Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Kaiser Shipyards’

Henry Kaiser set bar for sharing innovations with public

posted on May 23, 2013

By Lincoln Cushing, Heritage writer

From Kaiser Richmond Shipyard newsletter, Fore ‘N’ Aft, Nov. 12, 1943: “Bond winners Ernest Terry and Ray Worley discuss the merits of Ray’s improved rigger’s hook. This month fifteen shipbuilders from Richmond’s Yard Three won awards for production improvements.

What is the right way to reward creativity and hard work? What is an appropriate balance between corporate ownership and the public good?  These issues form the root of copyright and patent law and have shifted over time and place.

Contrary to the practices of most major companies, however, Kaiser Permanente – and its earlier entity, Kaiser Industries – have long embraced the concept that sharing is not only good for the community, it’s responsible organizational practice.

On November 17, 1942, Henry J. Kaiser recommended that an independent federal agency be formed to license all new inventions and to distribute their benefits throughout industry.

His comments were published in many news outlets, including Billboard magazine’s December 1942 issue:

“Original ideas, suggestions and developments should be interchanged among allied industries, such as airplane (production) and shipbuilding and the steel industry,” Kaiser told a U.S. Senate military subcommittee studying technological mobilization.

He said he thought his position might be considered revolutionary, but added:  “Industry will be more productive if patents are available to all industries able to use them. (After the war), compensation for their use should go to the individual as an incentive and not to the company that employs him (or her).”

Billboard’s article reported, “Workers in the Kaiser shipyards are encouraged to submit new ideas and techniques, and a prize is awarded each week for the best suggestion. In addition, the author of an accepted proposal works with an engineer in preparing sketches to illustrate an improved process.”

Article on shipyard innovation, Richmond Kaiser Shipyard newsletter, Fore ‘N’ Aft, Sept. 24, 1943: “Ralph Kinney won a $25 war bond for his adjustable template, which fits a huge shell plate to the stern casting, allowing for unavoidable variations. The job formerly took 29 man-hours, now it takes one.”

Kaiser told the committee that his industries made their data available to other builders, and likewise, he benefited from the findings of others.

Sharing tradition continues

That “revolutionary” position was not just a flash in the pan. Kaiser Permanente, Henry J. Kaiser’s most enduring legacy, has continued that tradition.

Kaiser Permanente’s fourth CEO, George Halvorson, who has led the organization since 2002, has long supported an open approach to innovation.

Some of these initiatives include:

The Care Connectivity Consortium includes Kaiser Permanente, the Mayo Clinic, Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania, Intermountain Healthcare based in Utah, and Group Health Cooperative, based in Seattle.

The consortium is dedicated to developing systems that will allow seamless sharing of health information among provider groups.

The consortium is also committed to working toward a future where timely access to health information improves the quality of care for all patients.

The Partnership for Quality Care is a coalition of not-for-profit health care providers and health care workers dedicated to guaranteed, affordable, high-quality health care for every man, woman, and child in America. The partnership strives to improve patient care as well as prevent and treat chronic conditions by sharing best practices.

Members include Kaiser Permanente, several units of the Service Employees International Union, the Greater New York Hospital Association, Group Health Cooperative and HealthPartners in Minnesota.

In 2008, Kaiser Permanente CEO Halvorson noted: “Leading health care providers have already implemented programs that contain costs, expand access, and most importantly, improve the quality of care for chronic patients. That points the way to nationwide reform.”

Banding together to beat HIV

The HIV Interregional Initiative, a cooperative effort among all Kaiser Permanente regions and Group Health Cooperative, represents the second largest provider of integrated HIV care in the United States; the largest provider is the Veterans Administration.

Sponsors of the initiative are Kaiser Permanente Foundation Health Plan and The Permanente Federation, which represents the national interests of the Permanente Medical Groups.

The Care Management Institute, a partnership between the federation and the health plan, has developed the first clinical guidelines in the United States for HIV/AIDS treatment and the appropriate use of related drugs.

