By Joseph Lichterman
DETROIT (Reuters) - The factory where "Rosie the Riveter" helped build bombers during World War Two and became a symbol for women contributing to the war effort outside the home has been given a two-month lease on life while a campaign tries to raise $8 million to save it from a wrecking ball.
The Willow Run Bomber Plant campaign, founded by the Michigan Aerospace Foundation and the Yankee Air Museum, has until October 1 to find the money that will allow it to separate and preserve a small part of the Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti Township, about 40 miles west of Detroit.
The idea is to relocate an air museum to the site, which is adjacent to Willow Run Airport.
The property is held by the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response trust (RACER), which was created to sell real estate that was given up by General Motors Co during its 2009 bankruptcy proceedings. GM built transmissions there after the war.
The Willow Run Bomber Plant campaign said it has raised more than $4.5 million. The initial funding deadline was August 1, but the extension was granted because it would not interfere with the planned demolition of the factory, said Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager for the RACER trust.
"We're very hopeful that the Yankee Air Museum is successful in their efforts," Rasher said. "If they are, there will be a small piece of history preserved at the site in conjunction with what we expect will be a state-of-the-art manufacturing and research facility."
ROSIE STEPS INTO HISTORY
Rosie the Riveter was introduced to the world in a song by the same name that was recorded by big band leader Kay Kyser. American illustrator Norman Rockwell further immortalized Rosie on the May 29, 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
Rosie the Riveter was promoted by the U.S. government as a way of bringing women out of their homes and into the factories that were building planes, tanks and armaments for the United States and its allies.
She was depicted on posters and other war-era literature and products with her right arm flexed to show muscle and her hair tucked under a red print scarf. Rosie's message was clear: American women were ready and able to fill jobs that had been done by men who had gone to war.
The character found human counterparts on assembly lines all over the United States. According to the Ford Motor Co, which built and operated the Willow Run factory, the song was inspired by Rosalind P. Walter, but one of Ford's workers, Rose Will Monroe, became most closely associated with the fictional Rosie.
Monroe was a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory, where thousands of B-24 Liberator bombers were built. According to Ford, Monroe best fit the song's description of Rosie and so she was asked to star in a promotional film about the war effort at home. The rest is, well, history.
One of the most highly recognizable characters to emerge from the World War Two era, Rosie's "can do" image is still widely reproduced.
After the war, the Kaiser-Frazer Corp bought the plant, then sold it to General Motors in 1953.
FLYING FORTRESS RISES FOR THE CAUSE
Rasher declined to provide a time frame for when the trust might sell the site or to name any companies looking at it.
Earlier in July, to drum up media coverage, local reporters were given a ride on the Yankee Air Museum's historic B-17 "Yankee Lady" Flying Fortress bomber.
If the campaign meets its fundraising goal, it would preserve 175,000 square feet of the 4 million-square-foot facility. The southeast section of the factory, where planes were driven off the assembly line through towering bay doors, would be saved, said Dennis Norton, founder of the Yankee Air Museum.
Norton said the RACER trust has worked closely with the campaign, even reconfiguring some of its engineering and demolition plans to save the museum about $2 million.
He said the effort to preserve the plant was drawing attention to Detroit's wartime production efforts, when the city was known as the "Arsenal of Democracy." Detroit is facing a financial crisis so severe that it has filed for bankruptcy protection.
"It is a bright spot in all the stuff that's going on in Detroit right now," Norton said.
(Reporting By Joseph Lichterman; Editing by Toni Reinhold)