Boomtown Richmond: Discovering a City in the Making at Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center

For 17 years, I have lived in the Bay Area and did not have a clue about the rich history surrounding the city of Richmond and the hidden gems that many locals and out-of-towners come to visit, Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park and the Rosie the Riveter Education Visitors Center in the Historic Ford Building Complex.  Located at the end of Harbour Way South with amazing waterfront views of the San Francisco Bay, the Visitor Education Center is host to an amazing collection and dialogue around the city’s contributions to World War II.

The center’s namesake, Rosie the Riveter, is the worldwide cultural icon with her head scarf and muscle-flexing bicep that represented women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war. During presentations held in the small theater room, visitors can watch a variety of films that record the happenings during this time including women’s contribution to the 747 ships that were built (one launched into the Bay a day) in Richmond’s four shipyards.

At the heart of the conversation is 93 year-old Betty Reid Soskin who speaks with passion about these moments in time that she recalls so vividly. The New Orleans native moved to California at the age of 6 with her mother and two sisters and graduated from Castlemont High School in Oakland.   With such dedication to sharing history and her life as an African-American during ths time, Reid is at the Visitors Center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and her presentations and tours always fill up fast.  Refer to the center’s schedule for days andtimes.

In her soft voice, she shares pieces of her life that include talking about her great-grandma was born a slave in 1846 and freed at 19 mostly likely at the end of the Civil War when slavery ended in 1865. She lived to be 102 years-old. Reid’s mother lived to be 101 and together the three generations of women watch the turn of events over the centuries. Reid chronicles her life and experiences on her blog, CBreaux Speaks.

Many unfamiliar with Berkley’s neighboring city may ask, “Why Richmond?” when it comes to the city and all of the historical artifacts and priceless nuggets of this era. But why not given that Richmond played a significant role during World War II that has been recognized nationally. The city grew rapidly between 1940 and 1943 and was once home to 56 different war industries. Richmond’s thriving flower industry was interrupted when Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt authorized the relocation of Japanese and Japanese-Americans.  The city’s rich history needs to be preserved and the center does a wonderful job at doing so.

You don’t have to be a history geek to appreciate the Visitor Education Center; just one who enjoys learning about people, places and things that have shaped our country and world. Take your time walking through the center looking at exhibits that place you in Richmond during the 1940’s with its visual and audio excepts. Carefully curated, you’re immediately transported back to a city that has been overlooked due to its other Bay Area neighbors Oakland and San Francisco.  A tour with one of the rangers allows for an upclose experience with varying narratives and insights and that is what I truly enjoyed during Reid’s presentation to our group.

During your visit, Reid and her fellow rangers are available for questions and the gift shop is stocked with great souvenirs allowing you to commemorate your time at there.

Whether you live right here in the Bay Area or beyond, Rosie The Riveter Visitor Center is one must-see location that creates a priceless day of learning with your family, students, and friends or even by yourself.  Simply put, don’t past by this important part of history right in our backyard.

The Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center is located at 1414 Harbour Way South and is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm. For more information to plan your visit, go to www.rosietheriveter.org.

Photo credit: V. Sheree Publishing

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Sheree has been penning stories since the fifth grade. Her stories took a delicious and adventurous turn as an adult when she became a foodie.