The HIV Interregional Initiative works with Kaiser Permanente’s national pharmacy purchasers to get the best prices for HIV drugs.  Research using Kaiser Permanente’s electronic health records has led to exceptional success in treating patients with HIV.

In 2012, Robert Pearl, MD, executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, noted: “Our success in the treatment of patients with HIV/AIDS results from the excellence of our clinicians, our advanced [information technology] systems, our integrated delivery system and our effective coordination across specialties.”

Kaiser Permanente assists health care providers and community health clinics across the country in improving their HIV patient care by sharing its clinical best practices, provider and patient education materials, training and other expertise.

Genetic research for better chronic care

The Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health is one of the largest research projects in the United States to examine the genetic and environmental factors that can increase risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and asthma.

With DNA collected from 500,000 consenting California health plan members, the project will link comprehensive electronic health records, data on relevant behavioral and environmental factors, as well as genetic information.

Working in collaboration with other scientists across the nation and around the world, researchers hope to translate project findings into improvements in preventive care and treatment.

Henry J. Kaiser started something in 1942 that continues to drive Kaiser Permanente’s quest, 71 years later, to improve health care and access to treatment for all Americans.


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Millie Cutting: physician’s wife makes her own mark

posted on July 27, 2012

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

Millie Cutting in the early years of Permanente Medicine. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Archives photo

Millie Cutting was the wife of Kaiser Permanente’s pioneering chief surgeon Cecil Cutting, but her influence on the fledgling medical program during World War II contradicts any cliché prescribing the role of a doctor’s spouse. She was a vibrant, energetic force in her own right, a good woman behind a good man, but much, much more.

The Cuttings met in Northern California at Stanford University in the early 1930s. He was training to become a physician; she was a registered nurse with a degree from Stanford. They met on the tennis courts and married in 1935.

During her husband’s nonpaid internship, Millie Cutting worked two jobs – for a pediatrician during the day and an ophthalmologist in the evenings – to pay the bills. He was making $300 a month as a resident when Sidney Garfield, MD, contacted him about joining the medical care program for Henry Kaiser’s workers on the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.

Millie was at first reluctant to leave San Francisco to relocate in the desert. But when Cecil convinced her that he would have more opportunity as a surgeon with Garfield than in San Francisco, she was game.  “Oh, she was willing to go along; she had a lot of spirit and enthusiasm,” Cecil Cutting said in his oral history.

“I think with a little reluctance, perhaps of the unknown,” he told interviewer Malca Chall of UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office in 1985. “We didn’t have any money. She had worked during my residency as a nurse, to keep us in food.”  Sidney Garfield was able to match the $300 Cutting was earning at Stanford to get him to Coulee.

A rough start at Grand Coulee

Unfortunately for Millie, things at Coulee didn’t start out too well. John Smillie, MD, writes: “Cecil and Millie Cutting resided in the company hotel. They were flat broke. The young couple had exhausted their resources getting to Washington. Neither of them thought of asking for an advance.”1

“My wife couldn’t take the heat very well,” Cutting told Smillie. “She would lay on the bed with a wet sheet over her; and we didn’t have enough money to eat, really. She would go to the cafeteria and see how far she could stretch a few pennies to eat. Of course, I ate well at the hospital and had air conditioning and everything.

Cecil Cutting, a surgeon, and Millie Cutting, a registered nurse, both graduates of Stanford University, married in 1935. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Archives photo

“She finally learned to come over and sit in the waiting room on the very hottest days. Since then, Dr. Garfield laughed at us and said, ‘Why didn’t you ask me for money?’ We didn’t know enough to do that!”

“At the end of the first discomforting month, Cutting received his first paycheck for $350,” Smillie writes. “He and Millie moved into a remodeled schoolhouse, the largest home in the community, and it soon became the social center for the physicians and the Kaiser executives.”

Millie gets her groove back

During the rest of their time at Coulee, Millie not only got her energy back but she exhibited her strength as a staff nurse and as a community volunteer. Probably her most significant contribution was the development of a well-baby clinic in a community church. As a volunteer, she organized the clinic and went door to door soliciting funds for its operation. She had no qualms about knocking on the portals of the town’s brothels.

