Dust to Dust: Kaiser Oakland Hospital Deconstructed

posted on February 16, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Kaiser Oakland hospital demolition, Macarthur Boulevard entrance

Just as the country launched its defense effort during World War II, the Permanente Health Plan built a low cluster of buildings on Oakland’s Macarthur Boulevard to serve a growing population of Kaiser shipyard workers. A block of unremarkable buildings, where these workers received remarkable care, will be gone forever by the end of the year.

The original four-story, 70-bed Fabiola hospital was opened August 1, 1942. A year later, a two-story “Unit A” added 54 beds, followed by 120-bed “Unit B” in January 1945. Major remodeling in 1961 sheathed the sprawling low structures (located between Howe Street and Broadway) in aluminum siding for a modern look.

Other expansions followed over the years, culminated by the 12-story hospital tower which opened in 1972. Because this was added within a small footprint of available courtyard space among the low buildings, massive, custom “X-beams” were fabricated and installed.

Oakland Permanente Foundation Hospital, June 1944

The “topping out” ceremony for the tower was a gala affair, with physicians and nurses signing the big steel beams at the top of the building.

I managed to snag a visit to the demolition on a recent tour of the site. Not only did we see the base of the exotic “X-beam,” but we also looked at what appears to be the topping out beam, emblazoned with a bold “KAISER STEEL” logo.

Now, dust returns to dust in the difficult and tedious process of deconstruction. A humble facility that served thousands of home front workers during World War II has completed its mission, and the hospital and specialty care facility across the street has picked up the scalpel.


Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2Ewv7w2

Dropping custom X-beam into Oakland Tower, January 1970

X-beam at ground level of hospital under demolition, 2017

RNs Pat Bayliss and Madeline “Tex” Ruffato signing “topping out” I-beam for Oakland Hospital, 1971

“Topping out” I beam, Oakland hospital, 2017







An Industrial Revolution All Their Own: World War II Women Stand Up for Equality

posted on February 7, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Mary Carroll, The Bos’n’s Whistle, 8/13/1942

In April of 1942, Mary Carroll, Jeanne Wilde and Louise Cox reported for duty at Kaiser shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and Richmond, California — the first women to work as welders in America’s ship-building industry.

Carroll, Wilde and Cox were at the tip of a movement that turned industry and labor relations upside down during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, everything had changed. The standard industrial shipyard workforce, which for generations had been composed of healthy white men, found their ranks depleted as those workers joined the military.

Thousands of other women later joined these three, earning good wages and going where women had never been before. The home front was a watershed moment in the struggle for equal opportunity, when women stood up for the right to work alongside men despite hurdles that included resistance from labor unions.

Carroll and Wilde started working at the Kaiser shipyards in Portland after completing welding school. Carroll was a Gold Star Mother, having lost her 27-year-old son in the fighting on Bataan. Louise Cox was also hired in April. She was the first woman welder trainee at Kaiser Richmond’s Shipyard 2, replacing her brother on the production line after he joined the Navy.

Louise Cox, first woman welder in Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 8/27/1942

Massive Labor Migration

Who was left to build ships after men went to war? Everybody else. A massive labor migration to defense industries began. And the most difficult labor decision Henry J. Kaiser faced was how to handle union opposition to accepting the new workforce in his shipyards.

An Associated Press news story from November 1942 — less than a year after Pearl Harbor — pointed out that women had “managed to accomplish an industrial revolution all their own within a very short time” through the first large-scale unionization of women, winning the first legislation for equal opportunity through the War Labor Board, and revising “protective” legislation that hampered employment opportunities.

But these victories did not come easily.

Kaiser was an atypical industrialist who had long before learned that good labor relations was a smart business practice. During WWII, the shipyards were closed shops — that is, they could only employ union members. But in this case, the Boilermakers Union (full name: International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America) stood in the way of wartime production and social progress.

Mary Carroll and Jeanne Wilde, The Bos’n’s Whistle, 8/13/1942

Mary Carroll, Jeanne Wilde and Louise Cox —as well as dozens of other women in the Kaiser shipyards — had been hired through the United States Employment Service, not by the union. In early 1942, Kaiser’s eldest son, Edgar, who ran the Oregon shipyards, met with Anne Rosenberg, New York regional director of the War Manpower Commission. Given the wartime labor crisis, she authorized the USES to support the recruitment of Kaiser’s workers. The women hired were issued temporary work permit cards from the Boilermakers at no cost, pending a referendum on admitting them to full union membership.

Although President Roosevelt created the Committee on Fair Employment Practice (commonly known as the Fair Employment Practice Committee) on June 25, 1941, to see that “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race,” this directive didn’t apply to gender discrimination. And the Boilermakers excluded both women and African Americans.

“Local no. 6 of the Boilermakers’ Ship Builders, Welders, and Helpers felt the woman’s touch yesterday when these 20 be-slacked lady welders appeared at headquarters to protest their not being given union clearance for shipyard jobs. Only assurance they received from Business Manager Ed Rainbow was that the matter would remain in status quo until results of the international’s referendum on feminine membership were tabulated. The ladies were silenced but not satisfied.” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9/1942

Unions Start to Open Doors

The Boilermakers were by far the biggest of all the unions in the shipyards. By spring of 1943, their Local 513 represented 38,082 out of the 77,330 workers in the four Kaiser Richmond yards.

