By Ginny McPartland
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.
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
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.)
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.
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 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. http://www.richmondmuseumofhistory.org/calendar.htm
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.
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. http://www.richmondmainstreet.org/
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. http://rcoc.com/current-events/home-front-festival/
Photos by Ginny McPartland
By Ginny McPartland
The stomp of little feet can again be heard in the halls of the former Maritime Child Development Center in the World War II Home Front city of Richmond, California. After a $9 million restoration project, the hammers have stopped and the children again populate the school whose walls housed a progressive child care program for the pint-sized offspring of Kaiser Shipyard workers.
A neighborhood charter school program designed to radically improve educational success of low-income minority kids opened a new site this month in the renovated Maritime structure. Richmond College Prep Schools, chartered for kindergarten through Grade 6, welcomed two classes of first graders and two classes of kindergarteners on August 11.
The two-story, 1943-built school is located at Florida Street and Harbour Way, a short distance from the former shipyard sites. Richmond College Prep Schools serve families in the Santa Fe and Coronado neighborhoods in the Iron Triangle, an area including Central Richmond known for its high rate of crime.
As a joint venture among Richmond Community Foundation, the Rosie the Riveter national park, and the fundraising Rosie the Riveter Trust, the center also features a museum memorializing the original character of the center. The National Park Service staff has gathered and preserved child-sized tables and chairs, art easels, wooden toys and other artifacts from the World War II Richmond child care centers to re-create an authentic classroom environment.
The interpretive exhibits honor the female shipyard worker – the iconic Rosie the Riveter – and her male counterparts whose efforts contributed vastly to the war effort. The exhibits will also address California’s role in World War II and its impact on civil rights, health care, child care and labor. The park service will offer public tours of the museum beginning this fall.
Renovation project not that smooth
The $9 million restoration of the historic Maritime Child Development Center was funded with federal grants and donations through the Rosie the Riveter Trust and with contributions from the city of Richmond and the West Contra Costa County school district. Rehabilitation, including the use of green techniques to preserve the building’s historic designation, began in the spring of 2010 and was expected to be completed in the spring of 2011.
Unfortunately, the almost 70-year-old building offered unexpected problems. The 17,000-square-foot center was described in 2004 as: “Threatened and endangered, vacant and abandoned, with water damage, not seismically safe, with mold, asbestos and lead-based paint to remove, and not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.” Add to these problems rain delays and utilities issues and it is no wonder the completion was delayed.
Child development center a historic treasure
At stake was one of the first federally built child service centers to be funded by the U.S. Maritime Commission. The center was established at the behest of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser who ran the four Richmond Shipyards. The workers in Kaiser’s West Coast shipyards in Richmond, California, and Portland, Oregon, set records for building war ships faster than any other yards. Richmond workers completed 747 Liberty and Victory ships during the wartime emergency.
To keep up the pace, Kaiser needed every worker he could get, including women and men of all ages and abilities. For the first time in history, women were performing industrial jobs formerly only done by men. That meant someone needed to take care of the children of the workers, many who had migrated away from their extended families in other regions of the U.S.
Henry Kaiser was not happy with mediocre care for the children. So he hired child care experts from UC Berkeley and elsewhere to develop an educational program and nurturing care program, including medical care, for the children. He funded the centers with federal Lanham Act money allocated for community services for war industry boom towns, such as Richmond, which had grown from a sleepy town of 23,000 people to more than 100,000.
The centers were designed with the advice of Catherine Landreth, a child development expert at UC Berkeley. Landreth recommended indoor and outdoor space for children to get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Music and art were incorporated into the educational program. Children who attended preschool at the Kaiser centers enjoyed warm meals, warm beds and plenty of attention throughout the day. Parents could leave their children while they worked any shift at the shipyards, and hot meals could be purchased at the center and taken home for the family.
Maritime center stayed open for six decades
When the war ended in 1945, federal funds were withdrawn for child care, and most centers across the country closed. In Richmond, however, the parents pleaded with the school district to keep the about 30 Richmond centers open. In the end, the state of California and the local school district funded the centers for many years after the war. The Maritime center and the Ruth Powers Child Development Center nearby on Cutting Boulevard are the only two remaining World War II child care facilities in Richmond. They continued to operate until 2004 with funding from the state of California Department of Education.
Richmond College Prep Schools, run by a private corporation called Richmond Elementary Schools, Inc., continues the tradition of progressive early childhood education at the site. “(Our) educational philosophy is centered on preparing students, beginning at four years of age, to succeed academically and emotionally in a college educational environment. This philosophy requires nurturing the expectations of academic success in families as well as students,” according to the school’s web site.
The Maritime center renovation is part of the Nystrom Urban Re Vitalization Effort (NURVE) that includes the Nystrom School modernization and a new athletic field for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Both projects are around the corner from the Maritime building on Harbour Way.
