August 21 marks 75th anniversary for Los Al base groundbreaking

[I know — this article is way too long.  But a real and accurate history covering the beginnings of the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station — now the Joint Forces Training base — has never been printed before.  I wanted to not only finally get a more accurate one published, but to also point out — hopefully without appearing too snotty or know-it-all-ish —  what was inaccurate about the previous versions.  But as always, I’m sure there is someone out there who can add even more accurate information to this version.  If so, please contact me.  Anyway, here goes.]

A somewhat important footnote in local history almost snuck by us last month.  August 21 marked the 75th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station.  The base, Orange County’s first major military installation, was actually a relocation and an expansion of the Naval Reserve Air Base at Long Beach airport.  The Navy unit needed to move as the Long Beach site needed more room for the new Douglas Aircraft manufacturing plant at the north end of the airport and the rapid expansion of the Army Ferry Command which transported new aircraft built at the major Southern California aircraft manufacturers (Douglas, North American, Vultee in Downey, Northrop in Hawthorne, and Vega and Lockheed in Burbank.  (From 1942-46 all the increasing military aircraft production and ferrying activity made Long Beach Airport the busiest airport in the world.)  The base was also a relatively small part of the expansion of the entire Navy presence in the Long Beach-San Pedro area.

1941-0721- SA Register_Works Starts on NAS Los Al - Thu__Aug_21__1941_So why did the Navy decide to move to Los Alamitos?

There are conflicting histories for the Long Beach and  Los Al Naval Air Base.   The “official” Navy  history was written immediately after World War II and footnotes indicate that most of the older information was based on two interviews.  One was with Major  William J. Fox, the commander of Marine Reserve aviation unit at Long Beach and during its transition to Los Alamitos, and later a commander at El Toro Marine Air Station.  Fox was also a major player with the Los Angeles County Planning department.  The second source was the Los Alamitos Assembly & Repair officer in February 1944, whose name was redacted from the official file.  It was in Fox’s role as a county planner that he was assigned the task of surveying all possible Southern California airfields.  He would later do the same for El Toro and become that base’s first commander.  In Fox’s version, the Navy was basically kicked out of Long Beach Airport by the LB City Manager J.W. Charleville, who also reportedly told Commander Thomas Gray at an informal city council meeting “the sooner the Navy gets off Long Beach Airport, the better we will like it.”  [Gray served as commander of the San Pedro-Long Beach Naval operation from June 1939 to April 1941 and Charleville was City Manager from August 1939 to Jan. 3, 1941.]  This seems to make no logical sense — why would Long Beach, which had a long history of working with the Navy at the port —  (they leased the land where the Roosevelt Navy Base and Dry Dock was built for $1 a year][1]December 18, 1940, Los Angeles Times, page 15, “Long Beach Sells  105 Acres for Naval base fr Only $1” suddenly  be antagonistic towards one of its biggest employers and sources of revenue?  Yet, this story has been passed down uncontested.  This version was soon augmented with the “fact” that the Los Al property was patriotically granted to the Navy by owner Susannah Bixby Bryant at a discounted price.  Later histories from the California  Center for Military History  includes information about connections to a Naval Reserve Unit on Allen Field on Terminal island.  Thorough research seems to indicate both of these points are definitely questionable, and possibly untrue.  So many things about the official history of the Los Alamitos base just don’t seem to make sense … UNLESS one looks at the creation of the airbase in context of major events at that time — especially World War II, and the growth of Southern California aviation.

So here is our version of events, greatly helped by a recent find of many documents from the U.S. Navy Heritage and History Command,

The Naval aviation history in Southern California for the most part begins in the mid 1920s when an aviation presence was established in San Pedro in August 1924 for planes of the Navy’s battle fleet. [2]Aug. 27, LA Times, p14, “San Pedro to have Naval Plane Base”  A number of unofficial but military generated histories report that a Naval air reserve unit was established at San Pedro in 1927. [3]California Center for Military History, NAS Terminal Island,  We cannot find any verification of this in any of the area newspapers or official records.  However , that same year of 1927 the City of Long Beach offered both the Navy and the Army space to establish air reserve units at the new Long Beach Airport (Daugherty Field) located near Spring Street and Cherry Avenue.[4]Oct. 25, 1927, Los Angeles Times, page A14, “Long Beach Air Field Enlarged”  The Airport was enlarged through a land trade with the Montana Land Co.  The airport got 152 acres east of … Continue reading   The Navy officially established their unit on May 10, 1928 when Lt. Esten Kroger assumed command of Squadron VN 13 RD 11, composed of naval reservists in the 11th Naval District. [5]History of  The Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Long Beach. The Naval Air Station at Los Alamitos, and the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Los Alamitos From 10 May 1928 to 1 March 1945, hereafter … Continue reading  The Army took another year to transfer their reserve operations from Clover Field in Santa Monica.  It should also be noted that the land for the airport was provided by the Montana Land Company, which owned the 8,000 acres north of Spring Street that is now the airport, Long Beach City College and most of the City of Lakewood.  The Montana Land Company also owned the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory, and used most of its 8,000 acres north of Long Beach to grow beets for the factory.  But the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory stopped processing sugar beets after the 1926 season, and with beets no longer a profitable enough option, new company President Clark Bonner announced plans to develop an aviation industrial center around the new Long Beach airport.  Having military aviation units there, along with Daugherty’s and other private flying operations, gave the project more credibility.  [6]Sep. 28, 1928, LA Times  Over the next year a number of large companies, including Ford Motor Co., Consolidated Airways, the Detroit Aircraft Company (which had just purchased Lockheed)  announced plans to build at the airport, but the 1929 stock market crash put an end to many of the private air operations at the airport so the military had plenty room for its training.

