Red Oak Victory anchors Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park

Did you know there’s a National Park on the waterfront in Richmond, California?  This city, which makes the news for all the wrong reasons — think the Chevron Refinery catching on fire or gun violence in the iron triangle — is also home to Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front Historic Park (quite possibly the longest park name in the nation).

It’s fascinating park both for the story it tells, and also how it tells it. Unlike a classic national park where the Government owns the land and the buildings, this is an innovative partnership between the city, the park service and various non-profit partners. During World War II, Richmond was home to some of the largest ship yards in the world. It was also home to countless women — “Rosie’s” —  who picked up welding gloves and heavy equipment to build the machinery that liberated Europe and defeated Japan. It was also in these Kaiser shipyards that the concept of health coverage and insurance and workers was popularized.

At it’s height, these shipyards turned out three ships a day. And in one frenzy of activity, they assembled a liberty ship in five days. Most of these ships are now just a memory. The SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed in San Francisco was actually assembled in Maine. So this makes the Red Oak Victory all the more special. It’s one of the few remaining ships built in these ship-yards that remains afloat today.  It’s actually in the care of the Richmond Museum who have been working since 1998 to restore it and fire up the boilers. That’s time consuming and expensive work. But without it, the National Historic Park is just a collection of signs showing old photos of what was.

The Red Oak Victory is one of the few remaining ships built at the Richmond, CA shipyards during World War II.
The Red Oak Victory is one of the few remaining ships built at the Richmond, CA shipyards during World War II.

You may have seen the recent report that estimated our National Park System has a $11.5 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. That’s a big number. But it doesn’t include the money needed to restore other critical pieces of our national heritage — like the Red Oak Victory. That responsibility is falling to the volunteers and supporters of the Richmond Museum.

It’s time for the National Park Service to step up and help the volunteers of the Richmond Museum finish this effort. That would be a great way of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in the city of Richmond.  And with the boilers lit the historic park will finally come to life.  That’s a day I want to see.

Young mariners boarding the SS Red Oak Victory
Young mariners boarding the SS Red Oak Victory

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