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Richmond Capitalizes on Its History

Lots of exciting news the last few days for and about Richmond’s rich heritage.

·         Richmond was notified yesterday in letter from First Lady Laura Bush that its application for designation as a Preserve America Community had been accepted. This is part of the Preserve America program sponsored by the White House in conjunction with the National Park Service. The designation recognizes communities that protect and celebrate their heritage, use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs. Benefits of designation include: White House recognition, a certificate of recognition, a Preserve America Community road sign, authorization to use the Preserve America logo on signs, flags, banners, and promotional materials, listing in a Web-based Preserve America Community directory, inclusion in national and regional press releases, official notification of designation to State tourism offices and visitor bureaus; and enhanced community visibility and pride. Designation also makes communities eligible for annual grants.

·         In the American Express – National Trust for Historic Preservation grant program that many of you have been voting on for months closed yesterday with grants of $75,000 to the Richmond Plunge (No. 8) and the Maritime Child care Center (No. 20) for $5,000. See article from the Chronicle, below.

  • The Riverside Press-Enterprise ran a story, “Rosie Gets Her Due,” November 11, 2006 (Veterans Day) on Rosie the Riveters that prominently featured Richmond (see below).
  • The Contra Costa Times ran a story November 13, 2006, WWII Tours Giving City Sense of Itself” (see below)

Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rosie Gets Her Due (http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_S_rosie11.79ef5d.html)

Riveters park to honor home front 'veterans'


The Press-Enterprise

They served their country during the 20th century's biggest war, toiling on the home front rather than the battlefields of Europe, Africa or the Pacific. Their "uniforms" weren't the Army's olive drab or the Navy's "Cracker Jack" white and blue, but rather denim slacks cuffed at the ankle, work shirts and sensible shoes, their tresses wrapped in a bandanna or hair net.

It may not have been considered flattering feminine attire, but with their welder's torches or rivet guns, they redefined womanhood while helping America's fighting men keep the world safe for democracy.

The U.S. Census Bureau, in its annual list of Veterans Day statistics, doesn't include these "Rosie the Riveter" alumni among its tally of 1.7 million living female veterans. But by building the battleships and fighter planes that powered the Allies to victory in World War II, the women who labored in defense plants from 1942 to 1945 could be considered honorary veterans for their service to the GIs on the front lines.

A long-overdue tribute to their service, the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park, is taking shape in the Bay Area city of Richmond. A memorial to the women, the youngest of whom are octogenarians, was dedicated in 2000.

The waterfront city was home to the massive Kaiser Shipyards and a Ford Assembly Plant that was transformed during the war years to produce tanks. It will take years for a museum and all of the park's planned elements to be built or restored, as its collection of wartime memorabilia is still evolving and most of the vintage buildings on the Richmond waterfront await restoration.

In the meantime, the National Park Service and the nonprofit Rosie the Riveter Trust are busy gathering artifacts and oral histories from the women -- and sometimes their children and grandchildren -- and fighting the clock as the Rosies' ranks thin with each passing year.

The war ended 61 years ago, but memories from that era are etched strong for the women who performed what was considered "man's work."

Finding Rosie

Mary Phay was a transplant from Brownfield, Texas, when she started work at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach on her 19th birthday. The Rancho California resident is among the "Rosies" who submitted accounts of their wartime work to the Richmond collection.

The museum also contacted Yucaipa resident Dolores Bennett Barlow, 84, seeking information about her wartime stint as a riveter at Douglas plants in Long Beach and Bakersfield.

"My first paycheck was for $33.83," said Phay, who was a single gal named Mary Edith Hudson back then. "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I'd been working seven days a week
and making $7.50," she said, recalling her job in a hometown drugstore. "My only other job was picking cotton on our farm in west Texas."

On Wednesday, Phay thumbed through a 4-inch-thick scrapbook that she and her husband, Ted, compiled about their years working at Douglas.

A paycheck stub from Oct. 28, 1942, shows Phay's starting salary was actually $33.80 a week, but being off by 3 cents isn't bad for an 83-year-old who says her age sometimes makes her forgetful. Sundays were Phay's lone day off from the assembly line, where she worked as a riveter on planes including the DC-3. She had never done industrial work before.

"They sent us to school for two weeks -- how to use the rivet gun, how to drill holes, how to use the skill saw," she remembered.

Barlow, whose late husband, Joe, also worked at the Douglas plant, recalled her duties on the airplane assembly line. "Here I am in this hot fuselage, riveting ... the (airplane's) skin on the studs."

Each worker had to complete her task before the plane body, mounted on a track, moved past her work station.

As a young newlywed in 1942, she was up for the challenge of learning to use power tools.

"I wasn't intimidated by a darn thing. I'm Irish and a Leo," said Barlow, who has two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren.

"Somebody just showed you what to do," Barlow recalled. "I'm mechanically inclined anyhow."

Her father worked on Navy submarines, and her mother became an air raid warden in Long Beach, so doing her part for the war effort came naturally to Barlow.