1929 - LB Navy Reserve HQ - LB Airport
1929 – Naval Aviation Reserve HQs – LB Airport

Long Beach supplied both a 70′ x 140′ hangar and administrative building to the Navy’s Reserve Training Center, which had two aircraft assigned to it. Over the next few years it was expanded to include sleeping quarters for ten enlisted men and officers and the hangar was now capable of housing 12 observation planes, UO1’s.  “There are [also] two lean-to’s.  One 20′ x 60′ is used for a storeroom.  the other, 20′ x 140′  is used for classrooms, sick bay, sngie and plane overhaul shops, an armory, etc…” with an extension built to accommodate  a metal shop, woodworking sopwig and engine storage, and  garage for six cars and two trucks.   Under the command of Lieutenant Kroger, in 1929 the Navy established its two week reserve training program. That same year the Army started to expand its reserve operations at the airfield. [7]official history, page 6

The original allotment of land was proving too small, so Kogen’s successor negotiated a larger plot and the entire Navy hangar, admin building and extensions were “moved to the opposite side of the field. ” , The first Marine contingent was established on the Base on May 4, 1932, and four months later Lt. William J. Fox was appointed commanding officer of Fighting Squadron 4.[8]official history, page 8


Meanwhile, five miles southwest, on June 23, 1931 the Coast Guard announced plans to build its own hangar at the City of Los Angeles’s Allen Airfield on Terminal Island for its aerial scouting observations (which included checking for possible rum-runners).  Allen Field had both  a concrete runway, and a large seaplane area.  By July 1932, five Fokkers were in operation at the Coast Guard new Pacific Coast Air Base.  [9]Los Angeles Times, July 1932. Allen Field’s possibilities did not escape the Navy.   Even though 11th District headquarters were in San Diego,  that area was becoming very crowded and the Navy’s Pacific fleet was stationed in San Pedro.  Japanese military expansion into Manchuria part of China and other areas prompted the Navy to expand its West Coast operations, including aviation.

In summer 1933 initial recommendations were for the fleet’s aviation observation arm to set up shop at Long Beach Municipal Airport, initially with forty Vought Corsairs, with plans to expand to 116.  In fact some fleet planes had used the airport field on occasion, but apparently unofficially.  In October of the year, Vice Admiral Joseph Reeves, a Naval aviation pioneer, passed along recommendations against the municipal airport in favor of a Navy base at Allen Field.  This would avoid having planes loaded with bombers taking off over populated areas.[10]Oct. 13, 1933, LA Times, page 17; “Navy Air Base Site Opposed”

It took another year and a half of negotiations with the City of Los Angeles (which at one time planned to make Allen Field into an international seaplane port), but in August 1935, the Navy leased 350 acres at Terminal Island site.[11]August 1, 1935, LA Times, page A1, “Navy Lease Flying Field”  Due to bureaucratic regulations — too many machine jobs, not enough manual labor — government funding could not be authorized until after July 1, 1936.[12]Feb. 6, 1936, LA Times,page 31, “Allen Field Drive Pends”   But finally in late 1936 a new ramp for amphibious planes was dedicated at the newly renamed Reeves Field.  In addition to the Coast Guard, the existing facilities now housed the service base for the fleet’s 120-odd plane observation wing and soon other support units joined them, including the aerological group which had been at the Long Beach airport.  [13]Mar. 27, 1936, LA Times, page 3, “Honor Paid to Reeves; Accepts Field for Navy”

