The final chapter in transforming Henry Ford’s 1931 car factory on the San Francisco Bay waterfront for 21st Century re-uses, the center occupies an industrial building originally designed to store oil to fuel the operations of the adjacent car factory. During World War II, the Ford Plant production switched from cars to jeeps, tanks, and armored cars, and these and other military vehicles were assembled by the famed “Rosie the Riveters” - women who assumed critically important jobs in trades that had been traditionally limited to men. The Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center – a history museum fittingly located in this historic building on this historic site, commissioned by a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and Orton Development Inc. - commemorates these women, many of whom worked on this very site, and whose legacy left a sweeping impact on American attitudes towards women in the work-place.
The brick and steel structure was designed in the 1930’s as an ‘Oil House’ that served an adjacent factory. This factory drew its energy from steam-driven electricity produced on-site in the complex’s ‘Boiler House’. The Oil House, sited just a dozen yards from the Boiler House and adjacent to a dedicated rail line, would receive rail-shipped oil that was stored in the Oil House before being pumped through an underground tunnel to the boilers in the Boiler House next door. Today, the former car factory draws nearly 100% of its power needs from the sun through a 1 megawatt high-efficiency roof-top solar photovoltaic system instead of from the former Oil House. The 21st Century program requirements for a history museum and visitor education center work beautifully within the simple one-story-with-basement gable roofed structure. The design approach enhances the building’s original character and materials. The existing structure’s refurbishments consist of interventions that not only accommodate the history museum’s program, but also highlight the contrast between original and new architectural texture.