“The madams were very friendly,” Cecil Cutting told Smillie. “The community church provided the space, and the houses of ill repute the money – a very compatible community.”

Garfield’s right hand ‘man’ at wartime shipyards

Millie and Cecil Cutting with Kaiser Permanente physician co-founder Sidney Garfield (right) at Oakland Kaiser Foundation Hospital, 1943. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Archives photo

The Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1940, and the medical staff and their families scattered. The Cuttings settled briefly in Seattle where Dr. Cutting set up a surgery practice. But it wasn’t very long before World War II broke out and Dr. Garfield was called upon again to assembe the medical troops.

Cecil Cutting was the first physician to arrive in Richmond, California, where Henry Kaiser set up four wartime shipyards. Millie Cutting volunteered to work side by side with Sidney Garfield to get the medical care program up and running and to take charge of any job that needed to be done.

She recruited, interviewed and hired nurses, receptionists, clerks, and even an occasional doctor, to staff the health care program that was set up in a hurry in 1942. She smoothed the way for newcomers and helped them find homes in the impossible wartime housing market.

Thoroughly adaptable Millie drove a supply truck between the Oakland and Richmond hospitals and the first aid stations and served as the purchasing agent for a time. As she had done at Grand Coulee, Millie set up a well-baby clinic for shipyard workers’ families, and she opened her home in Oakland as a social center for the medical care staff.

Perturbing postwar perceptions

After the war, Millie and Bobbie Collen, wife of Morris Collen, MD, started a Permanente wives group in 1949. The association created a support system against an often hostile medical establishment that shunned prepaid group practice of medicine as “socialist.” The physicians were not allowed in the local medical society, and the women felt socially ostracized.

“They organized themselves as the Permanente Wives Association, which had a nickname, ‘Garfield’s Girls,’ ” Smillie wrote. “They had dances, parties, picnics and social outings several times a year that were really a lot of fun. The auxiliary. . .became famous for its rummage sales.”

Millie and Cecil Cutting with daughter Sydney and son Christopher, circa 1948 in Orinda, California. Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources Archives photo.

The Cuttings became good friends with Sidney Garfield, and in fact, he spent periods of time living with them in their Orinda home in the 1940s and 1950s. Cecil Cutting credits Garfield with the couple’s decision in 1948 to adopt their two children, Sydney and Christopher. “He talked us into it,” Cutting said.

Garfield often went to them for advice about business matters, as well. “I think he talked over a lot of things with Dr. Cutting and Millie,” said Smillie in his oral history. “He had a great deal of confidence in their judgment. If they told him he was wrong, he was able to accept it.”

The Cuttings were the friends Garfield chose to share the happy moment of burning the mortgage papers once the renovated Fabiola Hospital (the first Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Oakland) note was paid off.  The private celebration took place in the Cuttings’ home with just Garfield and Millie and Cecil present.

Dr. Cutting worked his way up to become the executive director of The Permanente Medical Group in 1957 and retired in 1976 after 35 years as a major figure in the organization. Millie Cutting continued to volunteer at the Oakland Kaiser Foundation Hospital all of her life. She had to quit in 1985 when she became too ill to leave her house. She died that year at the age of 73. Cecil Cutting received a flood of condolence notes from all the people whose lives Millie had touched.

One woman wrote: “When life seemed just too much, Millie’s unforgettable laughter would ring in my mind’s ear, and the will to tackle life again would be there like a gift from her. She didn’t just give. She was a gift.”

1 John Smillie, MD, Can Physicians Manage the Quality and Costs of Health Care? The Story of The Permanente Medical Group, McGraw-Hill Companies, New York, 1991

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Kaiser Permanente Historian Uncovers Uncle’s Stint as Shipyard Reporter

posted on July 13, 2012

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

KP Heritage writer Lincoln Cushing’s Uncle Bob was a reporter for the Richmond wartime shipyard publication Fore ‘n’ Aft.

