Posts Tagged ‘Kaiser Community Homes’

Henry J. Kaiser on veteran employment and benefits

posted on December 16, 2014

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

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Henry J. Kaiser presenting Kaiser-Frazer car to veteran owned and operated G.I. Taxi company, promotion for Kaiser Community Homes, Panorama City, Calif., 1948

Over the past year, dedicated professionals across the Kaiser Permanente have taken steps to position the organization as a destination employer for veterans. Kaiser Permanente’s goal is to ensure it provides a supportive and inclusive environment for all individuals within its current and future workforce, including those with military backgrounds.

But for a health plan born in the crucible of the last world war, support for those who served is not a new idea.

On October 17, 1944 – less than a year before the war neared its end – Henry J. Kaiser addressed an audience at the Herald Tribune Forum in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City. The topic? Jobs for all.

On this one fact, there is unanimous agreement: every man in the American Forces has the right to come home not only to a job, but to peace. Anything less would be a denial of the true American way of life. Peace means so much more than a cessation of hostilities! Peace is a state of mind. It is based on the sense of security. There can be no peace in the individual soul, unless there is peace in the souls of all with whom we must live and work. Jobs for all could well be the first slogan for a just and lasting peace.

…I have always believed that the future belongs to youth; it is theirs to build. Here is an opportunity to help youth see the pattern emerging out of a great surge of social forces. There must be purpose in the cause to which a whole generation of youth is giving their lives.

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Billboard for Highland Estates, a Kaiser postwar housing development connected to the Panorama City hospital; sign advertises discounts for veterans, circa 1950

Often I am classified as a dreamer, particularly when I talk about health insurance. To live abundantly and take part in a productive economy, our people must have health. This is not only a matter of medical science, but of facilities. Health service can be rendered on a self-sustaining insurance basis, at a price well within the reach of all. The cost of such medical care might be incorporated in the monthly payments on the home, freeing the American family from the fear of illness and the loss of income!

We can go further and insure the payments when illness overtakes the head of the family. If American industry builds and equips modern hospitals in one thousand American communities in the first year after the war, prepaid medical service could then be organized around these facilities. The five hundred million dollars so spent will generate employment for two hundred and fifty thousand workers. I am speaking from the experience of operating seven hospitals on this basis. It is encouraging to read recent announcements that public health authorities are now thinking along these lines. Organized medicine is beginning to see the wisdom of this sound principle…

Remember, youth will not be handicapped by the prejudices or blindness of an outmoded past. The men and women who have accomplished the impossible in defense, in war, and in sustaining a war effort throughout the world, are not apt to be afraid. Our nation was created by men of faith, against obstacles such as you and I have never known. Our country is sustained by men of faith today in the midst of battle. There will be jobs for all if the men of faith have their way.

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Bobbie Kaiser: Carrying on Kaiser family community traditions

posted on November 14, 2013
Bobbie Kaiser, widow of Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., in "Rosie's Corner" at 2010 Home Front Festival in Richmond, Calif.
Bobbie Kaiser, widow of Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., in “Rosie’s Corner” at 2010 Home Front Festival in Richmond, Calif. Photo by Ginny McPartland

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

I want to say goodbye to a gracious and remarkable woman who helped carry the Henry J. Kaiser legacy forward into the 21st Century. Barbara Kaiser, the widow of Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., passed away in late September.

Barbara “Bobbie” Kaiser was married to Henry J. Kaiser’s second son, Henry, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1944 and died in 1961 at age 44 despite his father’s best efforts to find a cure.

Bobbie, as she liked to be called by everyone, survived her husband by more than 50 years.

In those years, she continued the Kaiser involvement in community affairs, helped to found a thriving Episcopal congregation in Oakland, Calif., and supported the celebration of Henry J. Kaiser’s epic history of shipbuilding during World War II in Richmond, Calif.

She also branched out on her own as an apprentice architect studying in the 1970s at the famed Frank Lloyd Wright school at Taliesin West, Arizona.

Getting to know Bobbie

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Bobbie Kaiser and Ginny McPartland. Photo by Karen E. Lyons

For a few months in 2010, my life intersected with Bobbie’s, and I shall always remember her as the woman who – accustomed to a chauffeur-driven limousine – didn’t mind riding in my VW Beetle, invited me for lunch and explained to me how Cobb Salad came about.

She knew about Cobb Salad’s legendary origin at the famous Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles because she was there, along with others who moved in Hollywood circles.

