Richmond Shipyard #3 at Point Portrero on the west side of Harbor Channel consists of five historic buildings (machine shop, general warehouse, sheet metal shop, first-aid station and cafeteria) and its five graving/dry docks are still intact. The dry dock basins and buildings are little changed from World War II.
Richmond Shipyard #3 was designed and constructed by Henry J. Kaiser’s Firm as a permanent shipyard, which is one reason it is still relatively intact.
People came from all over the country to Richmond to work in the shipyards during the war. This led to explosive growth of the city, and a dramatic exchange between people of diverse ethnicities and cultures. Men and women of different backgrounds worked and lived side-by-side here. Although gender and racial discrimination did not end after the war, this experience dramatically redefined American society, and planted the seeds for the civil rights and women’s rights movements.
Miles of undeveloped shoreline and access to the deep waters of the bay made Richmond the location of choice for the largest and most productive shipyards during World War II. The US government and private industrialists became partners in new ways, laying the groundwork for what President Einsenhower later called the “Military/Industrial Complex.” Together they created innovative plants and production methods designed to rapidly supply the war effort.
As World War II approached, Richmond was a sleepy city of some 23,000 residents. Beginning in early 1941, however, the town underwent a radical transformation. This was a prime site for wartime production: the Santa Fe Rail line was already here, the expansive waterfront offered a deep water port, and there was plenty of available land. As shipyards were constructed, the population boomed to over 100,000. People came from all over the country to find jobs and to support the war effort.
This section of the Bay Trail winds through the former site of Kaiser Shipyard #3, now the Port of Richmond and a part of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park. Along the trail, you will see evidence of the war’s shipbuilding past: dry docks for ship assembly, rail lines, maritime machinery, a whirley crane, as well as historic ships. As you traverse the trail, imagine this place during World War II–thousands of people working day and night with the constant thundering noise of shipbuilding activity.
His contemporaries often described Henry J. Kaiser as someone who "never knows what he cannot do." New to shipbuilding, he revolutionized the industry. Kaiser shipbuilding applied, in an unprecedented manner and scale, mass production techniques such as pre-fabrication, which segmented job tasks and trained unskilled labor. Kaiser industries designed shipyards with more space for assembly lines and welding plates together. Using these innovative methods, workers built a total of 747 ships during the war here in Richmond.
These shipyards hold memories and untold stories of women who were part of the workforce during World War II. As they went to work in great numbers during these years, women juggled work and domestic responsibilities. Theirs are stories of success, sacrifice, and family. Some women were able to place their children in government sponsored daycare facilities. Most benefited from employee health care. However, at the end of the war, many faced unemployment or underemployment.
Sixty years ago, workers—some 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, move, and put into place the massive prefabricated sheets of iron that eventually became cruisers and battleships. After the war, this crane sat rusting on a pier for decades. The Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation eventually donated it to the City of Richmond after a coalition of Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park organizers lobbied to include the crane as an important artifact from the shipbuilding past.
The Macdonald Landmarks are a series of sculptural interpretive markers designed to share the history of Macdonald Avenue - Richmond’s "Main Street." The markers describe the Avenue’s many evolutions, including its important role as the heart of the city during WWII, when Richmond was home to the nation’s largest shipbuilding effort. They serve as the first permanent interpretation in downtown Richmond for Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
Marker #1 Transit Village Plaza on Macdonald Avenue
Generations from across the United States and the world have continued to arrive at Richmond’s doorstep seeking a new life. Waves of immigration from Mexico and Central America expanded the pre-war Latino population, while refugees from war in Southeast Asia built a vital community, enhancing Richmond’s dynamic cultural mix.
Marker #2 NW corner of Marina Way and Macdonald Avenue
In 1968, Richmond was shocked when its premiere furniture store, Travalini’s, was burned to the ground near here. The arson was fueled by larger tensions: Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, civil rights protests, and closer to home, the shooting of an African-American youth by Richmond police.
When Hilltop Mall opened four miles away in 1975, Macdonald Avenue was no longer the place to shop and gather; but community leaders and activists refused to let it die. By the turn of the 21st century new transit, housing and retail developments began making the street a destination once again.
Marker #3 NW corner of Harbour Way and Macdonald Avenue
For decades, Macdonald Avenue has been the vibrant heart of Richmond; a place where you’d catch the latest movie, get your first job or visit with neighbors on the sidewalk. However, not all were welcome downtown. African Americans felt more accepted in North Richmond and Mexican American Zoot-suiters endured slurs, while Japanese Americans were required to register as “enemy aliens” at the Post Office just one block away.
The flood of defense workers changed Richmond from a quiet town to a boiling city of more than 100,000. Despite conflicts, important issues brought old and new residents together during and after the war – walking picket lines and pushing to make Richmond one of the first cities in California to ban job discrimination once again.
Marker #4 NE corner of 11th Street and Macdonald Avenue
Can you hear the music floating across the street? Since 1923, the Winters Building has kept Richmond residents moving to the beat even as the city changed with the times. German immigrants Adolph and Elisabeth Winters built the handsome structure, installing a flower shop and music store on the ground floor. During World War II shipyard workers forgot their worries as they danced to big bands in the upstairs ballroom and tried to ignore that the building was also part of Richmond’s network of air raid shelters.
Marker #5 Macdonald Avenue and 12th Street
Music and nightlife have shaped Richmond’s soul since the city was founded. World War II migrants brought their varied tastes to Richmond, creating a rich musical stew. The Base Hit Bar and the It Club kept Macdonald Avenue jumping all night long. Rhythms of western swing packed local dance halls, and in North Richmond, Minnie Lue’s and Tappers Inn cooked up rich soul food and down home blues, drawing fans from throughout the Bay Area.
Richmond, California played a nationally recognized part in the World War II Home Front. The City was home to 56 different war industries including four shipyards. It grew overnight from a small city of 24,000 people to a bustling, and bursting, 100,000 people, overwhelming the available housing stock, roads, schools, businesses and community services.
Recruiters brought people in record numbers, with large migrations from the south and other parts of the US. With the emphasis on jobs for women, young girls from poor families were sent on their own to find jobs or lived with relatives who had already arrived. Mostly, people lived in anything they could find, sometimes in cars, in wagons or trailer camps, or sleeping in movie theater seats, many workers resorted to sharing what was called a “warm bed” where they slept in a bed in their own room for one shift and someone else rented it from them for another 8 hours. As the war effort continued, meeting people’s needs for shelter, food, childcare and medical care became a top priority for more enlightened employers.
The park sites below chronicle the explosive growth of wartime industry, the innovations fostered by visionaries like Henry J. Kaiser and others, and the extraordinary history of people who were challenged as never before and came together to overcome the odds.
Visiting the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, the Rosie Memorial and all Richmond City public parks are FREE!
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)
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I give and bequeath to Rosie the Riveter Trust, Tax ID #: 94-3335350, the sum of $______ (or _______% of my estate, or ___% of the rest and remainder of my estate).
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