John G. Moffatt and Frank E. Nichol spent many years in the field as engineers in charge of major waterfront construction projects. During their distinguished careers, they constantly sought to expand the boundaries of coastal engineering knowledge and to advance the quality of design for the coastal and ocean environment.
When Frank Nichol and John Moffatt joined the Truscon Steel Company in the 1930s, the firm’s engineers were tasked with more than wearing down the notches on their slide rules: They were expected to work directly with architects, developing a real-world understanding of construction requirements to design and build structures as commissioned. The company manufactured prefabricated products and steel forms used for building reinforced concrete beams, floors, and walls to exacting specifications. In addition to effectively participating in what would later become the design-build approach to project delivery, the engineers were expected to step outside the comfort zone of pure design and hit the pavement in search of new clients and new work.
As Frank and John accumulated a broad range of project experience that included bridges, schools, manufacturing facilities, and farm buildings, they also acquired skillsets that would serve their future partnership and guide their successors well into the 21st century.
As WWII came to a close, Frank and John decided to form a partnership that would revolutionize waterfront engineering through the next century. The company's first office was the kitchen table in the Nichol family home in Long Beach, California.
Frank Nichol led a project with the U.S. Navy to construct the naval shipyard on Terminal Island in San Pedro Bay.
John Moffatt joined his friend and colleague Frank Nichol in Southern California to manage several Naval coastal facility projects ranging from Port Hueneme, California south to Seal Beach, then leaving California for Neah Bay in Puget Sound, and finally returning to Port Hueneme as chief engineer.
By the 1950s, Moffatt & Nichol had assembled an impressive project portfolio that comprised engineering studies, public buildings, manufacturing plants, military installations, harbor works, and coastal engineering contracts.
John and Frank endeavored on a noble experiment to see what happens when you take a group of highly qualified, intelligent professionals and encourage them to solve interesting problems. Innovation flourished in a free exchange of ideas with a flat organization driven by an entrepreneurial spirit.
Moffatt & Nichol wins its first contract with the City of Long Beach and first major bridge design: the Anaheim Street Bridge.
Moffatt & Nichol's shore protection strategies and beach nourishment programs practice began with the jetty near the Seal Beach pier. The firm designed defensive measures to minimize erosion, an early beach nourishment project.
Moffatt & Nichol established its national reputation as premier marina and small craft harbor designers with Alamitos Bay in Long Beach.
Frank's sons, Bob and Jack, both joined the firm in the 1960s. Bob was the "outside man" pursuing and maintaining clients, and Jack took the role of "inside man" supervising production and guiding technical innovation.
In 1968 Moffatt & Nichol moved into its own office building called the "Wardlow Office." John and Frank always worked in the same office with two desks so they could share everything.
In 1967 the firm won the contract for the Port of Long Beach, in cooperation with Matson Shipping and SeaLand, to design one of the world's first dedicated container terminals, a pivotal moment for the firm, which was to become a global leader in container terminal planning and design.
The firm's "bridge group" emerged by the late 1960s ultimately designing the famed original Gerald Desmond Bridge, which replaced a long-outdated temporary pontoon bridge the U.S. Navy had built in 1941 to connect Long Beach to Terminal Island.
Moffatt & Nichol embarked on a new phase of work: developing grand-scale waterfront properties internationally. Nun's Island near Montreal Huntington Harbour in Huntington Beach, California introduced the firm to world-class urban planners, architects, and economic and real estate experts.
During the 1960s, Moffatt & Nichol engineered design solutions for popular waterfront destinations and theme parks, ultimately leading to SeaWorld at Mission Bay in San Diego and SeaWorld, Ohio.
Bob became Moffatt & Nichol's president in 1975, leading the firm into a period of unprecedented growth over the next 30 years from a local business into a nationwide engineering firm with 21 offices. His ability to forge and maintain relationships, paired with a clear and prescient vision of where the industry was headed, defined the company's culture and established a secure foundation for the future.
With the establishment of the California Coastal Commission, coastal developments found new regulations on their use of land and water. Moffatt & Nichol came to the fore of coastal and marine engineering firms with a staff who held profound respect for the marine environment and embraced the spirit of environmentally responsible design. ASCE established the John G. Moffatt-Frank E. Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award in 1977, for outstanding achievement in coastal engineering.
After the 1977 San Fernando Valley earthquake, Moffatt & Nichol worked with Caltrans to inspect the damage post quake and help establish new design criteria for bridges.
Water circulation and environmental concerns for a new marina project in Long Beach led Moffatt & Nichol engineers to the idea of constructing a massive physical model to test all possible conditions prior to marina construction.
In 1981, Moffatt & Nichol opened its first East Coast office in Raleigh, North Carolina, quickly capturing projects up and down the Eastern Seaboard, from New Hampshire to Florida.
Moffatt & Nichol’s early work with the North Carolina Department of Transportation established an East Coast transportation practice with solid credentials in roadways, bridges, and bridge hydraulics, leading to work with departments of transportation in Virginia, Florida, and Louisiana.
A series of massive Pacific Coast storms in the 1990s wreaked havoc on Southern California’s recreational piers leading engineers to rethink pier design. Using wave studies to inform their height, Moffatt & Nichol had designed more than 60 piers on California’s deceptively peaceful coastline.
Moffatt & Nichol participated in the Port of Long Beach “2020 Study” in anticipation of port expansion to meet the needs of projected trade volume through 2020. The firm provided planning and design services for the expansion of Pier J at the Port of Long Beach, one of the first to gear up for 2020.
The firm moved to the forefront of container terminal planning in the 1990s, expanding their reputation as a firm that could plan and design facilities that were creative, practical, and buildable.
From the mid-1990s onwards, Moffatt & Nichol’s practice grew in marine foundations, seismic retrofit, ship and barge bridge collisions, bridge scour, and hurricane storm surge and wave loadings on bridges.
After the Loma Prieta earthquake caused a partial collapse of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the firm partnered in a joint venture to design the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge East Span designing the bridge foundations and providing for scour and vessel collision analyses.
The firm launched its foray into the Caribbean with the Atlantis Marina project, which would be followed by numerous megayacht and cruise terminal facilities throughout the region.
Moffatt & Nichol served as program manager from design through construction on the iconic Alameda Corridor.
The firm began working with redevelopment agencies that had the responsibility to find new uses for underutilized waterfront property and developers who saw opportunity along the waterfront.
The firm's energy practice began in 1999 with new offices in Houston, Texas and Seattle, Washington, to support a growing list of clients in the energy industry.
In 2006, after 30 years as president, Bob Nichol stepped down, retaining his position as chairman of the board, and passing the presidential mantle to his son Eric.
Moffatt & Nichol went global providing reach and service to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, expanding its client reach to more than 100 countries worldwide today.
In 2012 Moffatt & Nichol opened an office in Anchorage, Alaska, to work in some of the most challenging marine climates and sensitive environments in the world.
Strategically positioned to capture work in the rail market, the firm was working on rail projects ranging from on-dock rail and intermodal terminal facilities within a decade.
Moffatt & Nichol became an established leader in automated terminal planning and design, with a team of planning, design, and integration specialists, bar none.
The firm relocated its headquarters office to the new LBX development on East Conant Street in Long Beach, California.