Long Beach unveiled Saturday the nation's second space dedicated to the millions of women who contributed to the nation’s defense during World War II by replacing deployed men on the assembly lines.
"At the dedication, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and said 'I didn’t think you would remember what we did,'" said Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske.
That is precisely why Schipske spearheaded the initiative to reinvent the three-acre green space at the corner of Clark Avenue and Conant Street, she said.
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Formerly known as Douglas Park after the founder of local Douglas Aircraft, Rosie the Riveter Park and Interpretative Center features a rose-colored walking path inscribed with dates and facts.
When production lines at the Douglas plant needed extra help, housewives and teenage boys offered "four-hour 'victory’ shifts," according to one of the inscriptions.
The park’s visitors can interact with "Did you know?" factoids and explanatory plaques by calling 562-257-3695 for an audio tour with 22 channels of historical lessons, 1940's music and radio broadcasts.
"It was just an open grass field, I thought we could really turn this into (an opportunity) to learn about our history," Schipske said.
Collectively referred to as Rosie the Riveter, 1940's women are credited with the creation of thousands of airplanes, armored vehicles and ships used during the war.
Women who worked in Long Beach were part of a group of Americans who assembled the B-17 bomber and served as a model for the rest of the country.
"The Library of Congress has more pictures of women at Douglas Aircraft, because there was such (high) activity," Schipske said.
At its peak, Douglas Aircraft employed 46,000 people, half of whom were women, she added. Some of those women would fly completed aircraft to military bases, an opportunity unheard of at the time.
After visiting the Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, Calif., celebrating shipyard workers, Schipske said she was inspired to honor the work of aircraft industry employees.
"It's a very historical fact of life," she said. "I thought, 'This is natural, why don't we have something to celebrate (Long Beach)?'"
The park's path is lined with historical artifacts and replicas, including military flags draped on 1940's era light poles and recruitment posters emblazoned on tiles.
The entire country was involved in the war effort, with Americans collecting bacon fat and tin foil for explosives, Schipske said. The park is meant to recognize that community involvement.
"It's not just about women," Schipske said. "It's about what Long Beach did during World War II."