The Whirley Crane cannot be missed when touring Shipyard #3. It sits adjacent to the Red Oak Victory ship and across from the restored Rigger’s Loft, a former shipyard building used for fitting out the top part of the completed vessel with masts and other equipment; The scale of the crane is enormous, like a revolving boxcar sitting on massive legs as tall as a 10-story building.
The Whirley Crane got its name not because of the speed of its movement—it probably moved carefully and deliberately because a single error could cost several lives—but because the crane could turn a full 360 degrees, thus allowing the boom to achieve a speed of operation as it went about several tasks. Sixty years ago, workers-many of them women-used to sit in the turret at the top of the Whirley Crane, operating the controls that caused the 110 foot boom to lift and assemble and put into place the massive sheets of iron that eventually became the cruisers and battleships that sailed out into the Pacific and helped win the naval war for the United States.
Shipyard #3 is viewable on the drive to visit aboard the Red Oak Victory ship. It contains several structures, including the Machine Shop, the General Warehouse, and the original Kaiser First Aid Station. Nearby markers describe much of the activity that took place there.
Access to the deep water of the Bay and miles of previously undeveloped shoreline made Richmond the location of choice for a wartime industrial complex dominated by the largest and most productive shipyards in the entire world. Population boomed to over 100,000 to support the war effort with work never stopping-three shifts a day, seven days a week. Hayfields were rapidly converted to the largest public housing project ever constructed in the United States. With millions of men in uniform and out of the workforce for the duration, tens of thousands of women were recruited to do what had been previously considered "men's work." They soon became collectively known as "Rosie the Riveter." A network of schools and childcare centers was thrown up overnight to care for and educate the children of these working women.
The nation's first HMO, now Kaiser Permanente, was founded to keep the shipyard workers healthy. Needing still more workers, Henry Kaiser scoured the country for recruits, finding thousands of willing volunteers in the rural African-American population of the South. Coming to Richmond by the trainload, farm workers and sharecroppers were rapidly retrained as welders and equipment operators. In a matter of days, they were building Liberty and Victory ships. 747 ships were built in Richmond, coming off the ways at a clip of one a week toward the end of the war. One Liberty Ship, the Robert E. Peary was built in just over four days, setting a record that has, to this day, never been surpassed.
The Richmond shipyards produced more ships, faster, and better than had ever been done in any time in the history of the world. In 1945, the shipyards shut down as fast as they had started up four years earlier.
Tens of thousands of shipyard workers, many of whom had relocated permanently to California, were thrown out of work. With returning servicemen re-entering the workforce, women and minorities were no longer welcome, but the seeds had been planted, and many post-war innovations that benefited women and minorities in the workforce, began with the knowledge of just what had been accomplished.
On June 11, 1941, President Roosevelt approved funds for the erection of 450 units of housing for defense industry workers in Richmond, California, pursuant to the "Lanham Act." Richmond was the first city in the US chosen for a Defense Department project. Over time, other worker housing was built and Richmond still has original wartime housing in both the Atchison Village and Nystrom Village developments, with Atchison Village remaining as a designated intact historic site.
Built in 1941 by the U.S. government to house the vanguard of an influx of workers for the burgeoning Kaiser shipyards, the modest 450-unit complex was hailed at the time as a cutting-edge example of worker housing designed following the tenets of the "city beautiful" and "garden city" movements. Atchison Village, built across the street from the former location of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad depot and yards, was designed with winding streets, spacious yards, simple one and two story wood duplexes and four plexes and a community center and park.
Today it is still a living part of the park, and a viable and a well-planned community. In 1956, it became one of the first housing cooperatives in the US, and residents bought their homes from the Atchison Village Mutual Homes Corporation for as little as $273.