Barbara Preininger was working as a stewardess and assistant to entertainer Dennis Day when she met Henry J. Kaiser, Jr. They married in 1947. At the time, Henry was managing the Kaiser-Frazer division of the Kaiser Motors Corporation.

The couple lived for a time in one of the Kaiser Community Homes in Panorama City. In 1951, they moved to Oakland and Henry was responsible for the Kaiser Companies public relations program. In 1952 they had a son, Henry J. Kaiser, III, who has become a musician and filmmaker.

I met Bobbie through Kaiser Permanente Heritage Director Bryan Culp who knew her from the St. John’s Episcopal congregation. He suggested I contact her about the upcoming Home Front festival in Richmond to invite her to come along as our guest. She was delighted.

As it turned out, Bobbie and I were neighbors, so I just had to swing by to pick her up from the senior citizens building where she lived. When I got there, the doorman escorted her out to the car. She was dressed fabulously.

In a lovely, rich red wrap, black pants and top with beaded fringe about the bottoms and stylish shoes. She was sporting a gorgeous straw hat – a trademark for Bobbie – and her face was beaming from underneath it.

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Elizabeth Sandel, MD, and Bobbie Kaiser in 2010 with the 1953 Kaiser Manhattan at the Kaiser Permanente Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo, Calif.

At the festival, the National Park Service rangers greeted her with reverence and invited her to sit in “Rosie’s Corner,” an area approximating a 1940s parlor, for photographs. Later she browsed the festival booths on her own, seeming to read every word on historical displays. She took every opportunity to speak to festival-goers and staffers throughout the day.

Relishing the fruit of her labor

A few weeks later, the Heritage team, led by former director Tom Debley, and Elizabeth Sandel, MD, took Bobbie on a tour of the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo, Calif. Sandel was chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the center, which moved in 2010 to a new, totally updated building.

Bobbie’s visit to the rehab center could not have been more relevant. She played a significant role in the development of the early techniques used at the first center, which was established in 1946 to treat her husband and others who had neuromuscular diseases.

With an opportunity to speak with the rehab staff, Bobbie described the regimen she used every day to help her husband get through the day. “Every morning, we would fill the bathtub with ice and Henry would get in . . . it really helped,” she recalled. “If we were traveling we’d ask the hotel to bring us buckets of ice.”

Again, Bobbie illustrated her keen curiosity by viewing up close many of the art pieces in the center. She talked to patients and told them the story of her husband and her familiarity with rehab therapies.

She had a chance to see the two gyms for rehab patients and the outdoor patio with steps for patients to practice their mobility skills. She posed with the 1953 Kaiser Manhattan automobile that sits on the grounds and is used to teach patients to transfer from wheelchair to car.

Bobbie with husband Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., son of industrialist and co-founder of Kaiser Permanente
Bobbie with husband Henry J. Kaiser, Jr., son of industrialist and co-founder of Kaiser Permanente Henry J. Kaiser, Sr., circa 1960.

Dr. Sandel confirms that the icing method is still used in the rehab center. A trained oral historian, Dr. Sandel, now retired, planned to interview Bobbie but never had the opportunity due to Bobbie’s recent illness.

The last time I saw Bobbie it was pouring rain. She invited me to visit her home for an interview. I went with her to the hairdresser’s shop in her building and then to the dining room for lunch. She was kind and non-demanding of all the people we encountered and before I left, she realized the gift shop had closed before she could get a fellow resident a birthday gift. “Oh, I guess I’ll just walk over to (the market),” she said frowning at the rain.

Every day as I walk by Bobbie’s long-time residence I think of her – her wondrous hats, her smiles, her curiosity – and I wish I’d met her sooner.

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Henry J. Kaiser’s assembly-line building fills need for postwar homes

posted on October 21, 2013
Henry J. Kaiser greets the George family at the Kaiser Community Homes all-aluminum house on Osborne Street in Panorama City. Bancroft Library photo

Henry J. Kaiser greets the George family at the Kaiser Community Homes all-aluminum house on Osborne Street in Panorama City.
Bancroft Library photo

by Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Secret to mass production: Build ‘chassis’ for houses just as Detroit does for automobiles

A post-World War II opportunity to build thousands of small, affordable homes for returning servicemen and their families excited Henry J. Kaiser. Mass producing homes to meet an urgent demand fit right into Kaiser’s vision of the “fifth freedom” he referred to in wartime speeches.

President Roosevelt had enumerated for the American people the “Four Freedoms” at stake in the war: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear and freedom from want. To this list, Kaiser added “freedom of abundance.”

