June 6, 2012

Rosie the Riveter visitor center showcases WWII home front legacy

Interpretive Park Ranger Raphael Allen with Rosie the Riveter National Park education center visitors. Photo by Ginny McPartland.

The Rosie the Riveter National Park, established in 2000 to commemorate American workers who toiled during World War II to build ships, aircraft, tanks and munitions for the Allied Forces, is now officially open for business.

You can learn just about anything you'd like to know about the World War II home front by taking a tour of the sparkling new Visitor Education Center located on the waterfront in Richmond, California.

The National Park Service center is housed in the restored historic brick Oil House that once powered the humongous Ford Assembly Plant next door. At long last, the center brings cohesiveness to the park made up of sites around Richmond. The small city was forever transformed by the wartime activity of the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards.

Rosie the Riveter National Park visitors' center in Richmond on opening day. Photo by Ginny McPartland.

Until now, the park has had no place to exhibit its rich compilation of stories and photos of the people of the American home front.

Inside the center, you'll find many historical exhibits recalling the home front. For example, the Rosie the Riveter Trust has a display of “Rosie’s Girls,” a trust-funded program that encourages high school girls to find inspiration in the Rosies’ stories. Other exhibits highlight the origins of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care program in Henry Kaiser’s wartime Richmond shipyards.

A gift shop operated by the Rosie the Riveter Trust offers World War II-related books, films and Rosie paraphernalia. Downstairs, the theater provides space for NPS ranger talks and the showing of films about local and national domestic efforts that supported the overseas battlefronts during WWII. An original film, made just for the Richmond visitors’ center, is the jewel of the collection.

The Visitors Education Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Christmas, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving Day. A ranger program begins at 1:30 p.m. in the theater with the showing of an orientation film, followed by a 45-minute guided walk or indoor program.

East Bay NPS Interpretive Operations Supervisor Jim MacDonald (background) greets visitor to the Richmond center. Photo by Ginny McPartland.

The center is located at 1414 Harbour Way, South, which is in the area that was Shipyard No. 2 during the war.

Also at Shipyard No. 2 is the Ford Assembly Plant (now the Craneway Pavilion), whose workers assembled 49,000 jeeps during the war. "Its claim to fame," according to the park service Web site, "was becoming one of only three tank depots in the entire United States. Every combat vehicle used in WWII was processed by one of these depots. Here (at the plant) the finishing touches were put on 91,000 tanks, half-tracks, armored cars and other military vehicles destined for combat.”

The National Park Service, the City of Richmond and Orton Development Inc. pooled resources to fund the restoration of the Oil House as a visitors’ center. Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects created the restoration design, and Dalzell Corporation performed the restoration/construction work.

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If you go to Richmond, you may also want to visit the SS Red Oak Victory, another feature of the Rosie park. The ship is located at Shipyard No. 3, which is accessed via Canal Boulevard from Interstate 580 West.

The cargo ship, built at Richmond during the war, has been restored as a museum and is operated by the Richmond Museum of History. The Red Oak volunteers offer tours and special events, including a World War II summer film festival.

The current festival, 7 p.m. Thursdays during June, July and August, features:

June 14 — “Confessions of a Nazi Spy”

June 28 — “All Through the Night”

July 12 — “Desperate Journey”

July 26 — “Watch on the Rhine”

Aug. 9 — “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo”

Aug. 23 — “The Clock”

NPS Chief of Interpretation Morgan Smith talks with wartime shipyard welder Mary "Peace" Head. Photo by Ginny McPartland.

Here’s a tidbit meant not only for military aficionados but also for gardeners:

On Memorial Day this year, the SS Red Oak Victory received a Blue Star Memorial in its new garden on the Victory Ship’s deck. The El Cerrito Garden Club, working with the Richmond Museum of History, dedicated the marker to honor the men and women who served in the American armed forces. The Red Oak’s marker is the first Blue Star to be installed in the city of Richmond.

What is a Blue Star? you may ask. National Garden Clubs, Inc., formerly the National Council of State Garden Clubs, started the program in 1945 after World War II. The blue star was used on service flags to denote a service member fighting in the war.