Gerrie Schipske’s dream of having a city park that pays perpetual tribute to the women who worked in America’s factories during World War II leaped toward reality on Monday morning, when Schipske, who is the 5th District Long Beach City Councilwoman, and several other dignitaries, participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Rosie the Riveter Park and Interpretive Center.
The small park, located on the southwest corner of Clark Avenue and Conant Street used to be called Douglas Park. Its name change was necessitated by the fact that the Boeing Company gave the same name to its planned mixed-use development in the vicinity of Lakewood Boulevard and Carson Street. About three years ago, upon Schipske’s request, the park on Conant was renamed Rosie the Riveter Park.
Schipske told the approximately 50 people at the groundbreaking ceremony that, after the name change, her staff coordinated various activities in the park that drew a number of women who had been Rosies. “They talked about the memories that they had working at Douglas and many of the other World War II industries,” she said. “So we put together a task force to think about what we could do with this park because we wanted to have more than an open area. We wanted it to have a historic presence so that there could be a place in Long Beach where people could come to find out about the wonderful contribution these tens of thousands of women made during World War II.”
She explained that after the task force decided that the park should have an interpretive center, the nonprofit Rosie the Riveter Foundation was formed to raise money for the project. Schipske noted that soon after the foundation was formed, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe channeled a $100,000 grant to the foundation for the design of the interpretive center. “Today we are breaking ground on Phase One of the development,” Schipske said. “It is going to transform this park into something that is absolutely wonderful for the city of Long Beach.”
She explained that visitors to the park will be able to stroll on a path with five distinct points– each containing information pertaining to various aspects of how Douglas Aircraft and Long Beach were involved in the war and how thousands of women were recruited to work in the aircraft manufacturing industry. Each of the path’s five points will have signage explaining aspects of the Long Beach Rosie the Riveter history. “You will also be able to dial a number from your cell phone that will enable you to hear 1940s radio recordings, the voices of the women who worked and more explanations of the history of that era,” Schipske said.
The entire perimeter of the park will be planted with jacaranda trees, the park will contain a memorial to the men and women who lost their lives during the war, and one corner will contain a Victory Rose Garden with red, white and blue flowers. The park will also contain sculptures related to World War II, and a walkway from the park will lead to another interpretive center inside the adjacent Long Beach Community College Foundation Building.
Phase Two of the park’s development will include the installation of a concrete B-17 bomber structure that will serve as an amphitheater.
Schipske noted that the name “Rosie the Riveter” was popularized in a pop tune sung by The Four Vagabonds in 1942. “Douglas Aircraft, when it opened in 1941, began employing women in very large numbers,” Schipske said. “The estimates are that between 43 and 50 percent of the people who worked in that aircraft plant during the war were female.”
After her brief presentation, Schipske asked Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster to comment on the park and interpretive center. “We all know that parks are essential to urban life, and this is going to be a great facility, but not only for recreation,” Foster said. “It’s going to connect us with our past.” He stressed that the park’s interpretive center will be a significant addition to the city’s park system because it will tell the story of how thousands of women contributed to the war effort, and it will also tell the story of the beginning of the transformation of America’s work force. “They call it the greatest generation because people did their job, did it well and never complained,” he said. “This park will make sure that future generations will never forget that contribution.”
Foster closed by thanking Schipske “for her tireless efforts in making sure that this park is established.”
Vice Mayor Val Lerch, Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga, and several other officials from the public and private sectors, also attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Craig Riordan, park ranger with the National Park Service’s Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in Richmond, California, also attended. “The story that Long Beach tells is a huge part of the Rosie the Riveter story,” he said. “We are looking forward to working with you and partnering with you.”
Schipske thanked her staff and the many other people who had volunteered much of their time to bring the park’s development to fruition. “We are excited,” she said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the city of Long Beach to acknowledge not only the contribution this entire city made during World War II, but also to specifically honor those women who worked here at the homefront.”