In 1938, concerned with the growing militarization by the Germans, Italians and Japanese, the U.S. Congress had authorized the construction of new naval aviation training facilities across the country.  Because of congestion at San Diego,   “emergency” facilities were created at Reeves to “park  and service” a 75-plane group from of the four carriers home-ported in Southern California.  From 1935 to early 1930 over $2,500,000 was spent on “temporary” facilities at Reeves.  To handle the expansion authorized by Congress — an estimated growth from 600 planes to 1200 over the ext four years  — Reeves needed to expand more, but New Deal bureaucracy raised its head again.   Federal law prohibited funds being spent on “permanent” structures on property the government did not own.  Reeves was being leased, so the Navy told Los Angeles it wanted to purchase the field. [14]April 3, 1939, LB Independent, page 18, “Reeves Field  Title Held Up By Port Rivalry”

Los Angeles was reluctant.   They still had plans to use part of Reeves as a major amphibious seaplane port.  More importantly Reeves sat directly over the recently discovered Wilmington Oil Field and Los Angeles did not want to give up that land.

Navy aviation at the Long Beach airport also wanted to expand.  Already short of space, the Reserves moved their flight operations to a new building at the intersection of Redondo and Spring.  They now had two hangars, a maintenance building, admin building, and two tennis courts for some recreation.  The city had submitted a plan to the federal Civil Air Authority (CAA) improve the Long Beach airport.  This would expand runways from the current 1900 feet to the mile required by the new four-engine planes being built by the Douglas Aircraft Company  of Santa Monica.  It also would make the Long Beach facility a more viable candidate to become the new Los Angeles International Airport.  This soon became moot when Los Angeles, not unexpectedly, chose its own Mines Field in Inglewood for this facility, and the Long Beach request languished in CAA files.

In May 1939, the reserve training facility there announced it would now be training 55 new pilots a year, all during the warmer summer months.  Each month nine new cadets (culled from a pool of 25-30 applicants) reported for a 30-day course, receiving $110 per month as a seaman 2nd class.   Those who graduated would move on advanced training at Pensacola, and after that could return to SoCal to join one of the three reserve squadrons stationed at the airport — two Navy (VS-13-R or VS-14-R) and one Marine (V-MS-7R).  Each squadron was approved for 25 pilots each.  A cadre of six fully commissioned pilots performed the instruction.  The Long Beach facility also handle the training for enlisted men in the aircraft maintenance and service areas.  The $850,000 plant (two buildings and adjacent land) along Spring Street housed 19 aircraft, and some machine shops, but little housing.  Cadets boarded at homes in the nearby area.

In September, just after the Nazis invaded Poland to commence World War II, the Navy expanded training operations around the country.  Long Beach would now train 12 cadets per class.  Urgency was made stronger in early April 1940 when the Nazis conquered Denmark and Norway in April, Belgium and the Netherlands in May and especially after the Nazis entered Paris, France on June 14, 1940.

FDR had already committed the United States to providing thousands of planes to the allies, most of these to be built in Southern California.  In June 1940, Lockheed, which was already employing 9000 men to build its bombers and pursuit planes, was hiring 40 new workers daily.  In Downey, Vultee Aircraft — armed with a $3 million contract to build training planes for the Army and a $9 million contract to build pursuit planes for Sweden — was hiring fifty new workers a day.  North American’s huge plant in Inglewood, was working three shifts daily turning out Texas trainers, early versions of its B-25 Mitchell bombers, and its brand new P-51 Mustang pursuit plane which would become one of the most famous planes of World War II.   And biggest of all was Douglas Aircraft — which already had a backlog  of over $140 million dollars in orders for its B-18 Bombers, A-20 attack planes, Devastator and Dauntless Dive Bombers and military versions of its huge DC-3 and DC4 transport planes.  Douglas’ two plants in Santa Monica and El Segundo couldn’t handle and by late 1939 the Army was in serious discussions with Douglas to build a large plant in Long Beach (Reportedly, General Hap Arnold of the Army Air Corps and Clark Bonner, whose Montana Land Co owned all the land around the airport, had become good friends) .  This coincided with Army desires to use the Long Beach Airport as the center for its ferrying operations.   While most aircraft were now manufactured in Southern California the majority of them still needed to go elsewhere — Kansas City, Dallas, Detroit, New York, etc — for specific modifications (cold weather, tropical humidity, additional fuel tanks for long range bombing, and specific armaments for intended use — combat, transport, etc.)