“Everyone who is willing to work and save has the right to be decently and comfortably housed,” Kaiser told the Conference of the National Committee on Housing in Chicago in 1944.

Kaiser had been involved in many housing projects during the war that required fast construction. Under Kaiser’s sponsorship and with federal financial aid, noted San Francisco Bay Area builder David Bohannon had built the 700-home community of Rollingwood for shipyard workers in Richmond, Calif., in just 693 hours.

Kaiser revolutionized ship construction by turning it into an assembly line and prefabrication industry. Workers trained in new techniques set production records in Kaiser’s wartime shipyards on the San Francisco Bay and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.

By the time the war was over, Henry Kaiser was more than ready to start building homes as fast as possible. Financing was available through the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Authority, so people were ripe for homeownership.

New neighborhoods to rise in short order

Kaiser joined forces with builder Fritz Burns and devised a plan to develop two- and three-bedroom, roughly 1,000-square foot homes that were attractive, affordable and distinct from one another.  Preassembly of various home components made it possible to build about 40 homes a day, each constructed with about 40 manufactured panels.

Architects' rendering of Kaiser Housing development in 1948. Bancroft Library photo

Architects’ rendering of Kaiser Housing development in 1948. Bancroft Library photo

Kaiser Community Homes built a factory In Westchester in Southern California and began to manufacture and preassemble puzzle-like pieces to be trucked to the home sites. Within the factory, there were assembly lines for production of interior, exterior, floor and ceiling panels. In other areas, workers built kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, and assembled plumbing parts.

“Science Illustrated” magazine carried a description of the Kaiser house-building concept:

“As you look at a block of Kaiser Homes you can’t find two that look alike, and yet each house is the same in interior construction. This is the secret of Kaiser’s mass production plan; he builds ‘chassis’ for houses, as Detroit builds chassis for automobiles.

“The chassis consists of a rectangular core of five and a half rooms. This he turns out in a sprawling 15-acre factory. Garages, roofs, porches are also mass-produced, but they are put on the chassis in a variety of ways.

“One house may have the garage attached at the right front corner. One may have it at the left rear corner. Or a third may have it completely detached,” the February 1947 article reads.

Innovative construction methods tested

Related to his homebuilding enterprise, Kaiser considered retooling the Richmond shipyards as a manufacturing site for developing a preassembled “mechanical core or heart” for his homes, which would have included the kitchen, bath and utility rooms.

The Kaiser design planned for a monolithic unit: floor and wall panels, cabinets, countertops, lavatory, and prewired and plumbed equipment.

Developer Fritz Burns and Henry J. Kaiser set up a model home on Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to show their postwar home plans to the public.

Developer Fritz Burns and Henry J. Kaiser set up a model home on Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles to show their postwar home plans to the public.

The Kaisercraft Coordinated Kitchen was to feature a stove, sink, cabinets, refrigerator, dishwasher and garbage disposal. Plans for the core unit were eventually scrapped due to the expense that would be added to the price of the homes, which were intended to be low cost.

Henry J. Kaiser probably made his biggest splash as a homebuilder in 1948 when he awarded his prototype “all-aluminum home,” the only one of its kind, to the winning contestant on the “People Are Funny” radio game show hosted by Art Linkletter.

The winner, Vivienne George, moved her family from a ramshackle house in Lebanon, Ore., to Panorama City, where they became the first residents of the Kaiser Community Homes, dubbed by Los Angeles regional planners as a “model suburb.” Vivienne was married to Ward George, a disabled WWII veteran, and the couple had two children.

A Kaiser Homes press release described the George family’s prize: “A beautifully furnished home with range, refrigerator, Kaiser hydraulic dishwasher and disposal unit and a two-car garage. In the garage stands a 1948 Kaiser sedan.” Previously, a model for potential buyers to tour, the all-aluminum home was moved from the corner of Chase and Van Nuys streets to Osborne Street for the Georges.

The 65-year-old Kaiser Homes “model community” in Panorama City still stands amid other development in the vicinity today. The area has fallen on hard times in recent years and a community effort is under way to reinvigorate the neighborhood and surrounding postwar subdivisions and businesses.

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Kaiser’s postwar suburbs designed for pedestrian safety and fitness

posted on September 19, 2013

By Ginny McPartland, Heritage writer

Model neighborhoods close to jobs and laid out with meandering lanes and few busy cross streets

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Here’s a photo of a typical Kaiser Community Home in Southern California. Photo courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

Henry J. Kaiser and home builder Fritz Burns had a brilliant idea in the mid-1940s for encouraging people to use their feet for transportation. Kaiser and Burns were known at the time for their “model suburbs,” new neighborhoods that were laid out with winding lanes, rolling curbs, a minimum of busy intersections and space for schools, churches and stores.

