RBMS 2015 Blog

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Tours: Historic Richmond

Note: To add an event to your existing RBMS 2015 registration, please call (800) 545-2433 and select option #5, or email registration@ala.org

What do Rosie the Riveter, Liberty ships, Kaiser Permanente, the Ford Motor Company, the WPA, art, good food, mid-century modern architecture, and gorgeous bay views all have in common? They are all associated with Richmond, California, a city of great historical significance located just across the bay from its much more well-known neighbor, San Francisco.

In partnership with the Richmond Arts & Culture Commission, attendees of the Historic Richmond tour will visit numerous sites in Richmond that showcase the city’s history and its rich culture, both past and present.

Visitors begin their tour at the Richmond Art Center (founded in 1936 by local artist and WPA worker, Hazel Salmi), located in the recently renovated, mid-century modern Richmond Civic Center. After lunch at Assemble Restaurant, the next stop will be the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park.

The city of Richmond played a significant and nationally recognized part in the World War II home front. Richmond was home to over 56 different war industries, more than any other city of its size in the United States. One of these industries was the Ford Motor Company, located at the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the most famous wartime industry was American industrialist Henry J. Kaiser’s Kaiser Shipbuilding Company. The Kaiser Shipyards produced more vessels than any other shipyard complex in the country, breaking many records for their speedy shipbuilding (workers even built one Liberty ship in five days!). The medical system established for the shipyard workers at the Richmond Field Hospital eventually became Kaiser Permanente HMO. The booming war economy brought workers from all over the United States to Richmond, and employment opportunities opened up for minorities and women. Many of the people who moved to Richmond were African Americans from the Midwest and South. Although the iconic “We Can Do It” propaganda poster pictured above was not based on Richmond’s female shipyard workers, the city nevertheless proudly embraces its “Rosies,” the women who made up much of the workforce at the Kaiser Shipyards (though they more accurately could have been called “Wendy the Welder” instead of “Rosie the Riveter,” because ships were welded together not riveted).

The population of Richmond quadrupled in size between 1940 and 1943, overwhelming the available housing, roads, schools, businesses, and community services. At the same time, Executive Order 9066 forcibly removed Japanese and Japanese-American residents from the area, disrupting Richmond’s thriving cut-flower industry. Because of Italy’s alliance with Germany during World War II, many Italians and Italian Americans living in Richmond were also forced to leave their homes located in federally designated “prohibited zones” (generally, zones near the water)—which was most of Richmond. Unlike the Japanese and Japanese-American population, however, Italians and Italian Americans were permitted to remain in the general area (many moved to Berkeley).

The war truly touched every aspect of civilian life on the home front. Through historic structures, museum collections, interpretive exhibits, and programs, the park tells the diverse and fascinating story of the WWII home front. Located on the beautiful Richmond Shoreline, you will also witness some of the most gorgeous views of San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay. The tour will conclude with a visit to the Richmond Museum of History, a true “hidden jewel of the East Bay.”

We look forward to welcoming you on the tour of Historic Richmond – We Can Do It!

– Jennifer K. Nelson, The Robbins Collection, UC Berkeley School of Law

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