The Maritime Child Development Center was one of approximately 35 nursery school units of varying sizes established in the Richmond area during World War II in order to provide child care for women working in the Kaiser shipyards. This center was funded and constructed by the U.S. Maritime Commission as part of a larger development that also included housing, an elementary school and a fire station. The temporary housing was demolished after the war but a larger permanent housing complex remains as do the other buildings. The Maritime Child Development Center, a wood frame, modernist style building operated by the Richmond School District, incorporated progressive educational programming, and was staffed with nutritionists, psychiatrists and certified teachers. It had a capacity of 180 children per day. At its peak, with 24,500 women on the Kaiser payroll, Richmond's citywide child care program maintained a total daily attendance of 1,400 children.
In 2012, the Rosie the Riveter Trust, partnering with the National Park Service and many partners throughout the city and school district, completed a $9 million historic renovation of the building and won a LEED Gold for Schools award. The Trust now operates the building on behalf of RORI. It houses a K-3 charter school, Richmond College Prep, and the Richmond Community Foundation, along with a National Park Service exhibit room which can be visited on scheduled tours.
The old Ford Assembly Plant on Richmond's waterfront survived the end of its car-assembling years, a major earthquake, water damage, vandals and multiple proposals for its demolition to witness a rebirth that has now captured national acclaim.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the building one of 15 National Preservation Honor Awards when renovations were completed in 2009.
The building, now called Ford Point, is one of Richmond's historic gems and is part of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home front National Historic Park. Workers in the 1930s assembled cars there and routed them to dealers in Northern California and Hawaii. In 1942, the plant switched to assembling thousands of jeeps, tanks and other military vehicles as part of the World War II home front effort. The plant processed 60,000 tanks plus other combat vehicles including Army trucks, half-tracks tank destroyers, personnel carriers, scout cars, amphibious tanks, lift trucks, snow plows, and bomb lift trucks.
Ford reconverted it to production of civilian autos and trucks in 1945, and closed it in 1955. Today, the beautifully renovated building, designed originally by well-known architect Albert Kahn, is home to a restaurant called Assemble, hundreds of community special events put on in the Craneway Pavillion, and it is part of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
Ford Assembly Plant designed by Alfred Kahn
The Oil House is believed to have been designed by Ford Assembly Plant architect, Albert Kahn Associates. It was constructed at approximately the same time, in 1930, as the rest of the buildings. The building held multiple large oil tanks that fueled the boilers that, in turn, ran the stream powered conveyor system and equipment of the Ford Plant. Oil tanks were located in the lower level as well as within the east gallery of the building. The west gallery served for support and maintenance activities. The lower level was originally accessible only through a tunnel from the main Plant building and a narrow ladder inside the building itself. Visitors now enjoy access to all 3 levels of the building, where the top floors house galleries, exhibits and the gift store. The bottom level, which housed the oil tanks now boasts a beautiful movie theater, a classroom, and rotating exhibits. Across the tarmac, the Ford Assembly Plant rises majestically, and visitor can enjoy events in the Craneway, or a bite to eat at Assemble, a restaurant housed in the original boiler room area. Both of these buildings retain their historic character and as a result of loving renovation, the beauty of these structures astounds once again.
Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park
Address: 1414 Harbour Way S #3000/Oil House, Richmond, CA
Directions: From Cutting Blvd., take Harbour Way south for .8 mi. then left into gated lot, past guard shack. Follow signs.
Hours: Daily 10-5 (Call to verify)
Designed by visual artist Susan Schwartzenberg and landscape architect/environmental sculptor Cheryl Barton, the Rosie the Riveter Memorial: Honoring American Women's Labor During WWII is the first in the nation to honor and describe this important chapter of American history. Chairwoman Donna Powers led the campaign to establish the Memorial and the sculpture was commissioned by the City of Richmond and the Richmond Redevelopment Agency.
The principal component is a walkway, the length of a ship's keel, which slopes toward the San Francisco Bay and aligns with the Golden Gate Bridge.The path is inscribed with a timeline about the home front and quotes from women workers sandblasted into white granite. Sculptural elements of stainless steel encountered on the walkway are drawn from ship's blueprints and suggest the unfinished forms of hull, stack and stern under construction. Two gardens - one of rockrose and one of dune grass - occupy the location of the ship's fore and aft hatches. Porcelain enamel panels on the hull and stack reproduce memorabilia and letters gathered from former shipyard workers during the course of the Memorial project, along with photographs of women at work in jobs across the nation.
