No kidding! The Torpedo Factory Art Center was an actual torpedo factory. It's not just a catchy name for a building bursting with art studios. It all began the day after Armistice Day, November 12, 1918. Ironically, on that day, the U.S. Navy began construction on the original building, which became the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station. When fully operational, it was responsible for the manufacture and maintenance of torpedoes for the next five years. Work stopped and the facility served as a munitions storage area until World War II. Production on the Mark XIV, a submarine borne torpedo, and the Mark III aircraft torpedo then resumed at an intense rate; in fact, men and women worked around the clock and were given only two days off a year. Gradually as space was needed, ten additional buildings were added to the complex. When peace was declared in June of 1945, the furious activity at the torpedo factory came to a grinding halt. Eventually, the U.S. government decided to use the buildings for storage space: the Smithsonian stored art objects and valuable dinosaur bones; Congress stored documents; the military kept German war films and records in sealed vaults.
The City of Alexandria bought the complex of buildings in 1969 from the Federal Government.
On September 1, 1998 the Artists' Association took over all management of the building, and the City now acts as landlord. Factored into the artists' rent were the repurchase cost in excess of the balloon payment, including 62% (a number based on the artist-occupied percentage of the building) of the interest, general service operating costs, and all future maintenance and repair costs excluding exterior repairs. The artists are responsible for 62% of utility costs. All other operating costs are borne by the artists, including all administrative, janitorial, security, staff, advertising, printing, minor building maintenance, lighting supplies, and insurance for the entire building.