Serendipity is the secret bonus of academic research. You can be prowling through documents, methodically and tediously looking for a particular item, when something unexpected comes along and gobsmacks you.  I had just such a moment yesterday, as I was looking for photos of women on the various sports teams that served as recreational diversion during the hard work of shipbuilding during World War II.

My go-to source was Fore ‘n’ Aft, a sprightly weekly magazine published for the 93,000 workers in the four Richmond (California) Kaiser Shipyards where the Kaiser Permanente health plan was born. But in the course of learning about baseball teams with occupation-themed names like the “Yard Three Burners” and the “Grave Steamfitters,” I saw a captioned photo of my maternal uncle, Robert Heizer.

I knew that Robert, a distinguished U.C. Berkeley anthropologist who died in 1979, had worked in the Richmond yards during the war. It was family lore that he had replaced his security badge photo with that of a gorilla, just for kicks, and never got caught. I had even learned from one of my cousins that Robert had been a steamfitter. But no one knew much more than that.

The photo in the October 29, 1943, article has the uncomfortable but period-authentic caption “Bob Heizer is trying to decide whether to squash Mr. Jap or push him into oblivion.” A curious caricature of an Asiatic enemy (Hideki Tojo?) peeks out of a pipe, and my somber uncle is contemplating the absurd tableau.

The accompanying short article extols his academic status and professional accomplishments, and goes on to describe his shipyard role as steamfitter leaderman (subforeman) and spare time reporter for Fore ‘n’ Aft.

There you have it, the circles close in. My uncle was also writing for a Kaiser publication, ten years before I was born. The world of information may be hurtling along at breakneck speed, but much of the human record remains outside the grasp of search engines and data mining.

Manual research still reveals unknown nuggets, and writers still put those pieces together into a compelling narrative.  The vast human organism that was the Kaiser shipyards lives on as the vast human organism called Kaiser Permanente, striving to thrive and make the world a better place.

Here is the article from Fore ‘n’ Aft about my uncle, Bob Heizer.

“It’s a pipe to Bob!”

Whether it’s hooking up a steam line, digging for prehistoric relics, or writing a story for Fore ‘n’ Aft, it’s all a pipe to Bob Heizer. And by the way, if you have a spot o’ news and don’t know just how to tell it, look for Bob in his little cubbyhole headquarters hidden under the starboard side of Way Four; he’s a spare-time official Fore ‘n’ Aft reporter.

Bob has lived variously in Denver, Washington, D.C., and among the jackrabbits and sagebrush of Nevada. Graduated from U. of Cal. and also took a Ph.D. in his favorite study, archaeology. Spent two summers with a Smithsonian expedition digging long-buried Eskimo bones from their graves in the Aleutian Islands, and two more summers at Drake’s Bay in Marin Co. digging up remains of a Spanish ship wrecked there in 1595.

Bob is a steamfitter leaderman in Yard Two, which does not mean that he takes two pieces of steam and fits them together, but he does spend most of the time bumping his head and skinning his knees in the double-bottoms. Says he likes his job mainly because he doesn’t think the Japs are pleased to have him doing it.

Hard hats off to you, Uncle Bob.

 

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Tandem weekend celebrations highlight SF Bay Area historical treasures

posted on May 24, 2012

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

A ship built at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards steams under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to sea.

The spectacular 75-year-old Golden Gate Bridge shares more stories with the World War II West Coast shipyards than you might think. Both the opening of the bridge in May of 1937 and the gritty toil of Home Front workers are being celebrated this Memorial Day weekend.

The bridge paved the way for major commercial and residential expansion into Marin County and the North Bay counties; the construction of warships in Richmond played a big part in winning the Second World War.

Though the two events took place four years apart, the connection between the two stories in Pacific Coast defense history is strong. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the entrance to San Francisco Bay – the Golden Gate Strait – was key in keeping the West Coast safe. Blackouts, battlements on bluffs around the Bay, defense mining of the harbor and a huge net to keep hostile submarines out all figured in the military’s response to the threat of attack.

The USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, passing under the Golden Gate during Fleet Week October 1985. U.S. Navy photo

Fear of an impending enemy strike subsided after a time, but the imposing and graceful Golden Gate Bridge took on epic proportions as a symbol of America, friendly territory, and home.  Between 1942 and 1946, innumerable sailors and soldiers gave the bridge a silent kiss goodbye on their way out to war.

When they steamed back into San Francisco Bay at war’s end, most servicemen let out an uncontrollably boisterous shout of joy at the sight of the iconic bridge painted International Orange. Mere boys when they shipped out, they came home as men who had seen it all, or so it seemed.

Kaiser-built ships cruised under bridge on way to hostile waters

Many of those men were traveling in ships built by workers at the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. In perfect tandem with the Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration, Rosie the Riveter Home Front national park is celebrating the grand opening of its long-awaited Visitor Education Center on the Richmond waterfront. The new center, housed in the beautifully refurbished former Ford Company oil house, offers the stories of the Kaiser shipyards, including the health care program that is now Kaiser Permanente. (For more, see “Richmond fans get sneak peek at Rosie Park visitors’ center,” posted May 1, 2012.)

A stylized view of the almost-finished Rosie the Riveter park visitors’ center theater in April. Photo by Joe Paolazzi

The Rosie park event includes opportunities to walk and bicycle in a ranger-guided parade along the two miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail adjacent to the former Kaiser Shipyard 3. The path, along Canal Boulevard past the restored shipyard cafeteria, will be dedicated Saturday as part of day-long activities sponsored by the Rosie park. The tour will end with an open house at the Red Oak Victory, a Kaiser-built war ship that has been restored as a museum. For more: http://bit.ly/tetBIp

These activities gel nicely with Kaiser Permanente’s ongoing “Every Body Walk!” public health campaign. KP is one of the major sponsors of the Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration on the other side of the bay.

The Golden Gate Bridge’s past includes walking activities – the bridge was first opened to pedestrians on Thursday, May 27, 1937, the day before the official opening. About 200,000 pedestrians crossed the spanking new span on that day. During the 50th anniversary in 1987, about 300,000 people traversed the span on foot during “Bridgewalk ’87,” an event that challenged the strength of the structure. Bridge engineers said the heavy human load shifted the bridge’s profile and its “normal convex shape was flattened.” This year’s event doesn’t include a walking opportunity.

You can find out more about the Kaiser Permanente’s walking initiative by visiting the KP tent and bicycle storage area on San Francisco’s Marina Green Saturday and Sunday (May 26-27). See below for details.

Troops swooned over the Golden Gate span

Many war veterans have written memoirs of their experience going overseas to fight a war, and it’s not uncommon to find passages describing emotions connected with the Golden Gate Bridge. John H. Dougherty, a crew man on LST (Landing Ship, Tank) 481 built in 1942 at Kaiser Richmond Shipyard 3 recalls:

“To get to San Diego, we first had to find our way out of San Francisco Bay in a very heavy fog. . . A group of us were standing outside of the galley passageway when someone happened to look through to the other side and saw some fog-shrouded land where there definitely was not supposed to any. Surprise! There was Alcatraz, practically at our door step!

“The ship was so close that the screws stirred up a lot of muddy water as we passed the island. At 0845 hours, the anchor was dropped just off Alcatraz to wait for the fog to lift.

“By 0920, we were under way once more, and at 10:46 we headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge into the mighty Pacific Ocean. Any doubts the crew might have had about the ability of the ship to sail out of sight of land and return safely were erased when we successfully sailed into San Diego Bay on May 26.”

Quoted in a recent Nob Hill Gazette article, Peter Robinson, a World War II Navy veteran, remembered:

“I sailed out for the South Pacific, uprooted from the comfortable life I had known and suddenly, at 18, I was going to war. I was scared. In the early morning my ship approached the Golden Gate Bridge, lighted by the dawn, dappled by wisps of fog. I looked at the bridge and smiled, ‘I’m going to come back and see you again.’ And I did.”

Navy veteran Michael Gioseffi of Healdsburg, California, tells a similar story, also quoted in the Nob Hill Gazette:

“I was 17 in 1944 and joined the Navy. In 1945, I shipped out for the Philippines. It was a warm, sunny day; and it was the first time I had seen the Golden Gate Bridge. I was surprised that the color was orange. I looked up at it and asked myself, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ I sailed under the bridge again the following year, on my way home, pleased to be alive and unhurt.

“And every time I see the bridge today, I think about my question in 1945, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’”1

Another shot of the interior of the Rosie park visitors’ center. Photo by Joe Paolazzi

Richmond Shipyard 3-built LST 481 returns from war duty

When LST 481 returned to the San Francisco Bay in December 1945, Dougherty was not on board having been transferred to another ship at the end of the war. But he watched the ship leave Pearl Harbor bound for California and recounts the story of the ship’s final trip home:

“The final leg of her journey would take her to San Francisco, starting from Pearl Harbor at a speed of 9 knots, soon increased to 10.5 knots, and finally to 11.1 knots, all the way to her destination. This was probably the fastest the old ship ever traveled, but everyone was anxious to get home.

“The day everyone had been looking forward to came on December 15, as the old 481 passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 09:15, and came to anchor in San Francisco Bay.”

In her career, LST 481 travelled about 75,000 miles delivering tanks, troops and other essentials for battles in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of War, including Kwajelein, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She earned six battle stars for World War II service. LST 481 was one of 13 LSTs (476-488) built at the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. For more about Henry Kaiser and the Golden Gate Bridge, http://bit.ly/KFQIU3

Memorial weekend events galore celebrate Bay Area history

It will be a bit difficult to choose how to celebrate Memorial Day this weekend. Below is the schedule of some of activities marking the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge opening and the festivities at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.

Rosie the Riveter national park: All events are on Saturday; the day begins at 10 a.m. with the ribbon cutting at the new Visitor Education Center, 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond, adjacent to the Craneway Pavilion and the Boiler House Restaurant. At 11:30 a.m., the center opens to the public. Family activities, 1 to 5 p.m. at the visitors’ center. At 2 p.m., a park ranger will lead a walk around the park; at 3 p.m. visitors can meet Park Ranger Betty Soskin, who knows the shipyard history because she was there!

At noon the event shifts focus to Kaiser Shipyard 3 where a ribbon will be cut at 1 p.m. to officially open two new miles of the San Francisco Bay Trail. At 1:30 p.m., a park ranger will lead a walking and bicycling parade along the trail to the SS Red Oak Victory for an open house and free tours. For more: www.nps.gov/rori or call: 510-232-5050. To RSVP, send an email to: tracbaytrail@earthlink.net

Golden Gate Bridge 75th anniversary celebration: Kaiser Permanente will have a booth on the SF Marina Green 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both Saturday (May 26) and Sunday (May 27). KP staff will share information about the “Every Body Walk!” public health campaign and the health benefits of walking. KP actors from the Educational Theatre Program will perform Sunday under the KP tent. On Sunday evening at 9 the celebration concludes with a fireworks display at Crissy Field. http://goldengatebridge75.org/celebrate/golden-gate-festival.html

For more information about the Marina Green schedule and other activitites in SF:  http://bit.ly/KD7hu

1  “A Symphony in Steel,” Charles A. Fracchia, Nob Hill Gazette, San Francisco, May 2012

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Kaiser Permanente nurse reassembles Bay Area history in her mosaic art

posted on April 25, 2012

By Laura Thomas
Heritage correspondent

Mosaic artist Tina Amidon is a long-time Kaiser Permanente nurse who works at Oakland Medical Center in Oakland, California. Photo by Ginny McPartland

Most of us who grew up in the Bay Area were affected in some fashion by Henry Kaiser’s legacy: our parents or grandparents came here to work in his wartime shipyards, or we were influenced by the growth and change the massive migration brought. Untold numbers of us received medical care in the health plan that bloomed in the wake of it all.