White women were the first excluded group to win full admission to the Boilermakers Union.

A group of 22 women welders and burners, representing hundreds barred from war production jobs in the new Marinship Corporation shipyards at Sausalito, stormed Boilermakers Local No. 6 offices in San Francisco at 155 Tenth Street on September 8, 1942, demanding the right to work. An account in the San Francisco Chronicle described the protest:

The feminine influx took the union Business Manager, Ed Rainbow, by surprise. His first reaction was belligerent. “If these girls attempt a publicity campaign against the union — an organization that seeks to protect women — we’ll yank all women workers out of the shipyards and let the government decide who’s right.”

All sides pointed fingers. Rainbow declared that adequate restroom facilities had not been installed, and Marinship said that they had. A spokeswoman for the protesters retorted: “If we want to walk a couple of extra blocks to a restroom that’s our business and not the union’s.”

Direct action worked. The next day’s news described how “The international headquarters of the union announced from Kansas City [that] the membership rolls of its 600 lodges would be opened to women.”

“Pat Centola, welder leaderman, shows pretty June Beesley, welder trainee, how to use his new weapons of war.” Fore ‘n’ Aft, 10/1/1942

Even though a July 22 resolution for women’s membership yielded 12,000 votes for and 7,000 against, it failed on a quorum technicality. Union leadership then took the dramatic step of overriding their own bylaws on September 10, stating: “By authority of the Executive Council, you are directed to accept women, who are or who may become employed in jobs or work coming under the jurisdiction of our International Brotherhood, to membership.”

The doors were opened. By late November 1944, more than 3,000 women at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland had received their union cards; a similar influx took place in Richmond.

That was then, and this is now. The arc of justice has moved forward; the Boilermakers Union is a major sponsor of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park and actively recruits women in the trade.


Special thanks to San Francisco Chronicle archivist Bill Niekerken for help with this article.

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2nQjPvP



A ‘Great, Big Social Idea’: Historian Kevin Starr Looks Back

posted on January 26, 2018

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Kaiser Richmond shipyard voluntary health plan recruitment poster, 1942

The Kaiser Permanente health plan was the “great, big social idea” to come out of World War II and was core to California’s developing concept of community.

That was the theme of a talk at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club in 2002 by Kevin Starr, the beloved San Francisco-born, seventh-generation Californian who served as State Librarian from 1994 to 2004 and was widely known as a historian and chronicler of California lore.

Starr, who died last year at age 76, gave his Commonwealth Club talk just before the release of his 2002 book, Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950, part of his extensive history of California series. His talk was recently transcribed.

Robbie Pearl, MD — then the executive director of The Permanente Medical Group — introduced Starr, noting, “Mr. Kaiser and Dr. Garfield established Kaiser Permanente. Their founding principles, which remain unaltered in Kaiser Permanente today, include a commitment to physician autonomy for clinical decision making… a focus on disease prevention, and a belief that patients get better care when doctors, hospitals and health plans work collaboratively.”

Starr offered some insights into the unique role these founders played during World War II and its aftermath. He discussed Henry J. Kaiser’s dream of a post-World War II era in which home-front social features such as day care and medical care would be available to all Americans. Starr also pointed out that “The war was terrible but it brought us together in extraordinary ways.”

Starr highlighted Kaiser Permanente’s humble beginnings in the shipyards. He talked about how the organization is connected to the “idea of community” and reflects the importance of “working together.”

“The fact that the Kaiser Permanente program could go from just a few thousand shipyard workers in Richmond, arriving to the millions and millions today and still maintain its relationship to quality and to community is extremely important,” Starr said.

And the fuel that has kept Kaiser Permanente growing is the larger idea of the importance of building community, Starr added.

“Coming out of a need to face an unprecedented situation is part of what has kept the Kaiser Permanente program growing and making adjustments over the years,” he said. “It certainly is the great big idea, but it’s part of another, even larger idea — that idea of community. Of working together and feeling a sense of transformation and renewal in the face of social stress, and being animated, always by the preciousness of life itself — and California as a delightful place to live that life.”

Thank you, Mr. Starr.

Full C-SPAN video of Kevin Starr’s talk


Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2rLgBPa


Happy New Year – 1942!

posted on December 28, 2017

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer


Fore ‘n’ Aft, January 1, 1942

New years are a time of reflection and hope – of birth, death, and hopefully a healthy life in between.

The caption for this cover of the Kaiser Richmond shipyard weekly magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft was: “Happy New Year goes double. Left is Jo-Anne and her twin brother, George Thomas, three-months-old children of George W. Peterson, purchasing agent at the Todd-California shipyard.”

Note that this issue came out the month after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the Kaiser yards had already built five cargo ships for the British government. With the United States now involved in the war, the F&A editorial soberly pointed out the new reality:

The New Year will be a Defense Year. It will be a year in which we must all do our utmost to defend our country – our freedom, our rights- all that we live for. Our young men are giving their lives, or, at least, important years of their lives, to the Army, the Navy and the Marines. They are fighting on land, sea, and in the air to defend our coasts and outposts.

This 2018, we wish the best for all the Jo-Annes, and Georges, and children of the world.


Link to this article: k-p.li/2C613dN