Archive for September, 2011

Richmond rejuvenation champions enjoy fruits of their labor

posted on September 24, 2011

By Ginny McPartland

Heritage writer

Rosie park curator Veronica Rodriguez explains the set up of the child care center's dining area.

The Bay Area community of Richmond – birthplace of Permanente medicine – has been bustling this year with activities related to the commemoration of the California city’s role as a World War II shipbuilding hub. The economically depressed and high-crime community is pulling together to create positive change in its image and livability. Recent achievements give its diverse population reason to be proud and to celebrate.

Two major developments – renovation and reopening of the stellar Maritime Child Development Center and significant progress on the conversion of a shipyard oil house into a visitor’s center for the Rosie national park – can be called milestones in the city’s quest for its place in the sun.

The renovated Maritime Child Development Center rear view. Note portholes. The bottom was the end of the fire escape chute for kids in the early days.

These successes are putting smiles on the faces of Richmond’s movers and shakers who have worked for years to bring them to fruition.

The $9 million renovation of the child care center, built in 1943 by Henry Kaiser with federal funds, was a collaboration of many community groups – The Richmond Community Foundation’s Nystrom United Revitalization Effort (NURVE), the city of Richmond, the Rosie the Riveter Trust, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, Richmond College Prep Schools and West Contra Costa Unified School District. (For more on the preschool program, see “Sounds of children return to Richmond historic child care center”  posted here on August 25.)

Local champions play major role

Colorful play equipment is part of the center's new look.

Richmond City Councilman and local architect Tom Butt has been a constant cheerleader for the project for the past six years. Rosie Trust leaders Jane Bartke and Diane Hedler, Kaiser Permanente’s representative on the trust, among others, have been relentless in efforts to secure federal financing for restoration of the national historic landmark. The trust hired its first executive director, Marsha Mather-Thrift, this year to help with its continuing fundraising work to support the park.

The restored center’s future will be celebrated with a grand reopening 10 a.m. Thursday, September 29, at 1014 Florida Avenue (on the corner of Harbour Way). Host Joan Davis, president and chief executive officer of the Richmond Community Foundation whose office is in the center, has invited the public to come to see the jewel of a school inside and out.

The renovation features the reuse of many of the original materials, including the transforming of bunk bed wood into office partitions. The inside also features: the original redwood on the stairways, double banisters – one at a child’s level and one at an adult’s level – as well as the preservation of a fire escape chute intended for the children in the event of a fire. (It was never used and has been closed up at the outdoor end.)

Note double bannisters, one for children, one for adults.

The Maritime center is considered a part of the multi-site Rosie the Riveter national park, and park service curators have created a time warp for visitors to get a glimpse of how the original preschool classrooms looked. The center was the site of an exemplary child care program for the children of Kaiser Richmond Shipyard workers and was considered way ahead of its time.

National park visitor’s center on the horizon

The Rosie park visitor’s center – in discussion stages for several years – is under construction and scheduled to open to the public early next year. With interpretive exhibits, a theater, offices, and a place to meet for tours, the long-awaited center will provide a focus for the far-flung national park.

Established in 2000, the park consists of the Rosie the Riveter Memorial on the Richmond waterfront, the Red Oak Victory ship docked at the former Shipyard 3 off Canal Boulevard, an office in downtown Richmond, the Atchison Village housing tract and community center, the Ford Assembly Plant, known today as the Craneway, and now the Maritime Child Development Center.

Child-sized sinks shined up for the new kids.


The oil house/visitor’s center is adjacent to the beautifully restored Craneway Pavilion, originally the Ford plant designed by the great industrial architect Albert Kahn in 1930.  The cavernous structure that once housed a World War II tank factory today hosts weddings, wine-tastings, conferences and festivals. Its owner, local developer Eddie Orton, has won a number of architectural awards for the integrity and impeccability of the restoration.

More good vibes out of Richmond

A number of other developments in the city of Richmond have to be considered positive harbingers for its future:

The Richmond Municipal Natatorium, also called the Richmond Plunge, an indoor swimming pool constructed in 1926, has been renovated and reopened with community funding. (You can actually go swimming there like I did in the 1950s and 1960s before it fell into disrepair.)

