Richmond National Park visitor center to open Saturday

Since it was established in 2000, the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park has been a local gem that preserves the city’s legacy as a booming shipping hub during the war years. But the sites are spread throughout the city, and the park has lacked a central location where visitors can start their tours.

That’s about to change.

The park’s new Visitor Education Center will be the site of a day of events beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 26, marking the grand opening of the 12,000 foot building, which has been under restoration construction since last year.

The main floor will have historical exhibits and a book and gift shop, while the basement will feature a movie theater will orientation films and other reels will be shown.

Festivities will kick off with a Native American blessing of the site and the performance of the Star Spangled Banner by a young singer from the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“We now will have a place to begin an in-depth conversation about what was going on in the war and on the home front,” said Tom Leatherman, general superintendant of the park. “This is something we haven’t had, and it was difficult to get a sense of the whole story, which is not easy get a grasp of by just seeing all the sites.”

The new center is a stand-alone structure, just a few meters from Richmond’s historic Ford Assembly Building on the shore of San Francisco Bay. During WWII and for a few years after it served as a storage building for oils and other fuels, Leatherman said.

It badly deteriorated over the decades. Then, in early 2011, the building’s owner, Orton Development Inc., joined the National Park Service in a public-private partnership to restore the building and lease it to the park as a visitor’s center.

The project cost about $7 million, more than half paid by Orton, Leatherman said.

“It was a delicate process to maintain the historic character and meet all the federal standards,” for a national park facility, Leatherman said.

The building is one story, but has elevator access to a 7,000 square foot basement area for additional historic exhibits and a theater, Leatherman said.

The exhibits visitors will see in the coming months will help tell a “home front” story beyond just Richmond, Leatheman said. Placards, photos and other items have been culled from museums across the country. There will also be classroom space and a gift store, operated by the Rosie the Riveter Trust, a nonprofit historic group.

National Park Services regional director Christine Lehnertz, Congressman George Miller, County Supervisor John Gioia, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and other city leaders are expected to attend Saturday’s grand opening.

The center will be open and free of charge seven days per week.

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