The Navy was getting some big contracts as well.  In May 1940 the government announced plans to spend $100 million dollars in the area to expand the Naval presence on Terminal Island.  This would include a new Navy dry dock terminal — funding for improvements and expansion of the surrounding shipyards which were just beginning to turn out new ships en masse, and upgrades for the railway lines servicing the port.  In addition were funds for a new Naval Operating Base headquarters and improvements for aviation programs, including those to make Reeves Field a major Navy aviation center.  The latter improvements were still on hold, as a final deal to purchase the Terminal island property had not been struck with Los Angeles and the Navy was growing frustrated in their plans to acquire Reeves Field.  On July 21, 1940, the Navy filed a condemnation suit against Los Angeles and Long Beach for the land around Reeves Field.

How does this affect the Los Alamitos air base?   There were many factors at play, but the key one was with war on the horizon, with the expansion of the area’s US fleet operations, with the huge civilian defense manufacturing presence in Southern California, the U.S. Navy needed a major air base in the region.

Long Beach Airport could have been that except for four minor details:

  1. Navy aviation brass had already expressed reluctance to fly loaded bombers over populated areas;
  2. expanding the Navy presence at Long Beach would be in conflict with Army plans to bring the Douglas plant to the north side of the airport
  3. Long Beach city leaders heavily encouraged the Army plan as the Douglas plant would bring a lot of jobs and tax revenue to the city
  4. The Army had big plans to make the the airport into a major Army ferrying site (which would not involve bomb-laden planes flying over populated areas.)
  5. Long Beach Naval Reserve Training would be severely impacted by the Army expansion.
Reeves Field in 1944. the enclosed area in the center is its seaplane launch, and the area on the right is the just-built Roosevelt Navy Base and Dry Dock and mole (a wide breakwater which could be drive on)
Reeves Field in 1944. the enclosed area in the center is its seaplane launch, and the area on the right is the just-built Roosevelt Navy Base and Dry Dock and mole (a wide breakwater which could be drive on)

Reeves Field had some drawbacks of its own — mainly that it was still not owned by the Navy.  Los Angeles was still demanding oil rights and over Navy protests, was also already leasing adjoining 60-acre area to an oil drilling companies.  The Navy felt the height of the derricks would impede the take-off and landing paths at Reeves.   [15]May 28, 1940, LA Times. p18, May 29, pA1, June 5, pA13.  Frustrated in their dealing with Los Angeles, which was still holding out for rights to “sub-surface materials,” the Navy began hinting at condemnation proceedings in June and even more in July.  Long Beach was happy to accommodate the Navy but also tried to be a supportive partner to Los Angeles, at least as far as establishing rights to the oil revenue.

A common player in all these scenarios was the Montana Land Company — which not only owned the land north of the Long Beach Airport, but also owned a thousand acres east of the nearby town of Los Alamitos.  It’s logical to assume all these events are related, and were collectively negotiated and decided in late July and early August 1940, and the Navy admitted as such in one of its histories.  [16]Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II; History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946; Chapter 10 — The Air … Continue reading

  1. August 10, 1940 — the Navy files its condemnation against Los Angeles and Long Beach, claiming all of Terminal Island.
  2. August 14, 1940 — the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Government would spend $20 million dollars to purchase around 200 acres from the Montana Land Company on the north side of Long Beach Airport and build an aircraft manufacturing plant to be operated by Douglas Aircraft.
  3. August 20, 1940 – it was announced the Long Beach Naval Reserve Base in Long Beach would lease 400 acres from the Los Alamitos Sugar Company (also owned by the Montana Land Co.) to operate an auxiliary air field “to be used for training pilots.”  This land was part of the Montana’s “East Ranch” their original 1,000 acre ranch which was part of their payment for building the sugar factory. [17]August 20, 1940, LB Press-Telegram, Page 1, Section B.  It’s also conceivable the Navy already had in mind a permanent purchase of the adjacent Bryant or nearby Bixby parcel.

While the auxiliary field at Los Alamitos this solved the reserve base’s immediate problem, it also gave the Navy time to consider other challenges.  Despite the condemnation, the Reeves Field issue wasn’t going to be resolved soon. Local Congressmen were now involved, accusing the Navy of wanting the oil rights and drastically paying less than reasonable value.  But the condemnation suit acknowledged that the oil lands belonged to the cities, and with that issue resolved in December 1940 Long Beach leased their share of Terminal Island (105 acres) to the Navy for $1 per year.

Also, the Japanese Navy’s aviation successes in their war with China had shown the increasing importance of aircraft-carrier based aviation.  The U.S. Navy brass realized it would need to expand its carrier training and Reeves Field couldn’t supply it.  With Long Beach out of the picture, Navy leaders knew they had to look around for a new flat spot for a new air reserve base.

