, Heritage writer
Kaiser Steel was the backbone of San Francisco’s mighty Transamerica Pyramid in 1972. And, Kaiser Steel, and Kaiser Permanente, were both also involved in another major Bay Area construction project that opened the same year – the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART.
Henry J. Kaiser built the first West Coast integrated steel mill in Fontana in 1942 to supply plate for his seven shipyards, and by the 1960s he had fabrication facilities all over the world. The closest to San Francisco was located south of the town of Napa on the Napa River. Today it’s the Napa Pipe Corporation.
Kaiser Steel won the contract to build the transbay tubes, the tunnel through which the trains scoot back and forth between Oakland and San Francisco. The tubes were prefabricated sections 330 feet long, 48 feet wide, and 24 feet high. They were much more complex than a simple drain culvert, having to endure deep water pressure and earthquakes. Special Teflon-coated seismic joints allowed up to a foot of motion without damage.
BART also required tunnel liner rings – 27,000 of them. These were 36-foot-diameter behemoths weighing 6,500 pounds. Each one was composed of six giant fitted parts, and they reinforced 13 miles of tunnel.
A 2002 article in the Napa Valley Register burst with local pride in this accomplishment. Harold Halterman, Vice President of Kaiser Steel’s Fabricating Operations in Napa and Fontana, was quoted as saying “We kept a couple hundred people busy for five years. It was a fascinating time. People came from (all over the world) to see what we had done.”
And when Kaiser Steel was finished, a Kaiser Permanente employee took on a leading role in making BART accessible to all people
Harold Willson was coal miner with a crushed spine who arrived at the Oakland Permanente Foundation Hospital from West Virginia in 1948. At the Kabat-Kaiser Institute of Neuromuscular Rehabilitation in Vallejo, Calif., he regained mobility and went on to work for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. In the mid-1960s Willson, as a volunteer with the Easter Seal Society, became a staunch advocate for making the then-new BART more accessible. This included services we now take for granted, such as station elevators, ramps, chair-high water fountains and telephones, accessible bathrooms, lowered hand railings, and “kneeling” buses.
While BART was under construction, in 1968 California Governor Ronald Reagan signed Assembly Bill 7, into law, requiring public utilities constructed with state funds to be usable by the physically disabled. This added to BART’s projected costs – just adding elevators (originally, only escalators had been planned) at 28 to 33 stations was projected at $7 million. The city of Berkeley stepped up and offered to pay for the elevator in its Ashby station as a trial.
And it was worth it.
By 1972, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle boasted that “BART Leads Way in Transit System Aid to Handicapped.”
Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, it can claim one admirable distinction- BART is the first rapid transit system in the world to offer 100 per cent usability, at almost every station, for the handicapped. This claim was made proudly today by Harold L. Willson of Alamo, himself handicapped, partly responsible for the installation of special facilities for the handicapped and elderly along BART’s 75-mile system.
According to Willson, “Accessible transportation is often the deciding factor between being dependent on society, friends or family and being independent within society. I’ll never forget that sense of freedom I experienced boarding a BART test train for the first time.”
Henry J. Kaiser was a doer, and once told his long-time attorney Paul Marrin “Don’t tell me what I can’t do. Figure out a way to do it.” Although Kaiser had already passed away in 1967, surely he would have been proud of Halterman’s and Willson’s accomplishments.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2vm4mFU
, Heritage writer
Part one of two parts – Walnut Creek, Dragerton, and Fontana
“Hospital design is sort of a hobby of mine.”
—Sidney Garfield, MD, New York Times Magazine, April 28, 1974.
Mayhew’s career began in 1922 as a draftsman at the San Francisco firm of Arthur Brown, Jr.. He traveled abroad to study at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts between 1922 and 1925, and returned to the Francisco Bay Area, where he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley School of Architecture in 1927.
He remained in the Bay Area began a long and distinguished career. Mayhew designed homes, including two in scenic Big Sur and Los Angeles for Lucille and David Packard (co-founder of the multinational information technology company Hewlett-Packard). Among his institutional commissions were the Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Alumnae House at Mills College (Oakland, Calif.), the Alumni House at U.C. Berkeley, and a racetrack in Lima, Peru.
