Ode to Diversity at Marinship

April 22, 2015

By George Keeney, 

George Keeney was Employment Manager for Marinship, and he penned the following memoir describing the diversity of the workforce in the shipyard during WWII.  We are reprinting it here verbatim, including some of the slang of the day:

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

A diverse group of applicants lines up outside the Marinship Hiring Hall on Caledonia Street (now the site of Driver’s Market).

There were ball players and football players, wrestlers and boxers, golf pros, tennis pros, an ice skater, and a fencing master.

There were actors, singers, artists, cartoonists, composers, writers, carnival men, vaudeville stars, musical comedy stars, theatrical producers, night club entertainers, band leaders, and more than half the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
There were attorneys, teachers, newspapermen, chemists, nurses, tailors, insurance brokers, cameramen, veterinarians, morticians, and a puppet maker.
There was a casket salesman who was put on the graveyard shift, and a bulldogger who became a rigger.
There were assemblymen, former chiefs of police, ex-mayors, a fire chief, and a consul-general who became a shipfitter helper.
There were clergymen, and a rabbi who worked as a pipefitter helper.
There was the first American to join the Lafayette Squadron in World War I, and a man who took part in the Battle of Jutland.
There was an old Sourdough, and a relative of the Pope was a timekeeper.
There was an American Indian ballet dancer who became a slab helper.
There were over 300 Chinese, a large group of Latin Americans, and refugees from Europe.
There was a man whose first name was General, there was one whose first name was Colonel, and there was another whose first name was Baron.
There were ex-convicts who had got shipbuilding training from models in San Quentin.
There was the composer of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart," and there was a pie-eating champ who once consumed twenty-six lemon chiffon pies at one sitting.
There were men who were at Midway, Honolulu, Pago Pago, and Surabaya during Japanese attacks.
There was a man who had been torpedoed twice, a man who had spent eleven days in a lifeboat after Japs had sunk his freighter, and a former tail-gunner in a B-24. There was a welder called Miss Weld.
There were retired men who used their past experience in some related craft, and wives who replaced their drafted husbands.
There was a 72-year-old painter with twenty-one sons, step-children and relatives in the armed forces, and a 35-year-old electrical worker who had a son in the Navy.
There were fourteen deaf-mute chipper s in the Plate Shop, and a welder three feet eleven inches tall in the double bottoms.
There were a Mr. Dew and a Mr. Dont.
There were thirty Australian sailors, welding while their ship was being repaired, and fourteen members of one family: father, sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandson and granddaughter.
After helping to build the first Mission tanker one worker joined the crew and sailed away with her.There was the man who reported for work but had to go back home to get his tools—and his home was in Oklahoma. The man with the shortest name was Mr. Ng, and the man with the longest was Mr. Papachristopulos. The shipyard personnel included: a scrap-paper baler, a traffic cop, a refrigerator man, label stampers, window washers, a keymaker, a man who recharged flashlight batteries, locomotive engineers, a hard-hat repairer, goggle repairers, a deep-sea diver, a saw filer, a boiler-petcock checker, a fingerprint taker, a rat exterminator.

The Social Side of Marinship

By Larry Clinton

Daisy Hollingsworth, who served as Office Assistant to the President of Marinship during WWII, recalled some of her more entertaining memories in the book The History Of A Wartime Shipyard, which is part of the Sausalito Historical Society collection.  Here are some excerpts:

It is hard to describe such a position as I had. Every type of party was arranged and worried through. Breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, receptions, for two guests or two hundred, with wartime rationing, were a challenge. Podesta and Baldocchi's best, the blooms from Marin County gardens and even lupins picked near the railroad tracks at Gate 5 helped to make all these affairs beautiful.

In between were the thrice-weekly meetings of the Operating Committee, where the problems of the yard were thrashed out. To save time, luncheon was served in the President's office, the guests often including important Washington officials, executives from other yards and industries, but most often men from our own yard. This was fun. Knowing who liked what best (eschew cucumbers, go lightly on garlic dishes, and serve the best possible desserts) was a goal to strive for. The hectic parts did not show, such as food that did not arrive, more guests than planned for, a birthday cake dropped on the floor and carefully repaired and served just the same.

