‘Rosie the Riveter’ factory in Michigan saved from demolition

Thu May 1, 2014 3:31pm EDT

Doors that were built to accommodate airplanes are opened on the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain plant, where RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust Redevelopment held an open house, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, June 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Kowalsky

Doors that were built to accommodate airplanes are opened on the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain plant, where RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust Redevelopment held an open house, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, June 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Kowalsky

(Reuters) - A Detroit-area factory where "Rosie the Riveter" and other women built World War Two-era bombers has been saved from demolition by last-minute donations to help turn it into a museum, fundraisers said on Thursday.

The campaign to raise enough money to stop a wrecking ball from leveling the Willow Run bomber plant faced a May 1 deadline for raising $8 million but, as of Tuesday morning, fell $1 million dollars short, said fundraising spokesman Michael Montgomery. The deadline had already been extended three times.

Suddenly on Tuesday an infusion of $230,000 in donations - including $200,000 from a single undisclosed donor - poured in, convincing fundraisers they had enough to purchase the property in Ypsilanti Township, about 40 miles (64 km) west of Detroit.

The fictional Rosie, widely celebrated in U.S. posters showing her rolling up her sleeve under the saying "We Can Do It!", became an iconic symbol of how the war changed American women's lives, allowing them out of the home and into factories where they took on heavy labor jobs previously preserved for men.

While there was a riveter at the factory named Rose Will Monroe, there is still some debate over who actually inspired the image that has come to represent an entire generation.

"I'd been praying for them to get it," said Lorraine Osborne, 88, who worked as a riveter at the Willow Run plant more than 70 years ago and who still lives only 4 miles (6.5 km) away.

"I can't wait to go back in and see it again," said Osborne, who met her husband at the plant and who is excited to show it to her family, including seven great-grandchildren.

The plant swelled to more than 40,000 workers from across the United States and produced more than 8,600 B-24 bombers during World War Two.

The fundraising campaign was started by the Michigan Aerospace Foundation and the Yankee Air Museum, now located half a mile (0.8 km) away from the plant and which will make its new home in the renovated factory.

Campaigners have spent a year raising funds to buy the factory from Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response trust (RACER), which was created to sell real estate General Motors Co gave up during its 2009 bankruptcy proceedings. The purchase agreement was expected to be signed in seven to 10 days.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir in New York; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman)

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