View from inside the indoor fire chute.

The Richmond Museum of History, in the old Carnegie Library on Sixth and Nevin, has a new director, Inna Soiguine, who was formerly with the centuries old Russian State Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. Ms. Soiguine has brought wonderful exhibits to the museum, including the current Richmond Day at the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 exhibit and a show of Dorothea Lange World War II Richmond photos opening on October 8.

Revitalization efforts continue

Even though this project was completed in 2009, it bears mentioning for those who haven’t been to Richmond in a while or at all. The bold brick structures known as the Richmond Civic Center have been revitalized and brought up to seismic standards. The remarkable part is that the renovated center, originally imagined by local architect Timothy Pflueger who also designed Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, looks exactly the same as it did in 1949.

Richmond Civic Center off Macdonald Avenue. Designed by Paramount Theatre architect Timothy Pflueger in 1946, the center was updated in 2009.

The Main Street Initiative, a dynamic Richmond group working to revitalize historic Macdonald Avenue, is always promoting the downtown area and bringing cheerful and uplifting events like the recent Spirit and Soul Festival to the people of the city. The group encourages downtown business development and sponsors workshops for entrepreneurs.

The Macdonald Avenue “Main Street” commercial area has also benefited from the city of Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency’s 2009 streetscape renovation project, including new sidewalks, curbs, light stands, and the placement of “Macdonald Avenue Landmarks” monuments commemorating historic sites on five downtown street corners. The city and other agencies have also helped downtown residents with funding to renovate the Nevin Community Center, which reopened to fanfare in March.

On Saturday, Oct. 15, the public is invited to join in a celebration of Richmond’s rich past from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Craneway Pavilion at the south end of Harbour Way.  The Fifth Annual Richmond Home Front Festival will feature exhibits sponsored by the National Park Service along with many other historical groups, such as Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources and the National Archives, Pacific Region staff.  Festivalgoers will also be treated to a wide variety of music, food and fun activities. Admission is free.

Photos by Ginny McPartland

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Medical history scholar revisits KP allergist Feingold’s hyperactivity diet

posted on September 15, 2011

By Edward Derbes

Heritage associate

Medical historian Matthew Smith's book discusses Feingold Diet controversy of the 1970s.

In the mid-1970s, a book by Kaiser Permanente’s leading allergist Dr. Ben Feingold (1899-1982) ascended “The New York Times” Best Sellers list.

Feingold was featured prominently in the press, from “The Washington Post” to “Newsweek” to the “Phil Donahue Show,” claiming  to have discovered a link between food additives—such as artificial coloring—and hyperactivity, now commonly known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He published his findings in the popular book, “Why Your Child Is Hyperactive,” (Random House, 1974), which was soon followed by another bestseller he co-authored with his wife, Helene, “The Feingold Cookbook for Hyperactive Children” (Random House, 1979).

He called his new diet the Kaiser Permanente (K-P) Diet. (The abbreviation was also short for “Kitchen Police.”) It became widely known as “The Feingold Diet.”

An alternative history of hyperactivity

Matthew Smith, Lecturer and Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, Scotland), recently published “An Alternative History of Hyperactivity: Food Additives and the Feingold Diet” (Rutgers University Press, 2011). The book chronicles the development of the Feingold Diet, the sensation it caused, and its ramifications for medical research and the history of medicine.

Allergist Ben Feingold, MD, with young patient and mother at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco.

Smith writes that hyperactivity was a new and urgent worry of Cold-War America. As the country became increasingly interested in scientific and mathematical advancement, Americans became anxious about their children having the discipline and focus to do well in those subjectsBefore 1957, the year the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, there were few journal articles pertaining to hyperactivity, Smith writes, and those that were published differ from more recent descriptions of hyperactivity. After 1957, “hundreds of researchers began studying the disorder.”

Smith said in a phone conversation that by the late 1960s, after a decade or so of intense debate, there was more or less a consensus that hyperactivity was caused by a “genetic glitch.”

