Over the past decades, many local heroes have stood up for San Francisco Bay. Sometimes, we come across a bit of Bay history that truly illustrates how far we’ve come since 1961. Paul Richards reflects on his father’s 1970 documentary film about the threats to the Bay.
Harvey Richards made Warning Warning in 1970 when corporate and government filling and polluting of the San Francisco Bay were accelerating, threatening to reduce the bay to a river outlet to the sea. The Save the Bay movement was ramping up to fight for protective legislation to hold back and reverse these trends. At that point, my father, Harvey Richards, produced this film to help conservationists by documenting who was filling and polluting the bay and what impact it was having.
Harvey Richards‘ first encounters with the San Francisco Bay occurred in the 1930’s when, as an able bodied seaman, he steered merchant ships into the bay before the Golden Gate Bridge was built. A native of Oregon, he went to sea in 1930 at age 18 leaving on his first voyage from Portland, Oregon. He crossed the Pacific many times and eventually sailed the Atlantic Ocean as well. With an eighth grade education, he went from the merchant marine fleet directly into union organizing during the late 1930’s on the east coast where he had landed after his last voyage. He settled in San Francisco in the 1940’s and found work in the shipyards as a machinist. In 1946, he participated in the west coast strike wave as the chief shop steward for the Machinist Union at Bethlehem Steel. He was expelled from the union as a communist after the strike as part of a deal the unions made with employers in order to win contract gains.
In the 1950’s he picked up a camera and began making films to support causes that the anti-communist mainstream press refused to cover. He remained a radical foe of corporations and capitalism all his life. He made 22 films from 1959 to 1978 and shot thousands of photographs. His photography centered on farm worker organizing, civil rights, peace, and the environment. All his films were made at his own expense and were offered free, or at cost, to organizations involved in the struggles for change. The Sierra Club used Warning Warning to help build support for Save the Bay.
In 1970, I was a graduate student in Madison, Wisconsin (PhD,1978). I was not involved in the movement to save the bay then. But gradually over the years since my return to the bay area in 1972, I have come to appreciate the importance of the victories that have made possible the preservation and restoration of the bay. Harvey’s films on the environment include three other films on logging that exposed the destructive nature of clear cutting and the wasteful practices of corporate logging up and down the west coast. He also made two films on mining in Butte, Montana. Together with Warning Warning, his environmental films give expression to conservationist ideas that were uncommon, but on the rise in the 1970’s, and are still gaining momentum today.
In 1987, he turned his photographic work over to me when demands for his images from other film makers started to mount. I created Estuary Press and the Harvey Richards Media Archive to handle these requests. I converted his works from film to video and then to digital formats to accommodate demands in a world of rapidly changing media. Harvey passed away in 2001.
Paul Richards was born in San Francisco in 1944 and is a life long resident of the Bay Area. He is a retired carpenter, grandfather of five and lives in Oakland with his wife, Nina Serrano. Since retiring in 2011, he is a publisher and web site developer at Estuary Press.