Oakland Kaiser Permanente medical-surgical nurse and artist Tina Amidon is a product of the Bay Area and draws inspiration for her art from its diverse and dynamic culture and history. Her childhood in North Berkeley was influenced by artistic and outdoors-loving parents. That influence drew her to a nursing career that allowed her the freedom to pursue those pleasures while nurturing the resilience and intuitive powers she uses to create her art.

Recently she found herself immersed in a particular aspect of Richmond history that ties back to Henry Kaiser’s shipyards and Bay Area culture.

Mosaic loveseat tells Richmond’s story

Her years of working in mosaics, producing large sculptural installations, culminated in October with the public unveiling of a commission for the Richmond Museum of History. From ceramic shards she collected along the shoreline that had been dumped by TEPCO, an El Cerrito dinnerware factory, she built a large diner coffee cup as a tribute to the East Bay’s working class tradition.

Fashioned as a love seat, the cup replicates one of the many styles produced by TEPCO in one of its more popular colors, Sunglow. Along with dozens of broken bits from cups and plates used at various eateries and clubs, the chair features photos of TEPCO workers at the old plant, framed by snaps from discarded pottery molds Amidon also found on the shore; and dinner plates from the Red Oak Victory, the Kaiser-built ship converted to a museum and docked at the former Richmond Shipyard No. 3.

Tina Amidon takes a seat in her mosaic coffee mug in the courtyard of the Richmond Museum of History. Photo by Fina Lloyd.

To Amidon, it forms a quilted narrative of the city, the shipyards and the lives of workers who enjoyed their time off in “the local restaurants and cafes where they spent their hand-earned money after work,” she said.

“This piece honors the men and women who not only worked at the TEPCO factory but built the ships and got their health care at Kaiser Permanente… They sipped their coffee at diners all over the Bay Area and at places like Trader Vic’s and Tad’s Steakhouse.”

And so did the rest of us who were around in the past five decades.

Sandi Genser-Maack and husband Lynn Maack, of Richmond, are TEPCO china collectors and can cite more spots that used Tepco: Mel’s Drive-In, Doggy Diner, Rod’s Hickory Pit, the old Villa De La Paix in Oakland; the Milk Farm on I-80 near Dixon, The Broiler in Sacramento, the Lau Yee Chee Restaurant in Honolulu, Louie’s Club in El Cerrito and the Cerrito City Club. Mama’s Royal Café in Albany still does and there are probably others.

Hundreds of commercial and fraternal establishments ordered dishes with customized logos in a selection of TEPCO colors and designs. The old West was a major theme for many eating places in the mid-20th century and the U.S. Navy was a big customer, according to Genser-Maack. During World War II, she said, “all the Liberty and Victory ships that went to sea left with TEPCO.”

The Technical Porcelain and China Ware Co. – TEPCO’s official name – was founded by Italian immigrant John Pagliero and run by the family from 1918 to 1967. It was the largest dinnerware factory in the West and El Cerrito’s largest business to date.

Trash turned into treasure

Throughout the years, imperfect pieces were unceremoniously dumped, like much garbage at the time, along the bay shoreline where Amidon discovered them a decade ago while walking her dog near Point Isabel. It became her favorite collection spot for mosaic pieces, but it wasn’t until she attended a 2007 exhibition of the Maack collection that she saw her first intact TEPCO plate. She was surprised when she learned about the factory and its place in local history.

“I was able to piece together the whole story,” she said. Literally.

Fascinated by how cast-off items can create a narrative, Amidon says everything she creates tells some sort of story. A 2008 piece, “Allegorical Reliquary,” is a 12-foot-high, 8-by-10 foot roofless room that resembles an abandoned Irish chapel. It resides at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond where customers can amble through it as they shop for flower seedlings. The interior, which has water flowing down the walls inspired by the weeping walls of Zion National Park, features a lively pictorial of mosaics from found objects to tell simply of the joys and struggle of everyday life.

Nursing feeds artistic instinct

During her 22 years as a Kaiser Permanente nurse, Amidon has spent a lot of time listening, and what she’s heard has provided the fodder for the metaphorical tales told in her pieces. Currently she works part time in both Peri-op, giving pre-surgery patients vital instructions, and in the Ambulatory Surgery Unit, where she preps them on the day they arrive for the operation.

“There are all these stories you encounter as a health care person,” she said. “We see a lot of life that other people don’t see.”

Amidon grew up going to art fairs with her mother, a rakú clay artist, and spending a lot of time outdoors (her father was an economist for the U.S. Forest Service). “I would make little clay animals and sell them and that’s how I earned my play money. My mom worked very hard to prepare for all the fairs and I got an early look at the art life.”

In Berkeley High School, she started respiratory therapy training but later realized becoming a nurse would give her both a living and the autonomy to travel for the art education she sought. Over the years the quest for art knowledge has taken her to international museums and sights that inspire her imagery. Before focusing on mosaics in the early 1990s, Amidon worked on drawings and watercolors, lithographs, photography and making floor cloths.

Ideas come from everywhere

“I have tons of ideas. I take classes and figure out how to do things. That how my art always is. I just do it,” she says.

Amidon also relies on the expertise and support of her husband Jim, a mechanical technician at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Married almost 30 years, the couple traveled around the world some 20 years ago and continue to travel, camp, and explore the outdoors. They are known for their travelogue slide presentations given at REI in Berkeley over the years.

Amidon’s first show in 1995 featured wall pieces made from broken china, called “Grandma’s Dishes.” She has since created larger work and has exhibited nationally. The TEPCO chair has been accepted into the Mosaic Arts International 2012, a juried show of the Society of American Mosaic Artists in Kentucky.

Her 2005 sculpture “Passion,” a stylized chair with a heart-shaped back, depicts all forms of strong feeling and is on view at the Stained Glass Garden on Fourth Street in Berkeley. Two wall pieces: “Don’t Smoke in the Garden,” an ashtray the shape of a flower, and “Live Long and Prosper,” a couple sitting inside a hand imitating the split hand sign from Star Trek, are at Snapshot Mosaics on LaSalle Avenue in Oakland.

Bringing art to the people

Not satisfied merely with creating art, Amidon said she is “always trying to draw an audience” and wants to involve more people, particularly the youth in Richmond, where she lives. Amidon enlisted the help of modern dance teacher Jacqueline Burgess and her class at El Cerrito High to choreograph performances that were big hits at both the unveilings of her reliquary (a container for relics) piece and the TEPCO chair.

With Arty Cordisco, the owner of Douglas and Sturgess, an art supply store in Richmond, she is working on a community art space and sculpture garden. Her goal is to pull the large numbers of artists who live in Richmond into a “Bohemian art network” of like-minded folks who can help energize the creative spirit in town.

Amidon encourages everyone to visit her coffee cup in the courtyard of the charming and informative Richmond Museum of History at 400 Nevin Ave. just down the street from the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center.

Medical Center employees and patients really have no excuse not to pay a visit, she says. Housed in the former Carnegie Library, the museum “is a gorgeous building in itself. You can see the history of Richmond from the native American Indians all the way to farm lands to the Kaiser shipyards,” she said.

“You just go out the back door (of the medical center). It’s two blocks…there’s a park. It’s a great place to bring your bag lunch and have a picnic. You can have your sandwich in my chair. I don’t care.”

YouTube film by Fina Lloyd, Heritage associate

 

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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. 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.

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. 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

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Children’s art scholar finds wartime treasure on newsprint

posted on August 10, 2010

By Ginny McPartland
Heritage writer

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 with furniture from World War II Richmond shipyard children’s art program

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.

Veronica Rodriguez, Isabel Jenkins Ziegler, and Pavlos Salamasidis of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park with child’s art easel from World War II Kaiser Shipyards child care center

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.

Maritime Child Development Center, 10th and Florida in Richmond, to be restored for use as school and museum

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.

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