The panels, quotes and timeline illustrate the complex opportunities, challenges and hardships faced by women during the war years, including gender discrimination, hazardous working conditions, food rationing, and shortages of housing and childcare.
Donna Powers was inspired to create the Memorial by two women in her family. Her mother-in-law Ruth Powers was a teacher at the Richmond shipyards daycare centers and her great aunt Clarissa Hicks was a riveter at Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their wonderful stories led her to ask other women around Richmond what their jobs and lives were like during WWII, and the project grew under the leadership of historian and cultural planner Donna Graves.
Address: Marina Park - Regatta Blvd., Richmond, CA
Directions: I-580 Marina Bay Parkway exit south to right on Regatta Blvd., Marina Park is on left.
1414 Harbour Way South, Suite #3000 (Oil House) Richmond, CA 94804
Open daily: 10am-5pm | (510) 232-5050 x0
(Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day)
I-80 West, EXIT Cutting Blvd. making a Right onto Cutting. Continue on Cutting for 2 Miles, and then make a Left onto Harbour Way South and continue for 0.8 miles. Make a left at the security gate/guard shack just before the large Ford Assembly Building. Inform the guard that you are going to the Visitor Center. Drive behind the Ford building. Visitor Center is in a smaller brick building down by the water. Parking close to the building is limited.
I-80 East, then take the I-580 West split after the Gilman St. off ramp. EXIT Harbour Way South, then turn Right onto Cutting Blvd, now make a Right at the next stop light onto Harbour Way South and Continue for 0.8 miles. Make a left at the security gate/guard shack just before the large Ford Assembly Building. Inform the guard that you are going to the Visitor Center. Drive behind the Ford building. Visitor Center is in a smaller brick building down by the water. Parking close to the building is limited.
From Oakland/South Bay:
I-580 West or I-880 North to I-80 East, then follow directions from Berkeley.
From San Francisco/Peninsula:
US 101 or I-280 North to I-80 over the Bay Bridge, then follow directions from Berkeley.
Marin County/North Bay
Take 101 South to I-580 East across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. EXIT Harbour Way/Cutting Blvd. Turn LEFT onto Cutting Blvd., and then RIGHT onto Harbour Way South. Continue for 0.8 miles until you see the large brick building. Make a LEFT into the gated lot passing the guard shack, and follow the parking lot all the way to the back looking for the Visitor Education center and NPS signage.
Your gifts help us to complete major projects such as restoration of the historic Maritime Childcare Center, more programs and transportation for school children, and expansion of our Rosie’s Girls program so that more girls who lack resources can experience our summer camp and learn the "We Can Do It" spirit. Please make a significant gift now, if you are able.
You can choose a recurring monthly gift on our website, make a gift online, or mail it to:
Rosie the Riveter Trust
PO Box 71126
Richmond, CA 94807-1126.
Many companies match employee gifts; your company may be among them. Check with your HR department about matching gifts. If your company’s involved, fill out the easy paperwork. Your gift will be doubled. If your company’s not involved, suggest the Rosie the Riveter Trust and have them contact Marsha Mather-Thrift Executive Director at 510-507-2276. Here are some examples: Autodesk, Bank of America, Chevron, Electronic Arts, Genentech, The Gap and many others.
If you are not already a member, please make your membership gift or donation here, or mail a check to Rosie the Riveter Trust, PO Box 71126, Richmond CA 94807-1126. Memberships are $35 for individuals, and $50 for families and include a 10% discount at the park gift store, invitations to special member-only events, and more. Then ask your employer to match your gift!
Please join our growing community. Your membership supports our work to inspire current generations with the compelling stories of the WWII Home Front. Your donations also support youth programs such as Rosie’s Girls, and educational programs that help us remember, recognize, and repeat the best parts of this history forged by ordinary people across our country.
Join now and receive the following membership benefits: