Steamship Saturday – The Red Oak Victory’s New Home

Steamship Saturday

Red Oak Victory

The historic Red Oak Victory cargo ship and one of the central landmarks of the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park has been docked at a different location at the Port of Richmond to accommodate a new winery that wants to take advantage of the current location’s Bay views.

The Riggers Loft Wine Company, which opened a new tasting room last August in the restored shipyard building known as the Riggers Loft, had petitioned the city to move the SS Red Oak Victory to Basin 1, claiming the ship blocks views of the Bay from the shoreline.

The building known as the Riggers Loft had been used for the final outfitting of ships built in the Kaiser shipyards.


Ships at the Outfitting Dock. Note the anchors have yet to be installed.

After a contentious hourlong discussion during a closed session, the Richmond City Council approved the deal in a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Tom Butt dissenting. The vote was not announced publicly.

The 71-year-old ship, iconic of the type of vessel built in the Kaiser shipyards during World War II, had been berthed next to war era structures at the Port of Richmond on Canal Boulevard, where visitors were able get a peek into a part of the city’s home front history. After the winery submitted its request, the city was faced with multiple options, including moving the ship to Basin 5, which is closest to the historic structures considered part of the national park. Unlike Basin 1, the site also has adjacent space to accommodate visitor parking. But the basin is now used by Foss Maritime, which provides towing service to ships at the port, and wants to stay in the area. Foss towed the 455-foot Red Oak to another slip, Basin 1, at no charge.

The Mayor, a proponent of historic preservation, had pushed for the Red Oak to be towed to Basin 5, a move that would have cost the city an estimated $300,000, including towing, site preparation, relocating Foss Maritime and other expenses. Butt, in an email to constituents, raised the possibility of attracting outside funding to cover the cost.

But the rest of the council decided that the option didn’t make financial sense, voting to relocate the ship to Basin 1.

“From a pragmatic standpoint, it was the simplest and most cost-effective decision,” said Councilman Jael Myrick. “And it still leaves open the option to move the Red Oak to Basin 5 at a later date.”

Butt slammed the decision, calling it shortsighted.

“My idea was to group the whirley crane, the Red Oak Victory and the Riggers Loft together as a cluster of three locations that visitors will be interested in,” Butt said. “The Red Oak will now be isolated in a location that does not have adequate parking to support its growing number of popular events, and visitors to the Riggers Loft Wine Company and the whirley crane will be forced for years to look at the vast collection of rusty metal shacks and junk equipment that Foss has assembled at Basin 5.”

Whirley Crane

Above: The “whirley crane” – so named because of its ability to rotate 360º. It is the size of a boxcar – on stilts!

Below: Cranes at the Richmond shipyard lifting a component of a ship’s bow into place.


San Francisco Bay Area readers who are familiar with the site are likely to agree that the solution chosen by the Richmond City Council is shortsighted particularly because of the dearth of convenient parking for visitors to the ship, even though the new location is just around the corner, so to speak from the ship’s previous location.

Gallery: The Kaiser-Richmond Shipyards in action




Below: A new Liberty ship is laid down – Day One


Below: Day Four


Below: Day Ten


Below: two views of the former Ford assembly plant at Richmond Harbor. The plant originally built Model Ts. In World War II, it assemble Sherman tanks for the Pacific Theater. The location was certainly convenient for loading the tanks onto ships built at the adjacent Kaiser Shipyards. The building now houses offices, a restaurant and a facility used for various concerts.

Former Ford plant, RichmondFormer Ford Plant, Richmond2

“Chris-to-Fear” supplied the following photos of the Red Oak Victory in its new home, taken by a friend who piloted over the area. The oatmeal colored building was the General Warehouse that supplied the ships built in the Kaiser shipyard with items such as sheets, towels, hand tools, etc. This building was built with a nice Art Deco design – something completely unexpected for a warehouse! Included here are two views of the General Warehouse not taken by the pilot. Click to enlarge:

General Warehouse Richmond Harbor

General Warehouse2


Last ship Richmond Harbor


San Francisco Bay Area Residents:
Become a Docent aboard the 
Red Oak Victory

Red Oak Victory Docent

Have you ever thought about being aboard a genuine World War II Victory Ship and explaining its history to a group of interested visitors or helping preserve it for future generations?

Well then, here is your opportunity, because the SS Red Oak Victory is looking for volunteers in a variety of areas. If you have an interest in ships, the history of Richmond and the Kaiser shipyards, WW II, the Merchant Marine, or all things nautical, please consider becoming a docent on board the SS Red Oak Victory — and if being a docent isn’t your thing, we are also looking for volunteers in other areas such as events, marketing, engineering, fund raising, and working on deck.

You will have the opportunity to work with a great bunch of men and women volunteers all of whom share a passion for the ship and our goal of making it operational once again. Did I say “operational”? Yes, I did! The crew has been working since 1998 to bring the ship back to life and we are hopeful to be able to light off the boilers in early 2016 for the first time since 1968 when the ROV made its last voyage from Viet Nam to San Francisco.

Are you thinking you may not have the background to be a docent? Don’t worry about that — we will train you. Have time during the week? Bored on weekends? We can always use your help. The only job requirement is an interest in being part of the crew and having fun. The ship is open to the public on weekends and two days during the week (Tuesday and Thursday) from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm. The environment is casual and the hours are flexible.

If you want to know more about any of our volunteer opportunities, please contact me by phone or email at the address below, or better yet, drop by the ship and say “Hello”. We will be glad to show you around and talk about making the SS Red Oak Victory thrive again.

We are looking forward to meeting you!

Alan D. Burns
Chief Docent, SS Red Oak Victory
Cell: (415) 847-8501

Red Oak Victory-stern view


Add yours →

  1. chris houck 16/04/2016 — 12:33

    Wow! I don’t think that there’s enough pie to give you what you deserve…excellent hero work!


  2. jack darnell 16/04/2016 — 17:39

    Anytime the efforts of the American Business men and corporations is pointed out in respect to WWII, my mind cannot wrap around what was actually accomplished in such a short time. Building a ship ain’t like building a car. But they made it look so, with that equipment and dedicated workers.

    Good one!


    • Indeed, Jack – that generation “turned to” and got the job done. I’m not confident we are cut from the same cloth these days …
      One of the shipyards (I need to look up which one it was) completed a Liberty ship in 1 day! Of course when you count the time it took to build the prefabricated components, it took longer than that, but still – to assemble one of those ships in one day was quite a feat!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: