OTS).

The city’s construction project is nearly $2 million which will fund infrastructure upgrades on the pier and exterior improvements to the roundhouse building according to Public Works Director Stephanie Katsouleas. The city is putting in an additional $150,000 in inspection and design services towards the project.

“It’s not only going to benefit the people who come out to the roundhouse but will make our pier better,” said Mayor Amy Howorth, adding that the goal is to complete the project by May.

January through May, the end of the pier will be closed to the public, according to city engineer Prem Kumar. Improvements include replacing water, sewer and fire suppression lines, installing outdoor fish sinks, upgrading electrical and communication services and remodeling the restrooms.

The iconic exterior of the roundhouse will remain unchanged, said Kumar. But it will receive a fresh coat of paint, new doors and windows, a new roof and a new cupola.

Within the building, new fish tanks, a complete floor plan revision, digital media kiosks and new marine support equipment will be installed. In addition, the aquarium’s entrance will be shifted to the east side of the building leaving the west with a view of the ocean.

Greenberg said he chose the Roundhouse Aquarium project to honor his late son’s love of the ocean. Harrison Greenberg died in April 2015 at age 19 while traveling in Thailand.

“When Harrison passed, we quickly wanted to do something to memorialize him,” said Greenberg, about choosing to focus on the Roundhouse, which he called the crown jewel of the city and an “iconic building recognized all over the country.

This month Roundhouse Aquarium staff will begin moving sea life into a temporary teaching facility set up in a modular classroom located at the base of the pier. That temporary location should be open by Jan. 12 and continue to operate regular hours until Memorial Day at the completion of the remodel.

By the time it’s finished, the Roundhouse Aquarium will be transformed into 21st century aquarium while still maintaining its historic charm, officials said.

“We’re really excited to see things are starting to happen physically,” said John Roberts, president of Oceanic Teaching Stations which has operated the aquarium since 1980.

When the pier was first built in 1920 it represented the only pier on the west coast with a rounded end. The roundhouse was completed two years later in 1922 and was used as various cafes and a bait shop over the years, before falling into disrepair. In the 1980s it was revitalized into a sea aquarium before the building was eventually razed and completely rebuilt in 1992.

In order to get the current renovation work approved on the roundhouse, which is owned by California State Parks, it took nearly three years and passage by five state and federal agencies.

“I’m not sure I would have done it knowing politics and what it takes to get a project done,” Greenberg said jokingly.

Today, the Roundhouse Aquarium teaches 14,000 children per year about marine life including underprivileged kids who come from throughout the Southland.

“We live in a very enchanted special town,” Greenberg said. “We are so privileged to live here … I view this as a gift to our community. It’s not about Harrison. Although we’re able to accomplish this because of him. This is a gift to be cherished by our community, our state and people from other states and abroad.”

 

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