Little happenings come to mind that are interesting because of the people involved: the need to suggest to the President that he change "that yard hat" when leaving for San Francisco; Bing Crosby and the President starting down to a yard program in a fine drizzle; Marian Anderson singing before thousands in the yard on an improvised platform and receiving an ovation; Sally Rand showing some craftsmen her wedding ring made of different colors of gold, an exact miniature of the World Champion Rider's belt her husband had won; Ida Cantor, coming along with Eddie to be the gay butt of his jokes; Boris Karloff, so frightening on the screen, turning out to be a soft-spoken and charming man; Gertrude Lawrence rewarding bond winners with kisses; my changing stockings with a frantic sponsor who had discovered a run in one of hers at the last moment.

The most picturesque guests were the sons of the King of Saudi Arabia. They were tall men and carried their beautiful long white robes with distinction. Even more exciting to look at was the Nubian slave who was their bodyguard, wearing weapons with jeweled hilts, reminding one of the Arabian Nights. The Arabians' signatures were the most unusual in our guest book.

The brother of the Queen of England, David Bowes-Lyon, thought our yard a wonderful one, and took time to really see it, but did not get paint on his suit (we kept handy a special paint remover to render first aid to many a bedaubed visitor after a yard tour). Sir Amos Aver, head of British war shipping, and other English naval officers were most interested in our high outfitting docks and other new ideas not to be found in traditional shipyards.

Dozens of French, Russian, and Netherlands naval officers; congressmen, writers, United Nations Conference delegates, as well as the top executives of every type of company, visited Marinship. Occasionally a trip was arranged for wives while the husbands attended meetings; Muir Woods never disappointed a single one of them.

The gayest of breakfasts were those in the cafeteria in the early morning before a trial run of one of our vessels. A couple of strips of bacon and even butter for the hot rolls were treats indeed because of rationing. Everyone sparkled with a feeling of adventure.

At long last came the day when, the war over, the Office Assistant, like many others, could go back to her home and garden and plan a party for four or eight instead of two hundred.

On June 1st, I’ll be giving an illustrated presentation on Sausalito’s Contribution to WWII Then and Now at the Star Of The Sea Church’s Duggan Hall, 180 Harrison Ave., starting with refreshments at 6:30 PM.  If you’d like to join us, please RSVP to staroftheseamensclub@gmail.com.

Pine Point - Sausalito's Lost Community

The sense of urgency and crisis prevailing in this country in the months immediately after Pearl Harbor left no doubt as to the necessary course of action. Sausalito’s shoreline had to be radically altered in order to build the Marinship yard on the northern waterfront. And in the process, between 80–100 Sausalito residents would have to find homes elsewhere.

Today, if you walk the sidewalk on the east side of Bridgeway between Olive and Nevada streets and carefully study the topography along that stretch—noting the descent from the highway to the road that wends through the Marinship below (past the Marina Office Plaza, the tennis courts, the art festival site, the Susaki-Walker (SWA) offices)—you’ll be struck by how precipitously the land drops from the highway to the flat land below. It’s as if someone had come along with a giant knife and sliced through the land, leaving a sheer cliff. And you have to ask yourself: What could have caused this shear drop-off? Why is the road out of town aligned so close to the cliff? And was there once land beyond this point, perhaps level with the highway to the immediate east, then gradually sloping to the bay?

In fact, there was—Sausalito’s lost community of Pine Point. Sacrificed in this country’s great wartime mobilization following December 7, 1941, this small peninsula jutting out from the shoreline, once a snug residential enclave, provided the vital landfill required to create Marinship. And a small community of largely working class families had to be moved from the point before it was destroyed.

This 1930s photograph shows the Pine Point residential community as it appeared looking from south to north. The county road in the left foreground leads out of town. On the right is a fuel tank for ferryboats and locomotives and beyond are other railroad buildings. This is how Pine Point appeared pre-1942 looking from north to south. The railroad trestle is on the left and at center right is the tidal marsh before it was filled with dirt from Pine Point. The area became Sausalito’s World War II ship building yard, Marinship.