A popular story has it that Under Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal approached his former college roommate at Princeton, of Pardee Erdman, now a professor at Occidental College. Erdman knew many large Southern California landowners, and was asked by Forrestal to see who might be interested in selling land to the Navy.   Erdman approached two San Marino, neighbors.  One was Katharine Hotchkis, daughter of Fred H. Bixby, owner of a 7,000 acre section of the former Rancho Los Alamitos now called the Bixby Ranch.  The other was Susannah Bixby Bryant, Fred’s sister and owner of an equal sized parcel called  the Bryant Ranch.  The parcels werre adjacent, each about seven miles wide, a mile and a quarter wide.  Fred’s was primarily between Bixby Road (an extension of present Main Way/ Rossmoor Center drive) and Garden Grove Boulevard, and Susannah’s  was north of that and bounded on the north by Bryant Road (present Orangewood/Stearns).  Because of his oil income, Fred Bixby had neither the need nor inclination to sell off any of his beloved ranch.  Susannah Bixby Bryant, was not so reluctant and agreed to sell . 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.  Later base histories say the Navy offered Mrs. Bixby $350 an acre for the property, but that in the best patriotic spirit she sold it for only $300.

The official history quotes Fox, as commander of the Marine aviation unit at Long Beach, as saying he was assigned to survey various sites in the vicinity to present a recommendation to the Navy Department.   There being no suitable places  in LA County, he selected three sites in Orange County.  Two of them on the estate of Fred Bixby and one on the Bryant estate, which was favored by Commander Gray.  Fox says he and [name is redacted but it can only be NRAB exec officer J.W. Williams] flew to Washington and made a recommendation to Admiral John W. Towers, Chief of the Aeronatucs Bureau.  In the meantime, Congressman Melvin Maas [from Minnesota, also a retired Marine Corps major general) and Navy UnderSecretary John Forrestal, also made a personal inspection of the sites.   Commander Gray soon received approval to begin negotiations for the Bryant site.  Fox was dispatched to Bryant’s home in Pasadena to offer $350 an acre, but she would only accept $300.

Santa_Ana_Register_Thu__Sep_11__1941_Unfortunately, this story overlooks the Navy’s existing 160-acre auxiliary airfield just east of Los Alamitos — land that had already been thoroughly surveyed by Navy scouting teams, including one under the aforementioned Marine Col. William J. Fox, also of the Los Angeles Planning Department.  In fact, on August 7, 1940, Fox had presented to the LA County Board of Supervisors an ambitious “Master Plan of Airports.”   [18]August  7, 1940, LA Times, Giant  Airport Project Seen.”  The article noted Fox head been doing airport-related surveys for 12 years and had taken 10 months to prepare the report. A map in the condemnation proceedings show the property as immediately north of the base land east of Lexington (current Carrier Row and Cottonwood Church).  Also of interest, one official Naval history notes  that “In the fall of 1941, extensions to the air facilities of the San Pedro area [Reeves Field] were provided by an agreement under which a new reserve air base was built at Los Alamitos.”  So it would seem the Los Alamitos location was a natural outgrowth of the Montana Land Company connection and the stalemate and negotiations over Reeves Field.  [Forrestal’s involvement is interesting.  He didn’t become UnderSecretary  until August 1940, but prior to that he had a close working relationship with Franklin Roosevelt — working in the Navy department in WWI and as FDR’s neighbor in upstate New York.]

References to 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 about the Long Beach area mentioned the expansion that would take place in Los Alamitos just south and east of the City Garden Acres tract (now Apartment Row) where students were already training.

Santa_Ana_Register_Wed__Feb_26__1941_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.   The Feb. 26 article in the Santa Ana Register noted the price at $1,125,000.

March 29, 1941, was a big day for news — even if some of it conflicted — about the new air station.  The Santa Ana Register article cited a $3 million construction  figure, while a Times article of the same date says initial construction would costs $900,000 and the second phase, housing and utilities buildings, would cost $1,500,000.  The new base would be the largest Naval Reserve base in the country, and the runways  would be a 5,000 foot main east-west runway, and a 3500-foot paved north south runway.  A large turf area could be used for practice landings.  The housing facilities would support more than 400 officers, cadets and enlisted men.  At present 25 officers, 150 enlisted men and 100 cadets are stationed at the Long Beach station, with 23 training planes and three service craft.[By late 1941 the figure was $5,000,000.]

That same day 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.  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.  Some months later, when base plans were expanded and other landowners had land condemned, federal records would show she she received the same appraised rate per acre as her neighboring landowners.

An April 3 article promised that with the first WPA appropriation approved, work on the base would commence in 30 days.  Construction of barracks “to house the 100 or more students now housed in private facilities” would be the first structures built.  After that construction would continue on an attractive administration building, a series of hangars, barracks for 300 people, and shops and other structures.   The two runways would be 200 feet in width.