But it was his design of early Permanente Foundation hospitals that is the foundation of his legacy.
Mayhew’s first Permanente hospital was the 76-bed Walnut Creek Medical Center, which opened in April, 1953, one year after the flagship Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles hospital. Dr. Garfield was listed as “functional designer and medical consultant.” It, and the subsequent Kaiser Permanente Fontana Hospital, were part of a “small city” hospital movement; the larger and more urban Kaiser Permanente hospitals in San Francisco and Los Angeles were called “dream hospitals.”
A short newsclip about this facility can be seen here.
Walnut Creek, along with Los Angeles and San Francisco (opened August 1953), were considered marvels of hospital design. Kaiser Permanente’s member newsletter Planning for Health of October 1952 gushed about its charms:
Many unusual innovations have been incorporated to make the hospital outstanding in the service it will render. The usual central corridor has been converted into a private corridor for nurse, doctor and employees, with a nurse’s station located for approximately each eight beds. This keeps the public away from the service area and bring the nurse, supplies and equipment in close proximity to the patient for more efficient care. Visitors reach the rooms via an outer corridor. Each patient enjoys a private or semiprivate room enclosed on one side with glass, affording the patient a pleasant view of landscaped grounds and trees.
Another progressive feature is the maternity wing. Here the central nursery has been eliminated and replaced with an individual nursery behind the bed-wall. At any time the mother, or visitors, can view the baby through a glass window beside the bed while the baby is actually attended by the nurse. Whenever the mother wants her baby beside her, she need only pull out the bassinet and her baby is there.
Even more impressively, the hospital was featured in an eight-page article in the July 1954 issue of Architectural Forum. It was titled “Today’s Most Talked-About Hospital…for four good reasons,” which it articulated:
1: Its architecture is part of the cure
2: Its corridors are actually long workrooms
3: Its bedrooms are designed for patient self-help, and
4: Its economics make it self-supporting at low rates.
Although many of those functional features were Dr. Garfield’s ideas, the aesthetics of the design were credited to Mayhew: “Note the easygoing grace with which Architect Mayhew has imbued a necessarily machinelike plan.”
Immediately on the heels of Walnut Creek were two smaller facilities built in 1954, one at a remote World War II Kaiser Steel coal mining location in Dragerton, Utah, and the other as a civic expansion of the hospital in the city of Fontana, Calif., where Henry J, Kaiser’s wartime steel mill was located.The War Production Board had built a hospital at Dragerton (now called East Carbon City), which was later purchased by a physician who soon afterwards was charged with medical and fiscal mismanagement. United States Steel asked Henry J. Kaiser to take over the hospital in early 1952. Miners were desperate for proper care, and the team of Permanente physicians – which included shipyard doctor Wallace “Wally” Cook – was swamped. Mayhew designed a simple hospital, for which Dr. Garfield was listed as “consultant.”
Although a Permanente health plan was never established in the region, the hospital remained as Utah Permanente Hospital until 1966. However, this commitment to serving working people would eventually re-emerge as a plea for expansion from stakeholders in Colorado, which Kaiser Permanente began to do in 1969.In Fontana, a wartime hospital existed on the steel mill site, but once the Permanente Health Plan was opened to the public after the war it made more sense to locate a hospital in town. At first Dr. Garfield considered simply expanding the hospital at the steel plant, but in late 1953 Kaiser Steel Corporation Vice-president and General Manager Jack L. Ashby wrote to Dr. Garfield and told him:
I am advised that last month alone some 9,000 to 10,000 people visited the existing clinic now at the steel plant. The overcrowded condition is constantly a problem… In our opinion, not to build the clinic in the City of Fontana would be like building a beautiful automobile without an engine.
The San Bernardino County Sun published an article August 19, 1954, announcing a three-day open house:
The Kaiser Foundation’s newest “hospital of the future,” bringing to the Fontana area the last word in comfort and efficiency for patients and the hospital staff, will be introduced to the public next week.
The new medical facilities, initially containing 42 beds, are located on a 15-acre site at 9961 Sierra Ave., corner of Marygold Ave. They will complement the existing 88-bed Foundation hospital at the nearby steel mill of Kaiser Steel Corp., which donated $300,000 to help finance the new structure. The hospital, in the center of the expanding Fontana-Bloomington-Rialto-Etiwanda area of 60,000 population, is a community hospital open to the general public and to all qualified physicians and their patients, as well as Kaiser Foundation Health Plan members.
The one-story, “T” shaped building, of steel construction and utilizing vast amounts of glass, is the second of the Foundation’s concept of the ideal “small city” hospital.
Three hospitals in two years – that’s a pretty remarkable pace. But Mayhew was just getting started.
Next: More California hospitals 1955-1973: Harbor City, Panorama City, and San Rafael.
Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/1WXvpSN
, Heritage writer
Can heavy industry be a good neighbor? That was one of the challenges facing the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana, California, in 1972.
Steel for shipbuilding and other industries was in heavy demand during World War II, and no integrated mills (those capable of all phases of steel production, from making iron through rolling shapes) existed on the West Coast.
Henry J. Kaiser was a man of action, so he built a state-of-the-art plant in then-rural Fontana, 55 miles inland from Los Angeles. It fired up its first blast furnace, “Bess No. 1” (named after Kaiser’s wife), on December 30, 1942, and boasted numerous technologies to reduce air and water pollution.
Additional steps were taken over the years to be a model facility, but the plant struggled to adopt increasingly stringent environmental safeguards as the surrounding community developed.
The first national “Earth Day” in 1970 was an indicator of increased national environmental consciousness, and community relations with the steel mill grew tense.
In February 1972 the United Steelworkers of America Local No. 2869 started a 43-day strike that shut down the sprawling facility. Implementing Henry J. Kaiser’s famous proclamation that “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes,” management saw the situation as a way to help dispel one of their most persistent criticisms – Kaiser Steel’s perceived role as the primary source of local air pollution. They embarked on a project to document Fontana’s skies when the “variable” of an operating steel mill was absent.
Here is the explanatory text from the 32-page booklet, Aerial Photographs During the Strike, published by Kaiser Steel immediately following the work stoppage:
And The Smog Stayed On
Even though virtually all authorities agree that less than 15 percent of photochemical smog comes from stationary sources, it is often contended that the elimination of industrial plants in San Bernardino County would make a dramatic reduction in the area’s air pollution problem. Kaiser Steel was recently placed in the position where the results of such an action could be observed.
A strike idled the Fontana Plant beginning February 1, 1972. It brought to a halt all production from the blast furnaces, open hearths, oxygen furnaces, and rolling mills.
During the first three weeks of the strike, aerial photographs were taken to record atmospheric conditions in the vicinity of the Fontana Plant. Of course, this is the clearest time of the year and there were many days, and particularly mornings, of good visibility and little or no photochemical smog. On the other hand, most of the days there was a very visible bank of photochemical smog in the area, much of which appeared to be brought by afternoon winds from the west.
This booklet is a collection of pictures taken during the first three weeks of the strike. While it is not possible to make exact comparisons for any given day, it is evident that even with the steel mill shut down, the area suffered some of its worst smog for this time of year.
California author Mike Davis, in his critical book City of Quartz, noted Kaiser Steel’s strike-based environmental documentation in the chapter “Fontana: Junkyard of Dreams” and made these observations:
Many ex-steelworkers still vehemently believe that the Kaiser pollution scare was purposely manufactured by developers who regarded the plant—smog-spewing or not—as a huge negative externality to residential construction in the Cucamonga-Fontana area.
As San Bernardino County’s West End fell under the “urban shadow” of Los Angeles and Orange County, developable property values came into increasing conflict with the paycheck role of the mill as leading local employer.
Inevitably the pollution debate reflected these divergent material interests.
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