Neither speed bumps nor other traffic-calming schemes were necessary on meandering streets where children rode their one-speed bikes and played football and kick-the-can without fear of a fast car running them over.

To meet a severe housing shortage at the end of World War II, Henry Kaiser, who had pioneered streamlined production methods to turn out cargo ships in record time, saw another opportunity to innovate and mass produce. Home construction had slowed way down during the war, and the population was beginning to soar.

Housing boom fed by GI Bill and FHA

Returning servicemen and women were settling and contributing to the baby boom, and financing provided by the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Administration fueled the surge in demand for new, affordable houses.

Kaiser hooked up with Burns and launched Kaiser Community Homes. The company embraced the Federal Housing Administration standards to develop thousands of low-priced homes for the common man. They built minimal tract residences of about 1,000 square feet on the periphery of urban areas in close proximity to industries that employed many workers.

This photo shows a sign urging slow driving to protect children in the Orchard Park subdivision in San Jose.
This photo in a Kaiser Community Homes brochure shows a sign urging slow driving to protect children in the Orchard Park subdivision in San Jose.

Burns and his Northern California counterpart David Bohannan argued for streamlined transit:

“Transportation to business areas should be rapid and direct, and when possible, jobs should be within walking distance,” Burns and Bohannan wrote in “Postwar Housing,” a state of California booklet published in 1945.

Panorama City, Kaiser Community Homes’ largest development, incorporated these principles, and Los Angeles regional planning professionals touted the development of the Panorama Dairy Ranch in the city’s “Accomplishments 1945.”

Kaiser-Burns plan Panorama City in San Fernando Valley

With 3,000 homes built between 1947 and 1952, Panorama City was the first large postwar community in the San Fernando Valley. In making up the blueprint for the community, Kaiser engineers also designated space for a Kaiser Permanente clinic and hospital, which was completed in 1962.

A General Motors plant completed in 1947 was situated one quarter mile south of Roscoe Boulevard, the southern boundary of Panorama City. A Schlitz Brewery sat immediately to the east, and Lockheed and Vega Aircraft, and Precision Tool, were all within seven miles of the Kaiser development.

Kaiser and Burns sought land that was adjacent to manufacturing to fulfill their aim of building “a city where a city belongs,” wrote Greg Hise in his book titled “Magnetic Los Angeles,” published in 1997 by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Their intent was to create a regional city just outside of Los Angeles that would be self-contained and buffered from urban life. Farm lands, still flourishing with dairy cows and chickens, were to provide a buffer for the happily hemmed-in microcosm.

General Motors plant to catch up with demand

The new Van Nuys GM plant near Panorama City (closed in 1992) initially employed 1,500 workers to turn out 100,000 new Chevrolet models to catch up with Southern Californians’ demands.

Kaiser Community Homes were built with meandering streets to create a safe neighborhood for walking.
Kaiser Community Homes were built with meandering streets to create safe neighborhoods for walking.

Kaiser Community Homes, David Bohannon and others also built “ideal” suburbs in the Northern California communities of San Leandro, San Lorenzo and San Jose where Chrysler, Ford and GM were expanding their manufacturing capacity.

Ironically, the industry that drove the creation and growth of Panorama City and other auto manufacturing areas was the eventual undoing of the pedestrian-friendly landscape.  With auto ownership on the rise, transit ridership declined steadily.

“The geographical spread and low population densities of the postwar suburbs . . . made transit impractical for most people living outside the older and denser urban areas,” a 2011 California Department of Transportation report stated.

Automobile use surpasses other transit modes

By 1956, more than 54 million Americans were driving automobiles. By the end of the 1950s, 95 percent of all trips in Los Angeles were by private vehicle.

As a consequence, regional planners seemed to lose control of suburban sprawl in the 1950s and subsequent decades.  Hise writes: “Regardless of how well (communities) were planned internally . . . they overwhelmed the (San Fernando) valley, as well as outer zones of other American cities.”

The erosion of suburban Americans’ opportunities to reach daily destinations on foot and the consequent decline in fitness has spawned such programs as Kaiser Permanente’s “Every Body Walk!” The campaign encourages people to walk whenever possible – leave the car in the garage for short trips to the market or elsewhere, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and walk for fun and fresh air every day.


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