War Worries

The fear of enemy attack in California was so great that defense plants, including Douglas Aircraft, were disguised to avoid detection, especially from spy planes, Barlow and Phay recalled.

"The plant was on Long Beach Boulevard and Carson Street. There was a netting that went over the parking lot, and it was camouflaged to look like it was the countryside," Phay said.

Homes and businesses also took precautions, especially after sundown. "We were not to have lights on at night," Barlow said. "If you went to a restaurant or a little ice cream parlor, when it got dark they turned out the lights."

Barlow and her husband were transferred to Bakersfield, where Douglas converted a sports stadium to an aircraft plant, and she worked until World War II ended.

Phay, meanwhile, made a career of building military airplanes and commercial jets at the Long Beach Douglas plant.

Wartime check stubs, taped to the yellowing pages in Phay's scrapbook, show Douglas boosted her hourly pay from $1 to $1.05 in March 1945, and to $1.10
that July.

Phay even saved a small doodle she drew 64 years ago, of herself in jeans and kerchief, her Douglas badge clipped to her shirt and a beaming smile across her face. The caption reads: "New Job, Oct. 1942."


With the surrender of the Japanese in August 1945, America no longer needed  its Rosies.

"When the war was over, they came in the door and said everybody could go home," said Phay. "I was laid off at the end of the war. I got married and had two little boys."

But when Phay's marriage soured, the young single mother returned to Douglas Aircraft. She met and married Ted, and he adopted her two boys, Gregory and

The Phays have six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. And they're planning a visit to Richmond to see the memorial to home front "veterans" just like Mary.


World War II Home Front National Historical Park

LOCATION: It is built on a site that includes the former Kaiser Shipyards  which manufactured 747 ships during the war -- and the former Ford Assembly
Building, which produced tanks, jeeps and armored personnel carriers.

ADDRESS: 1401 Marina Way South, Richmond, CA. 94804

TRIBUTE: The Rosie the Riveter Memorial is 441 feet long, the length of each Liberty ship produced at Kaiser Shipyards during World War II. The memorial includes a timeline, photos and memorabilia about women's work on the home front during the war

HISTORY: In 1998, a Richmond city councilwoman asked the local congressman for help in creating a memorial to honor the wartime contributions of American women who built military ships and airplanes. The National Park Service got involved later that year, and soon Congress approved a bill that then-President Clinton signed in October 2000

INFORMATION: www.rosietheriveter.org and 510-232-5050; also National Park Service Web site, www.nps.gov/rori/index.htm

DONATIONS: The Rosie the Riveter Trust, 117 Park Place, Richmond, CA 94807, 510-236-7435, info@rosietheriveter.org. To submit wartime stories or memorabilia, call 1-800-497-6743.

SOURCE: Rosie the Riveter Trust, National Park Service

WWII tours giving city sense of itself


Posted on Mon, Nov. 13, 2006

Taking a tour of the many sites scattered around Richmond that make up the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park is not only about telling the history but also about gathering it.

The city and the National Park Service have held irregularly scheduled excursions on a small shuttle bus for invited "stakeholders" for nearly a year now.

"The tours serve a double purpose," said Betty Reid Soskin, who does community outreach for the park. "The community is learning about its history. And the park, on these tours, is learning from the community how it sees itself.

"We've had people from every walk of life," Soskin said. "It's been just an amazing experience. When they come together on the bus, they come together as equals, and the stories spill out."

Even for someone who was in Richmond during the war, as Soskin was, the tours are a revelation.

"Each time I take one of these tours I learn about one more place, two more places," said Soskin, who got a wartime job at the local union hall as a teenager. "Each tour has been different, very different."

Two weeks ago, those same stakeholders -- city, business, civic groups and other people who can play a role in how the park takes shape -- were invited to participate in focus groups.

The trick of the whole endeavor is that the city and the park are essentially one and the same thing, and both are works in progress.

The condominiums and yacht slips of the city's Marina Bay development, for example, offer little hint of once being the massive Kaiser Shipyard No. 2, other than the four-year-old Rosie the Riveter Memorial sculpture. And there is even less hint that the area was previously a Bay wetland swampy enough to swallow a Kaiser bulldozer.

"One of the challenges is conveying the sheer vast scale of the shipyards that built 747 ships during World War II," said David Blackburn, who is chief of interpretation for the local National Park Service unit.

That is true even at the most intact Kaiser site on the waterfront, the former Shipyard No. 2, now an active part of the Port of Richmond. This is where the S.S. Red Oak Victory -- originally launched at yard No. 1 and now a floating museum -- is berthed. The site includes a still-standing former Kaiser parts warehouse and one of the giant 220-ton whirley cranes, 16 in all, that used to dot the four shipyards.

Blackburn said there was once a long row of similar buildings where sections of ships were pre-assembled and then moved by the whirley cranes working in carefully choreographed unison -- one out-of-step move by either crane operator would send everything toppling.

