Thursday, Jun 14, 2012
On Saturday, May 26th, visitors began arriving early to get a good seat for the grand opening of the visitor center for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
And who can blame them, as this much-anticipated project has been in the pipeline since the park’s establishment in 2000. Of course, many of the “Rosie the Riveters” and other home front workers who sat proudly in the front rows of the ceremony have waited even longer – nearly 70 years – to be formally recognized for their roles in the World War II home front effort.
The new visitor center is located inside a 1931 brick building on the Richmond shoreline, formerly known as “The Oil House.” The function of the Oil House was essential to the assembly line operation of the adjacent Ford Assembly Building. It originally housed multiple large oil tanks that fueled the boilers of the Ford Building, which in turn ran the steam powered conveyor system and equipment of the plant. During WWII, the Ford Motor Company switched to assembling jeeps and outfitting tanks to aid in the war effort.
The grand opening ceremony began with a blessing by Ione Mad Plume, a Native American woman from the Blackfeet tribe. Next the local Boy Scouts raised the American flag, and a teen student of Richmond’s East Bay Center for the Performing Arts boldly performed the National Anthem.
Speakers included Superintendent Tom Leatherman, Historian Donna Graves, NPS Pacific West Regional Director Christine Lehnertz, Congressman George Miller, State Senator Loni Hancock, County Supervisor John Gioia, City of Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, City Manager Bill Lindsay, City Councilman and Rosie the Riveter Trust Board Member Tom Butt, and Joan Davis, executive director of the Richmond Community Foundation.
Despite blustery winds, visitors were happy to huddle together to listen to speeches on the enduring significance of the World War II years. Many dignitaries expressed admiration for the contributions of the WWII home front workers, excitement for this new chapter in the park’s history, and gratitude for the partnership of the National Park Service. As the federal government does not own any land within the park, partnerships are essential to managing and interpreting the more than 15 park sites around the city.
After the ribbon was cut, eager visitors streamed into the building, many seeking Park Passport stamps with the imprint of the grand opening date. By the end of the day, park staff estimated that more than 1000 people came through the doors. Later that day, park officials joined partners at a second ribbon cutting at Shipyard Number 3 to celebrate the opening of a new section of the Bay Trail. This waterfront bike trail now connects six park sites and features scenic outlooks and interpretive panels.
The new visitor center demonstrates a successful effort to create a modern facility while retaining the historic integrity of its original construction. Orton Development was responsible for the visitor center’s meticulous restoration, based on the vision and design of Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects. The team has won multiple awards for the restoration of the Ford Assembly Building as well.
The visitor center will be the main staffed location within the park. The building will be open seven days per week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a “Ranger’s Choice” tour held daily at 2 p.m. Visitors will be able to view exhibits offering multiple perspectives of the WWII home front, as well as artifacts from the park’s collection. The installation of the permanent exhibits is anticipated in late 2013. Two new park films showing in the theater, as well as a gift shop run by the Rosie the Riveter Trust, the park’s friends group, will further enhance the visitor’s experience.
Park management would like to thank all the present and former park and regional staff who have contributed to this project since its inception. In particular, a special thanks goes to Ric Borjes, the park’s chief of cultural resources, who worked tirelessly on this project until his retirement on June 2nd.