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"Richmond at War" Exhibit Opens Today at Richmond Museum of History

Sunday, August 24 Opening/Reception: "Richmond at War" Exhibit. Highlights of the WW II home front experience on the city of Richmond. Admission: $5/Members; $7.50/Non-members (regular admission applies after opening). Refreshments and entertainment will be provided. Seaver Gallery, Museum, 2 p.m.

Exhibit chronicles Richmond war years.

By Chris Treadway
West County Times

Article Launched: 08/19/2008 04:33:11 PM PDT

 

As Richmond again prepares to celebrate its role during World War II, a new exhibit opening this weekend at the Richmond Museum of History offers some perspective on what those years really mean.

"Richmond At War: World War II, The Home Front Experience," which opens with a special reception at 2 p.m. Sunday, will feature images and artifacts from the period many never displayed before that provide a look at the massive changes that hit the city more than 60 years ago and continue to define it.

The exhibit will be in the museum's Seaver Gallery for a two-month stay, offering a historical component to the second annual Home Front Festival by the Bay on Oct. 3, 4 and 5. After the exhibit closes at the end of October some of its elements will be made part of the museum's permanent display in the upper gallery.

"We're kind of taking a snapshot of Richmond, the shipyards, the men and women who worked there, how it all happened, the teamwork involved," said museum director Donald Bastin. "We have to start with the understanding of what Richmond was like on the eve of the war and what happened during those four years."

Before the war, Richmond was a town of 25,000 people and Standard Oil was its largest employer, with about 3,500 workers. With the entry of the United States into World War II the city was changed completely and nearly instantly with the establishment of the Kaiser shipyards that quadrupled the population and taxed the existing infrastructure.

The city's overwhelmed police department was "not anywhere near adequate" to handle the influx, Bastin said, particularly as men were drafted into the military. At the same time, "you had schools going double, triple, quadruple sessions" he said, and with both parents usually working, truancy was a major problem.

"We're trying to capture a sense of what that time was like," Bastin said. "It's been said over and over that Richmond was totally transformed, but it's hard to get a sense of what that means. We try to get a handle on that."

Along with the shipyards, the exhibit will spotlight "housing, schooling, health care, USO girls, just the whole combined effect," Bastin said. "We're only able to highlight a lot of things."

Another aspect examined in "Richmond At War" is the operational structure that made the shipyards successful on a scale that has yet to be equaled, working round the clock and efficiently turning out ships for the military in record time.

"These days, people tend to focus on the workers themselves, but we want to give credit where credit is due to the management that made everything possible," Bastin said. "The management was very integral in having people get along (by providing) motivation and competition all tending toward increasing production."

Accompanying the displays are quotes from "An Avalanche Hits Richmond," a 1944 report by then-City Manager J.A. McVittie that assessed the situation at the time.

Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784

History exhibit
"Richmond At War: World War II, The Home Front Experience" opens with a reception, including refreshments and entertainment, at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Richmond Museum of History, 400 Nevin Ave. Reception admission is $5 for members and $7.50 for nonmembers. The display can also be seen during regular museum hours, are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Details: 510-235-7387 or www.richmondmuseumofhistory.org.