Other buildings still relatively intact at the port are a former Kaiser first-aid station and a worker cafeteria that saw post-war use as the first home of Contra Costa College.

The National Historical Park has the largest remaining concentration of intact World War II historic structures and sites in the United States.

But the homefront story that is the national park's mission to tell isn't confined to just the waterfront, or to war work or the war period.

It encompasses the city proper, both during the war and after. The tour goes from the waterfront to downtown

"The National Park Service is using the bus tours to raise awareness that the city itself is a national park," Soskin said. "Waking people up to that fact is the hardest part. The tours serve a double purpose. The community is learning about its history. The park, on these tours, is learning from the community, how it sees itself."

Some sites on the tour, such as the innovative Atchison Village housing complex for defense workers, are essentially unchanged from when they were built. By contrast, the festively painted building on 23rd Street now known as Garibaldi Plaza bears little resemblance to its former use as a Greyhound Bus station that was the arrival point for countless war workers.

A vacant building on 23rd Street is the last remnant of a string of auto dealerships that opened after the war.

But the physical structures that make up the various stops are only a starting point for telling the story of how Richmond almost overnight became both a city and the site of major social changes.

The tours, which are evolving as new information is uncovered, do a good job of filling in the gaps of the story. Piecing everything together borders on archaeology.

"One of the tricky things is to try and tell the everyday history," historian Donna Graves said. "Finding those untold stories is a challenge that is really exciting. You do wonder what's still out there, what's gone. There's a time pressure before the people who can connect sites to those stories are gone."

In fact, it's the sociological end that is one of the most compelling components of the tour, which gives a good picture of daily life and the changes that took place in Richmond, some of it groundbreaking, some of it not very pretty.

"We want to tell the story to the extent we can really look back to the period of the war years that was so tumultuous for all of us and retell those stories without romanticizing them," Soskin said.

The war spawned innovations such as the government-funded Maritime Child Care Center that freed mothers to do war work, worker housing projects such as Atchison Village and the foundations of the first health maintenance organization, Kaiser Permanente, exemplified by the original Kaiser field hospital building on Cutting Boulevard.

For the first time, women and minorities were brought into the mainstream on a large scale, which sowed the seeds of the civil rights and women's movements.

But integration in the workplace did not carry over to other aspects of life. The downtown USO, dances at the Winters Building and facilities such as the Maritime Child Care Center and Atchison Village were all whites-only. Workers from American Indian reservations of the Southwest who were brought by the Santa Fe Railroad were confined to an area known to locals as "the reservation."

And segregation continued to define Richmond after the war ended, part of the post-war legacy that the city still grapples to resolve and that the national park wants to relate.

"What Kaiser set in motion was a social revolution, which was really an unintended consequence, but there were changes nonetheless," Soskin said. "There is a negative legacy we have because this was a city based on segregation. People don't talk about that much. Part of the job of this park is to help us retrace our steps and make the correction."

The tours are essential to the new national park, not only because the various sites are scattered so widely but also because the story is so sweeping.

To date, 103 people have taken the tours, and the park service hopes to offer them soon to the general public once its official visitor center opens inside the renovated Ford Motor assembly building. When they do, tours may be tailored to the individual group.

"What we're working on now is designing a number of tours that can tell different stories about different people," Soskin said. "It's a wonderful device.

"I think the city can redefine itself through this park," she said. "That's the power the National Park Service has. People don't realize the significance of what's here."

Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@cctimes.com.


The Rosie the Riveter Trust: www.rosietheriveter.org

The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Park: www.nps.gov/rori


Experts, online voters give 25 historic sites $1 million in grants

- Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Twenty-five Bay Area historic sites will share $1 million in cash grants as the result of an unusual electronic vote and a review by a panel of experts.

The big winner was Berkeley's First Church of Christ, Scientist which will get $118,000 to complete a seismic upgrade in its Sunday school. The Christian Science church, designed by famed architect Bernard Maybeck, got the most votes in an online election sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express.

The church narrowly edged out the Angel Island immigration station in the electronic vote; the immigration station got an $84,000 award to repair the roof and an old mess hall. Angel Island, however, came in third in money grants. The second-highest award went to the Tilden Park carousel in Berkeley, which got $97,000 to restore the floor and the band organ.

The final decision about how much money each site got was made by a panel of experts who considered historical significance and need along with the number of votes.

Other winners included $75,000 grants to the Casa Grande in New Almaden in Santa Clara County, the Fox Oakland theater, the Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco, the Richmond Municipal Natatorium, and the Spreckels Temple of Music in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

The Japanese YWCA in San Francisco received $62,000, and the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the San Mateo County coast got $54,000. Cleveland Cascade Park in Oakland, the Fallon Building in San Francisco and the Tomales Town Hall each got $50,000.

Twelve other sites, which finished out of the top 13 in the electronic polling, got $5,000 each as consolation prizes.

The online election, which National Trust Vice President David Brown said was inspired by the television show "American Idol," ran from mid-September until Oct. 31.

E-mail Carl Nolte at cnolte@sfchronicle.com.