RICHMOND -- The long-awaited interpretive exhibits at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park Visitor Education Center, which officially open this weekend, are already winning rave reviews from some who were there 70 years ago for vividly conveying domestic life during wartime.
"They did listen to us," said Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin, who worked in the city during the war years, during a preview tour last week. "They incorporated everything we were after."
The exhibits will open to the public with an all-day dedication celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the visitors center, 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, behind the historic Ford building.
A concurrent 25th anniversary celebration of the Bay Trail Plan will be held outside the center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission to the events is free.
The new interactive installations go above and beyond the static temporary exhibits featured at the center since its opening two years ago, providing not just information about the war years but also a sensory experience.
Among other attractions, visitors can hear the sounds of the shipyards and air-raid sirens, see and hear what it was like to be in a blackout, get a view from inside a welder's mask, and feel and hear what it was like to work a riveting gun, just as the Rosie the Riveters did during the war.
They can stand beside three-dimensional "life cast" figures in settings depicting downtown Richmond at its boomtown height and on the welding job. Videos are interspersed through the exhibits.
"When I heard the air-raid siren, it brought back a lot of memories," said former Rosie Marian Wynn, 87, of Fairfield.
A large mural that immerses visitors in downtown Richmond of the 1940s is a highlight. "I liked seeing the town of Richmond as it was," said another former Rosie Kay Morrison, 90, of Fairfield. "And you know, it was a beautiful town. That brought back memories."
"It's very important that all the park service visitor centers are accessible to people of all abilities," Lead Park Ranger Elizabeth Tucker said, pointing out a three-dimensional tactile map of the shipyards that can be experienced by touch as well as sight.
"I thought it was great," said Agnes Moore, 94. In particular, the welding display stood out, she said, "because, of course, that's what I did. Whoever comes can see what a welder did."
Creating the exhibits has been an involved and painstaking process that lasted about a decade, Soskin said, adding, "It's been through several designs and gone through a number of revises" in the effort to tell the many aspects and perspectives of the homefront story.
The different topic areas, designed for visitors to spend anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours, include "For the Duration," "Who was Rosie?" "The Nation Mobilizes," "Housing," "The Shipyards," "Hospitals and Worker Health," and areas exploring the aftermath on the homefront.
The display concepts were driven by the National Park Service and carried out by contractor Museum Design Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Dave Seibert as lead designer. Fabrication was done by Virginia firm Color Ad, and project manager Glen Zook and local subcontractors were hired to do the framing and electrical work.
Local and national historians were consultants, Tucker said, including Donna Graves, of Berkeley, and Sacramento State Professor Shirley Ann Moore.
"We're actually working on a curriculum that matches the state standards with the hope that someday every schoolchild in the surrounding area will come," Tucker said.
Along with the rotation of films shown daily in the downstairs theater and the special programs scheduled each month, including the chance to visit the Rosies each Friday, the center has the potential to grow as a destination and attract repeat visits.
"I can't wait for the city to see this. They don't even realize," Soskin said. "It's said that it takes 20 years to develop a national park. We're right in the middle of the process, and I'd say it's worth it."
What: Dedication event for new exhibits at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park Visitor Education Center
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: 1414 Harbour Way South, Suite 3000, behind the historic Ford building.
Details: The event will include a celebration outside the center for the 25th anniversary of the Bay Trail Plan that will include live period music, a scavenger hunt, a World War II costume contest, the launch of a new Bay Trail app and food trucks at nearby Lucretia Edwards Park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. For directions, go to www.nps.gov/rori/planyourvisit/directions.htm or call 510-232-5050, ext. 0.