A few years later, Feingold presented an alternative cause. Through his medical practice, Feingold discovered that when children’s diets were stripped of food additives, symptoms of hyperactivity disappeared in some patients.

Feingold’s breakthrough occurred during the height of the first organic food movement in the United States, Smith pointed out. A lot of parents were also dissatisfied, he added, with the idea that “the solution was a bottle of Ritalin,” a drug used to treat hyperactivity beginning in the 1960s.

When Feingold published his book in 1974, he tapped into a lot of that dissatisfaction, Smith said. The press ran with the story.

Feingold and Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente was “quietly supportive” of Feingold’s research, Smith said.

Feingold joined the organization in 1951 as the chief of the department of allergy. He had earned his MD from the University of Pittsburgh in 1924. In the late-1920s, he worked at the Children’s Clinic at the University of Austria inVienna with Clement von Pirquet, who coined the word “allergy” in 1906.

Feingold with Permanente founding physician Sidney Garfield

Feingold believed that “Kaiser Permanente’s system of private medical insurance was ‘a new trend in medicine,’” Smith writes.  Over the next quarter of a century with Kaiser Permanente, Feingold set up numerous allergy clinics and became a “highly respected researcher” and “dedicated clinician.” He was perhaps previously most renowned for his work on flea bite allergies. With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Feingold established the Laboratory of Medical Entomology in San Francisco, where he brought in “millions of fleas.”

In 1976, for Feingold’s 25th Anniversary with Kaiser Permanente, Cecil Cutting, MD, executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, said: “Dr. Feingold has repeatedly brought national acclaim and recognition to our program with his expertise in allergy, his development of poison oak desensitization, flea antigen work, basic research in immune mechanisms, and presently in the effects of food additives.”

Controversy over Feingold’s findings

The rest of the medical community, for the most part, did not support the diet. Some treated Feingold’s latest work as “nothing more than quackery,” Smith writes.

There were numerous studies to test the effectiveness of the diet in the years following Feingold’s publication. Many of those pointed toward evidence that the Feingold Diet was ineffective, Smith said

There were problems with a lot of the studies, though, he added. Some of those studies were funded by the Nutrition Foundation, a lobbying organization for the food industry.

Smith said that when some of the studies showed that the diet was effective in some of the population, the findings were deemed inconclusive. He said that those studies “rejected the positive findings.”

Smith also added that Ritalin has only been effective in 80 percent of the population. Without making a definitive claim, he hypothesized that the Feingold Diet may be effective in some of the other cases.

The thesis of Smith’s book is that there could be a lesson for medical research from the case of the Feingold Diet. He talked with many parents who used the diet and found it effective. “Trials are always going to be an artificial situation,” he said. In the real world, things may play out differently. In short, “Talk to the people who use it.”

Regardless of the circumstances, the Feingold Diet lost its wide appeal by the mid-1980s.

A new day for the Feingold Diet?

The diet did not disappear altogether, though. The Feingold Association of the United States, for example, kept promoting the diet. Some of the diet’s supporters even took it further than Feingold would have, Smith said

The Feingold Diet appeared in the press again this year. In March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opened hearings into a possible connection between artificial food coloring and hyperactivity, in which the FDA panel was to decide whether to ban artificial coloring in food.  The FDA specifically cited Feingold’s research in calling for the new hearings.

The FDA panel decided not to ban artificial colorings. They said there is not a definitive link between food additives and hyperactivity, but there is enough evidence to call for more research. They also suggested that artificial food coloring may negatively affect those children already prone to hyperactivity.

Smith said that there has been other positive research done on the link between hyperactivity and food additives, some of which does not mention Feingold, perhaps because of the controversy surrounding his diet.

“It’s still a possibility that the Feingold Diet may have its day,” Smith said. “Who knows?”


Edward Derbes is a 2010 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), earning a bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric with High Distinction (Magna Cum Laude).  He co-founded and was senior editor of Divergence Magazine of Cypress, California, and formerly served on the editorial staff of the College of Environmental Design e-News at UCB.  Derbes grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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