But before construction could commence the county had to perform some work protecting the new base from the frequently flooding waters of Carbon Creek [which had been particularly damaging during the rains of 1938].  This was soon done thanks largely to federal money.  So at the end of April, it was again announced construction on the $2,500,000 base would begin “about the middle of May.”   The new base’s mission seems to have expanded, as it was announced it would  have a crew of 50 officers, 200 cadets and 300 enlisted men.

In early May the county said it would offer no opposition to the federal condemnation or its plans to close Bryant Avenue (present Orangewood Avenue).  It also posted that Mrs. Bryantn had been offered $108,000 for the 475 acres.  This breaks down to  approximately $227 per acre.  Since she eventually was paid about $300 per acre, this refutes the story that she patriotically reduced her price.  This article also confirms that the new base was “across Bryant Avenue  from… 480 acres leased by the government from the Los Alamitos Sugar Company.”

The funding and design was done in tandem with the construction of the new Roosevelt Navy base at the the Port of Long Beach, adjacent to Reeves Field.   Los Alamitos and Roosevelt were designed by Allied Engineers, Inc., an architectural consortium specifically put together for military projects.  The main partners were Adrian Wilson and engineer Donald R. Warren, working with Paul R. Williams, the nation’s pre-eminent black architect.   Other notable architects working on the project were A. Quincy Jones, Frederick E. Emmons and Edward H. Fickett.  The Roosevelt base’s budget was $18,000,000, dwarfing Los Al.  By some reports Jones did most of the layout work on Los Alamitos.   The art deco modern style, especially at the Roosevelt Base, is considered some of the finest examples of public art deco work.

On June 7, it was reported that a call for construction bids would be made within 30 days.  The first unit would include barracks and other improvements, costing $120,000 which had already been appropriated.  The article also noted that  when completed the base would contain hangars to accommodate 40 or 50 planes.

On August 21,  the winning construction firm of Means and Honer of Santa Ana, broke ground on construction for the first set of barracks and a mess hall.  That barrack would be a two-story structure of 27,000 feet, which would house 180 men and 20 officers.  Part of the structure would be two stories, with the first floor being of concrete walls, and the second of frame and stucco.   the second of wood. [19]SA Register, August 21, 1941, p1; “Start Work on Naval Reserve Aviation base.”    A related article in the LA Times  added, “First of its type, the building may become a model for similar structures at other bases over the country.”

The following week an article noted that the barracks construction and the first ten buildings was well underway. “In addition to sleeping and messing facilities, the dormitory will include spacious lounges for officers and men, reading room, and a reception room where men could entertain guests, and quarters for visiting officers.” [20]SA Register, August 26, 1941, p9. “Rush Work for Aviation base.”   That same issue carried a short article noting that the Navy had exerted influence to deny liquor licenses to Ethel’s Inn at Cerritos and Stanton (now Beach) and at Henry Carmichael’s Los Alamitos Pool Hall, 306 Los Alamitos Boulevard, because of their close proximity to the new Navy base.  The next day’s Long Beach Independent optimistically noted that building was underway and would be ready by November 1 according to William F. Fox, the base’s public works officer.  [21]Long Beach Independent, August 27, 1941, page 11

However, things were obviously moving along too well.  The next day, on August 28, work on the barracks building was stopped when it was discovered a ditch digging machine operator was not a union member.  After a four day shutdown, the subcontractor submitted to union demands and work was again underway on September 2.

On October 23, Orange County applied for State Highway funds for the “widening  and surfacing of Bryant Avenue, principal approach of the field.”   This means the original main entrance off Los Alamitos Blvd was intended to be present Orangewood Avenue.  However in february the county said it was unable to shoulder one fourth of the $135,000 needed to widen and pave the old 18-foot oiled strip. [22]Feb. 26,1942, Santa Ana Register

The Los Alamitos Naval Air Station – early 1942. Not that the roof is not even on the main hangar

The new base of 475 acres was replacing the old auxiliary field of 480 acres.  But the realities of war forced the Navy to expand its vision.  In December 1941, Commander E.R. DeLong, commandant of the entire San Pedro-Long Beach Naval presence,  announced that an additional $2,000,000 had been allocated for the expansion of  the Los Alamitos base. The government instituted condemnation procedings for 11 separate surrounding parcels of land surrounding the base, all one quarter mile in width.  Where the original base site had been a mile wide and three quarters of a mile north-to south, the new base would be one and a half miles wide and one and a quarter miles north to south.  The condemnation involved five property owners, leasing property to six farmers, individuals, all Belgian. The expansion more than doubled the base site, making a total of 965 acres and extending the base boundary to present Lampson.  The southernmost parcels were three quarter-mile wide strips just south of the Bryant property and belonging to Fred Bixby.