By Ginny McPartland
Joe Fischer is no stranger to art. He’s no stranger to children’s art. A Berkeley resident and former UC Berkeley professor, Joe Fischer has written five books on Indonesian art and culture. He spent 25 years visiting and studying Indonesia, and he has been curator of many exhibits on Indonesian traditional art and children’s art.
Joe Fischer is also no stranger to war. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II and visited the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki within two weeks after their destruction by Allied atomic bombs.
So when Joe heard about the rich collection of children’s art from the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards child care centers, needless to say, he was intrigued. The more he explored the boxes full of children’s paintings and cut-and-paste artwork preserved at the Richmond Museum of History, the more fascinated he became.
Joe quickly understood the significance of the children’s uninhibited observations of life on the home front. Given the creation in 2000 of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front national park in Richmond, Joe’s passion for bringing the art to light seemed to hit the right note. Sharing his enthusiasm with the staff of the new park, they agreed the museum had indeed captured a national treasure-trove.
The little noticed collection of 5,000-plus pieces brims with creativity,individuality, emotion and small-child confidence. Joe’s diligent study and interpretation of the art –and the enthusiastic support of the museum board of directors – culminated this summer in the publication of “Children’s Art & Children’s Words.” The book includes 185 color plates of the artwork, as well as direct quotes from the 2- to 12-year-olds about their masterpieces as told to their teachers.
Focus on individual artists
“The focus (of this book) is on the paintings of individual children, comments by them and their teachers, and the environment in which this took place,” Joe says in the introduction. “The child care program in all its various aspects was an extraordinary educational model. It provided care, nurture, materials, and creative outlets for thousands of children. Such a comprehensive child care program had probably never existed in the United States before the war nor has one been developed since, he adds.
The children’s art collection, which includes pieces from 1943 through 1966, only exists due to the foresight of the late Monica Haley, longtime art director of the child care centers. She retained the children’s work and their comments conscientiously, realizing their historical value. Subsequent to her retirement in 1966, Haley donated the entire collection to the Richmond Museum of History. Richmond’s child care centers’ art created after that date has been lost to history. Joe devotes a whole chapter of the book to Haley.
Kaiser child care breaks new ground
The Richmond child care program began in 1943 through the collaboration of Henry J. Kaiser, the U.S. Maritime Commission and the Richmond school district. Kaiser, who ran the shipyards, saw the critical need for high quality, around-the-clock care for the children of mothers working on ships. Although society had frowned on mothers working outside the home, the war urgency put that attitude on hold.
Kaiser worked through the Maritime Commission to obtain funds to build and subsidize the centers, and the school district received federal funds. The Lanham Act set up wartime funding to help war production communities, like Richmond, accommodate ballooning populations. The federal money earmarked initially for fire stations, roads, schools, and other local services, was also approved for construction and operation of child care centers.
The Richmond child care program had 14 sites during the war years. Set up by the best child care experts of the time, including Catherine Landreth, PhD, of the UC Berkeley Institute of Child Welfare, the program was groundbreaking. The buildings were thoughtfully designed to make the environment comfortable and healthy for children.
The routine included a health check, nutritious meals planned by a dietitian, plenty of rest, outside play, and lessons in art and music. There were sleeping rooms for naps and overnight stays, child-sized sinks and toilets, lockers, and a sick room to isolate ailing students. The school district took care in making the experience educational and stimulating. For all this, the parents paid 50 cents a day, 60 cents if they had breakfast.
Bubble bursts when war ends
After the war, the shipyards closed and the federal funding for child care centers dried up. But there were still many women in Richmond and many other places who wanted or needed to continue working. So the Richmond community lobbied the federal and state government to continue the funding. They were successful, and California became one of only few states that continued child care after the war.
At the same time, the Kaiser Shipyards child care programs in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, shut down completely. The Northwest child care centers, also influenced by UC Berkeley child development experts, did not have the community support needed to keep them open. However, experience in these child care centers contributed invaluably to the study of child development, and the legacy informs current practice.
The Richmond schools continued to operate preschools on essentially the same wartime principles until around 1967. A variety of federal, state and local funding sources, including Head Start, have continued a semblance of the program to the present.
One of the original Kaiser-built centers, the Maritime Child Development Center at 10th and Florida streets in Richmond, has been designated a national historical landmark. Renovation of the center is under way, and Rosie the Riveter/World War II National Historical Park museum curators are collecting and interpreting historical artifacts, such as furniture from the original wartime program. The center, to house classrooms and a National Park Service museum, is scheduled to open in 2011.
The Richmond Museum of History also operates the restored SS Red Oak Victory, a World War II ship built in Richmond and docked at the Rosie the Riveter national park. To find out more: ssredoakvictory.org.