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Tomorrow Night - Design Review Debate at 5:00 PM; Old Richmond Historic Building Survey at 7:00 PM

         Design Review Planning Commission Merger: Residents can give input on merging the city's Design Review Board and Planning Commission on Thursday, September 25, 2008. The meeting is from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Richmond City Council chambers, 1401 Marina Way South. The City Council directed city planners to merge the two bodies into a single commission that would assume all responsibilities. Thursday's meeting will include an overview of the current regulations, proposed amendments and draft design principles and review guidelines, as well as public comment. INCIDENTALLY, THE PROPOSED MERGER WILL LIKELY GO AWAY IF BATES, MARQUEZ AND SANDHU ARE DEFEATED IN THE NOVEMBER ELECTION, ONLY 41 DAYS FROM NOW.


  • A community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday September 25, 2008, at the Nevin Community Center, 598 Nevin St. to learn about Project PRISM, the historical survey of  the Coronado, Iron Triangle and Santa Fe neighborhoods. Anyone with questions or stories and photos to share can e-mail projectprism@ci.richmond.ca.us. See story below:


Richmond teeming with history

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 09/23/2008 05:34:47 PM PDT


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Hidden in three of Richmond's residential neighborhoods is a collection of historical gems waiting to be uncovered, city officials say.

Shipyard workers who moved here during World War II occupied houses in the Coronado, Iron Triangle and Santa Fe neighborhoods. They poured into the local dance halls and churches. They did their banking and grocery shopping in the brick buildings that still dot Macdonald Avenue.

These old houses and buildings, some of them vacant and boarded up, haven't gained the same recognition and prominence as the nine waterfront sites that make up Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. But city officials hope to change that and give residents something more to be proud of.

"We're trying to find those gems in the neighborhoods to show off that can help build civic pride," said Lina Velasco, a city planner.

So officials this summer hired the San Francisco consulting firm Page & Turnbull to help document prewar, wartime and postwar history of the three neighborhoods, Velasco said. The $150,000 project is being funded through a federal grant and city redevelopment money.

The report could be completed as early as February. Findings could be used to seek recognition for important buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and the history could be incorporated in historic national park tours.

"History, it's all around us. It's not just in the buildings in the park," said Sandi Genser-Maack, who sits on the city's Historic Preservation Committee.

Richmond was a small town of 23,600 until World War II, when tens of thousands in search of work flocked to the city to build more than 700 Victory and Liberty ships. Women and African Americans joined the work force, marking a significant milestone in American history.

In addition, it was the first time that government child care and company medical insurance plans were provided to workers.

Blocks and blocks of wartime housing rose to accommodate the new workers.

"From First Street to San Pablo Avenue, there were 10,000 units, two-story, mostly barrack-style," historical preservationist Donna Graves said.

Most of the wartime housing eventually was demolished and, in some cases, materials were salvaged and used to build new homes. Two wartime housing complexes still stand: Nystrom Village, owned by the city Housing Authority, and Atchison Village, which is a co-op.

On Monday, city consultants and history lovers toured the Coronado, Iron Triangle and Santa Fe neighborhoods by bus, stopping periodically to admire the architecture and swap stories from their childhoods.

A number of prewar houses remain in these neighborhoods, notable with their hip roofs and bay windows with a gable above. They are small by today's standards, just 900 to 1,000 square feet each. So many people needed a place to stay that some families rented spare bedrooms, and workers slept in shifts.

Notable buildings included the Galileo Club at 371 S. 23rd St. In the 1930s, the club was a primary social gathering spot for Italian-Americans, who were the city's largest ethnic group before the war, Graves said. They organized large Columbus Day festivities, including a parade down Macdonald Avenue.

But when the war began, older Italians who were not U.S. citizens were forced by federal regulations to leave Richmond, which was considered a defense zone. Families were torn apart, and the Italian community was fractured, Graves said.

On the west end of Macdonald Avenue is the Winters building at 11th Street. Built in 1926, it housed a dance hall on the upper floors and shops on the ground level. It is now home to the East Bay Performing Arts Center. Nearby, the Mechanics Bank and Central Valley Bank buildings still stand.

Macdonald Avenue hosted a number of parades. A 1916 photo shared during Monday's tour shows elephants marching down the street. A 1920s photo shows members of the Ku Klux Klan marching in another parade.

Parks and churches provided gathering spaces for locals. Memorial Park on Bissell Street used to carry a dance hall for up to 200 and a bandstand with concerts on Sundays. The New Nazarene Missionary Baptist Church at 483 B St. and St. Mark's Catholic Church on Harbour Way and Bissell Avenue were hubs for working-class residents. St. Mark's offered Mass in English and Spanish, as well as a gospel Mass.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@ bayareanewsgroup.com.

MORE ON the project
A community meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Nevin Community Center, 598 Nevin St. Anyone with questions or stories and photos to share can e-mail projectprism@ci.richmond.ca.us.