By Kathy Chouteau
A recently released, short documentary entitled “Macdonald Avenue” shares the story about the original “godfather of Richmond” dating back to the late 1800s, Augustin S. Macdonald, and the city’s major thoroughfare.
Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, the documentary—produced and directed by filmmaker Doug Harris—was funded, in part, by a Richmond Arts & Culture Commission Neighborhood Public Art Grant and was produced in partnership with the Richmond Museum of History & Culture and the Richmond Public Library. Harris said his short work packs a whole lot of history into the story; this history includes Macdonald’s vision for Richmond prior to the city’s 1905 incorporation that saw him play a pivotal role ushering in the Standard Oil Refinery (now Chevron) and the Santa Fe Railroad to the Bay Area in 1902.
The documentary also spotlights Richmond’s exponential growth into “a major Bay Area industrial center” that would take its place as an “employment hotbed” during the 20th century, per Harris. “It’s hard to imagine a city today growing from 20,000 to 100,000 people practically overnight such as the days of the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond during the WWII days in the 1940s,” said the filmmaker.
In making Macdonald Avenue, Harris received helpful assists from Angela Cox of the Richmond Public Library and Victoria Stuhr, Collections & Gallery Manager of the Richmond Museum of History & Culture. The filmmaker said the local duo “brought to life” the documentary’s story via vintage photos, archival film footage and documents that elevated the visual representation of Macdonald’s vision for Richmond’s early development and economic growth.
Cox called working closely with Harris “very special” to her, as the documentary “presents our history in an engaging manner.” She added, that, for many years, “he has been an integral part of preserving this city’s history though educational projects.”
In Macdonald Avenue, the thoroughfare’s role as a lively downtown entertainment and shopping district during the 1940s to the 1960s is also spotlighted. Harris shares in his work how Macdonald Avenue experienced a “sharp decline” in 1968 when Macy’s, J.C. Penney’s, Woolworths, Thrifty’s and other stores fled downtown Richmond after “a weeklong series of race riots made people feel uncomfortable about shopping” there.
He added that these days, the city and downtown Richmond are “making a comeback” due to the dedicated efforts of Richmond Main Street Initiative and that he feels it’s “important for people to know about Macdonald Avenue’s history so residents can fully support the revitalization efforts taking place.”