Photo: SHS Collection 2 Photo: Margaret Badger

The biggest, fastest and most far-reaching change the city of Sausalito ever experienced was not planned by the City Council nor voted on by citizens. It happened as part of this country’s emergency response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the catastrophic event that launched the United States entry into World War II. During the two-and-a-half months that followed, a dramatic sequence of decisions changed Sausalito’s waterfront and economy forever. Local residents witnessed record-breaking maritime mobilization taking place right before their eyes.

It began on March 2, 1942, when the Bechtel Company of San Francisco received the following telegram from the U.S. Maritime Commission (USMC): It is necessary in the interests of the national emergency that the maximum number of emergency cargo vessels be completed prior to December 31, 1942 . . . Submit a proposal for a shipyard site to be located in one of the west coast ports in which your organization could operate to the best advantage. The emergency demands all within your power to give your country ships.

In twenty-four hours, Bechtel replied to USMC that it had chosen Sausalito’s northern waterfront to locate the shipyard. The proposal included demolition of the little residential community of Pine Point, but its obliteration seemed of small importance compared to the need for ships. The breakneck project went ahead and the first keel was laid in the yard on June 27, just three months after the decision to locate in Sausalito. That first liberty ship, the William A. Richardson, was followed by 92 other vessels between June, 1942, and September 25, 1945.

While the story of building and operating the Marinship has received considerable attention, the tale of the disappeared neighborhood of Pine Point, a 202-acre wooded knoll within the intended boundaries of the future shipyard, is less well known. Built around the turn of the century most probably for Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWPR) workers and their families, the 32 modest Pine Point houses were the only residences in town located east of Bridgeway.

The community enjoyed pleasant bay views, its own circular road, and easy access by boat and train, including its own stop at Pine Point Station. Most of the homes were modest, two-bedroom, onebath structures built in a plain craftsman style characterized by porches, tapered columns and a slightly curved flare at the bottom of the siding. Left undisturbed, the bay side neighborhood might have had a distinctive identity today. But a very different fate awaited the homes and out buildings on Pine Point.

In a “Judgment on the Declaration of Taking,” dated March 23, 1942 (just three weeks after the site was selected), the U.S. government asserted its unquestionable right to “acquire property by eminent domain . . . under authority of the Attorney General of the United States . . . for national defense purposes.” The parcels of land were held in the names of some 80-property owners, the largest being NWPR. The total compensation limit set by the U.S. Congress was $221,234.75.

Within a month, the government became the sole owner of all physical property on Pine Point, including the homes and the NWPR buildings. With the clear objective to build the shipyard at maximum speed, the government allowed approximately 30 days for people to leave before their homes were either moved or leveled. For the movers the process was straightforward: jack the house up and insert stout, four wheeled dollies under each corner; bring in a tow truck and haul it off to a dirt lot elsewhere in town; reset new jacks and leave it until a new foundation could be built.

In the graphic on page three, artist Giacomo Patri beautifully illustrates the houses on dollies waiting to be towed.

The Bechtel Company’s contract with the US Maritime Commission left no room for sentimentality. By the end of April, the houses remaining on Pine Point were bulldozed in preparation for the massive shipyard re-landscaping project: the leveling of Pine Point hill and the filling in of the tidal marsh to the north of it with salvaged dirt. The large surface area created became a level work yard next to the six shipways.

Today that area is approximately where the Post Office, Mollie Stone’s and Gate Three are located. The former NWPR tracks that had run along the water’s edge were relocated further to the west in order to move building materials efficiently into Marinship. Thus a quiet salt marsh became historic Sausalito acreage. The area filled with dirt from the Pine Point hill is marked today on the north by the 3030 Bridgeway Building (formerly the Marinship Administration building) and on the south by the Gate Three (Arques) area.

Glancing back at its history, we are reminded of the dramatic demolition of Pine Point, of the spent energy of thousands of wartime workers, and the sacrifices made by the residents of Sausalito’s lost community, Pine Point. —Margaret Badger