Whether Bixby was an enthusiastic partner is unknown. but he was definitely not a willing partner on a simultaneous military landgrab — when the Navy condemned 88 acres of Fred’s 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.  Just as they got their way on the Los Alamitos expansion with final documents being recorded on May 6, 1942.

While construction continued on the revised Los Alamitos plant, training crews were already using the new runways as early as Fall 1941.  Some even had accidents as newspapers reported of fire department crews showing up.  Old histories have former cadets saying they were  staying in Los Alamitos houses as early as Fall 1941.

Major Fox in his interview noted that “immediately after the declaration of war, the Army Ferrying Command took over the Army reserve operations at Long Beach airport.   The Transport operations interfered with the Navy training flights and the Ferry Command was anxious to obtain additional facilities at the airport.  So even before the new facilities at Los Alamitos were ready, the Naval reserve unit at LB Airport moved to Los Alamitos and turned over over to the Ferry Command all its facilities at Long Beach Airport.” [23]Fox, interview in Dec. 1944, official history, footnote 34  This becomes even more definitive when records show the ferry command were already flying thousands of planes out of Long Beach as early as August 1941 [24]August 3, 1941, LA Times, “Long Beach Airport becomes Ferry dept:  Field leased to Army as Starting Point for Deliveries” — and began to repave the runways and improve the airport in October 1941 — two months BEFORE the Declaration of War.   The Ferry Command was already shipping thousands of planes to the allies.  So there was great incentive for both parties to transfer operations to Los Alamitos as soon as possible. [25]October 10, 1941, Long Beach Independent,  page 7, “Ten Bids Received by Army for Work at Air Corps Ferry Command Here”; Nov. 26, 1941, Los Angeles Times, page 1A, “Plane Ferry … Continue reading

In late December, Commander DeLong presented Orange County with a Christmas present when he announced he had been informed the Navy would expend an additional $2,000,000 in expanding and developing the  air base.[26]Santa Ana Register, Dec. 24, 1941, page 1 “”Navy to Add $2,000,000 to Air Base at Los Alamitos”

In January, negotiations began on the acquisition of “four or five outlying landing fields”… while U.S. Naval reserve flyers from Los Alamitos would use in their training.  A map would soon show all fields that  were used for practice landings — Horse Farm [Stanton], Haster [Garden Grove],  Mile Square [Fountain Valley], East Long Breach [Meadowlark], Anaheim, and Seal Beach.  These were all available because emergency restrictions shut down all airports within fifty miles of the coast except those used by the military.

On February 10, 1942, the Navy announced the construction of eight more buildings — including  three barracks, a recreation building, a dispensary, a school building, a supply storehouse and bachelor officers quarters.  The base would become of the three largest in the nation — which would now require 1500 enlisted men to operate.  And under new navy regulations,  instead of thirty days, students would now get three months of training at the base.  And oh yeah, the Navy increased it overall goal to training 30,000 new pilots a year.  [27]LB Independent, Feb 6, 1942, page 19, “30,000 Fighting Pilots  a Year is Goal,of Local Naval Reserve Aviation Base”

On February 5, 1942, Gerald Thomas noted in his diary that he had completed the Navy pilot enlistment process at Los Alamitos.  He had been sworn in by Wayne Morris, the former actor, and then told to go home and wait for his call.  It came in April and on April 9 he began training at Los Alamitos.  [28]Gerald W. Thomas, Torpedo Squadron Four; A Cockpit View of World War II, p92

On March 7, 1942, with the new barracks proving to be inadequate, the Navy put out a call to the public to provide rooms for cadet pilots.

An April 7, 142 article noted that while the officially commissioning would take place in late May or early June, a complement of ground personnel  is already at the base. [29]SA Register, Apr. 20, 1942, p10; “Plan ceremony for Opening of Base.”  Like the last five or six articles, it mentioned the expanded the Navy goal of 30,0000 new fighting pilots a year.

