In 1938, even before the war in Europe and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Congress had authorized the construction of new naval aviation training facilities and Navy leaders began looking around for a new flat spot for their reserve base. The UnderSecretary of the Navy at this time James Forrestal, who was friends with Pardee Erdman, a San Marino clergyman and professor at Occidental College. They had been college roommates at Princeton and both had served in World War I. Forrestal, aware that Erdman was friends with many large Southern California landowners, asked his longtime friend to see who might be interested in selling some land to the Navy. Erdman, very familiar with the Long Beach-Orange County area, must have had Los Alamitos’ wide open spaces and flat farmland in his sights from the very beginning.
Because of his oil income, Fred Bixby had neither the need nor inclination to sell off any of his beloved ranch. His sister Susannah Bixby Bryant, was not so reluctant. Her land did not have the same oil income and she had shifted her focus to her lands in Yorba Linda where she had developed a renowned botanical garden as a tribute to her father.
References to the construction of a new naval air base in Southern California made their way into the newspapers as early as January 1, 1941 when a Press-Telegram feature article mentioned the expansion that wo0uld take place in Los Alamitos. But to handle the already underway expansion of the Naval reserve, the Navy had already leased land just south and east of Los Alamitos City Garden Acres tract where student were already training when the base plans for expansion were announced.
A two-paragraph item in the Feb. 25, 1941 LA Times reported that the Naval Reserve Air Base in Long Beach would move to a new 400 acre field in the vicinity of Los Alamitos. This was located south of Farquhar and north of Bryant (Orangewood), and was a mile and a half wide. A follow-up article noted it was “leased from the Los Alamitos Sugar Company” and was 480.6 acres.
On March 29, 1941, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported the Navy had bought from Mrs. Susannah Bixby Bryant 1,300 acres of open farmland for “a huge new huge reserve base for navy aviation.” This was immediately south of the previously purchased land.
Later histories say the Navy offered Mrs. Bixby $350 an acre for the property, but that in the best patriotic spirit she sold it for $300. Newspapers at the time say only that the price was undisclosed, and that the purchase was made following condemnation proceedings by the Navy, leaving unsaid whether Mrs. Bryant was a willing partner or not. Also condemned was the quarter-mile wide strip just south of the Bryant property and belonging to Fred Bixby. It extended the base boundary to Lampson, making a total of 965 acres in a mile and half square.
Whether either Bixby was an enthusiastic partner is unknown,. But Fred was definitely not a willing partner on a subsequent military landgrab. A few months later he was fighting tooth and nail to keep the Navy from taking 88 acres of his prime Long Beach mesa farmland for a new hospital (the one currently located at 7th and Bellflower, next to Cal State Long Beach.). The LA Times quoted Bixby as announcing “he will make every effort to halt the threatened condemnation of the area.” Bixby tried to enlist friends on the Chamber of Commerce to help him fight this takeover of some of his best bean fields, and they said he would get so frustrated when talking about he was almost in tears,
Not surprisingly, the Navy got its way and construction funds for the new base and hospital soon followed. Congress had authorized over $3,000,000 for the facility which would have two runways, one 5,000 feet (15 city blocks) in length, and the other 3,500 feet. Half of the money was to go towards housing facilities, hangars, shops and administration buildings. The buildings at Los Alamitos and at the Roosevelt Navy Base at the Port of Long Beach were designed by well-known architects Paul Revere Williams and A. Quincy Jones. The pairs art deco modern style, especially at the Roosevelt Base, is considered some of the finest examples of public art deco work.
The tenant farmers on those lands, mainly Belgians but some Japanese on the southeastern corner or on Hellman land, now had to find new sections to work. Most of the Belgians did so but the Japanese would not have the chance.
Within hours of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, US government officials began arresting local Japanese nationals and leaders. By February 1942, over 19,000 Japanese-Americans from Los Angeles and Orange County had been removed.
Base Starts in 30 Days (April 3, 1941)
Press-Telegram – April 3, 1941
Approval Given Appropriation of Half Million
Work is expected to start within 30 days on the $3,000,000 Naval Reserve Aviation Base, for which a 480 acre site was obtained by the federal government last week one-half mile south of Los Alamitos, Orange County about five miles east of Daugherty Field.
Commander Thomas A. Gray of the Reserve Air Base Revealed today that a WPA application for work to cost about $500,000 has already been approved by the Southern California Regional Office. The project will provide for the start of runway construction and barracks building.
The new field will be located one half mile east of Los Alamitos Boulevard between Bixby and Bryant Avenues. The Navy Department has already taken title to the property through condemnation proceedings.
Tentative plans call for completion of the $3,000,000 plant inside of 18 months. While the two runways, one 5,080 feet in length and the other 3,760 feet long, are being built the cadets in training will use the 160-acre field now under lease just north of the permanent base site.
Construction of the barracks will be one of the first moves, Commander Gray revealed, in order that the 100 or more students now housed in private facilities may be accomodated at the field.
The two runways will be 200 feet in width and the interior of the new field will be provided with turf to facilitate practice take-offs and landings and other training activities.
Tentative plans call for an attractive administration building, a series of hangars, a field apron 200 feet wide, and about 1500 feet long, barracks for about 300 men, shops and other structures.