An article of April 29 mentioned a campaign by Anaheim Red Cross workers to procure musical instruments to be used by cadets at the Los Alamitos air field during recreation periods. [30]Santa Ana Register, April 29, 1942, page 13

On June 1, 1942 2,000 cadets and ground crew members marched in formation and saluted the workers who had been toiling at the  base, and were  far ahead of schedule.  Basecommandant, Commander E. R. DeLong, who was also commmandant of the entire San Pedro-Long Beach  Naval Presence,  noted that already a force of mover 2,000 men were at the field, with training under the direction of Ensign C.B. Adelmann. [31]June 2, 1942, Los Angeles Times, page 7; “”2000 Cadets at $3,000,000 Naval Reserve  Base at Los Alamitos Parade for Civilian Workmen”

Cadet Gerald F. Thomas, noted in his diary that on June 21, 19452″all the cadets are moving ito barracks at the new base… from now on we will be confined to base, except Saturday night to Sunday.” [32]Thomas, Gerald F., Torpedo Squadron Four; A Cockpit View of World War II. a post-war memoir

Major Fox says that the final week  of May 1942 was one of great activity re: the actual moving of headquarters and other administrative units from Long Beach to Los Alamitos.  “A steady stream of vehicles augmmented by the timely arrival of two Pontiac station wagons loaded with personne;l and mayteriel moved eastward every day under a miniumum of confusion to their new grounds.  The administrative offices were the last to be installed in the spacious new buildings which housed departmental heads, sick bay, synthetic training, cetral files and several classrooms.  Assembly & repair (A&R) was the only department still located at the base.  All planes were flown to the old base for checks.”

On July 1, 1942, official Navy records show that NRAB Long Beach reported that it is now NRAB Los Alamitos.    Much work was still to be built and completed at Los Alamitos, and while this was done over the next year, the base would change names, change status, change commands and change missions.  But all this is something to be covered at another time.




1 December 18, 1940, Los Angeles Times, page 15, “Long Beach Sells  105 Acres for Naval base fr Only $1”
2 Aug. 27, LA Times, p14, “San Pedro to have Naval Plane Base”
3 California Center for Military History, NAS Terminal Island,
4 Oct. 25, 1927, Los Angeles Times, page A14, “Long Beach Air Field Enlarged”  The Airport was enlarged through a land trade with the Montana Land Co.  The airport got 152 acres east of its Cherry Street location, and Montana received 113 acres of water lands — present Heartwell Park”
5 History of  The Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Long Beach. The Naval Air Station at Los Alamitos, and the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Los Alamitos From 10 May 1928 to 1 March 1945, hereafter official history, page 2
6 Sep. 28, 1928, LA Times
7 official history, page 6
8 official history, page 8
9 Los Angeles Times, July 1932.
10 Oct. 13, 1933, LA Times, page 17; “Navy Air Base Site Opposed”
11 August 1, 1935, LA Times, page A1, “Navy Lease Flying Field”
12 Feb. 6, 1936, LA Times,page 31, “Allen Field Drive Pends”
13 Mar. 27, 1936, LA Times, page 3, “Honor Paid to Reeves; Accepts Field for Navy”
14 April 3, 1939, LB Independent, page 18, “Reeves Field  Title Held Up By Port Rivalry”
15 May 28, 1940, LA Times. p18, May 29, pA1, June 5, pA13.
16 Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II; History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps 1940-1946; Chapter 10 — The Air Stations;
17 August 20, 1940, LB Press-Telegram, Page 1, Section B
18 August  7, 1940, LA Times, Giant  Airport Project Seen.”  The article noted Fox head been doing airport-related surveys for 12 years and had taken 10 months to prepare the report.
19 SA Register, August 21, 1941, p1; “Start Work on Naval Reserve Aviation base.”
20 SA Register, August 26, 1941, p9. “Rush Work for Aviation base.”
21 Long Beach Independent, August 27, 1941, page 11
22 Feb. 26,1942, Santa Ana Register
23 Fox, interview in Dec. 1944, official history, footnote 34
24 August 3, 1941, LA Times, “Long Beach Airport becomes Ferry dept:  Field leased to Army as Starting Point for Deliveries”
25 October 10, 1941, Long Beach Independent,  page 7, “Ten Bids Received by Army for Work at Air Corps Ferry Command Here”; Nov. 26, 1941, Los Angeles Times, page 1A, “Plane Ferry Terminal Bustles With Activity”
26 Santa Ana Register, Dec. 24, 1941, page 1 “”Navy to Add $2,000,000 to Air Base at Los Alamitos”
27 LB Independent, Feb 6, 1942, page 19, “30,000 Fighting Pilots  a Year is Goal,of Local Naval Reserve Aviation Base”
28 Gerald W. Thomas, Torpedo Squadron Four; A Cockpit View of World War II, p92
29 SA Register, Apr. 20, 1942, p10; “Plan ceremony for Opening of Base.”
30 Santa Ana Register, April 29, 1942, page 13
31 June 2, 1942, Los Angeles Times, page 7; “”2000 Cadets at $3,000,000 Naval Reserve  Base at Los Alamitos Parade for Civilian Workmen”
32 Thomas, Gerald F., Torpedo Squadron Four; A Cockpit View of World War II. a post-war memoir

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *