Life at Alameda Naval Air Station Circa 1960

The above map is labeled “Aerial of NAS Alameda with buildings and features labeled 1959.” Credit: National Archives San Bruno. A copy of it can be found at the Seaplane Lagoon Ferry Terminal.
The above map is labeled “Aerial of NAS Alameda with buildings and features labeled 1959.” Credit: National Archives San Bruno. A copy of it can be found at the Seaplane Lagoon Ferry Terminal.

Life at Alameda Naval Air Station Circa 1960

Map, photos recall mid-century Alameda history

On a recent visit to the relatively new Seaplane Lagoon Ferry Terminal, I became fascinated by a map and its accompanying index incorporated into a historic plaque on the waterfront. Many Alamedans have discovered the important role Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda played in World War II. But the detail and significance of the operation comes clear after poring over the map at right.

Alameda Naval Air Museum’s official history
The text in this section is courtesy of Alameda Naval Air Museum.

The history of NAS Alameda is a remarkable story. It was one of the largest, most complete Naval Air Stations in the world. It was commissioned on Nov. 1, 1940, and commanded by Captain Frank McCrary.

The military and civilian personnel at the Naval Air Station represented 271 separate and distinct trades and could manufacture and repair every part of any aircraft. Modern production methods ensured that the overhaul of an attack aircraft completed every day and one and a half patrol aircraft every other day.

The base was once part of an Indian burial ground, and later part of a Spanish land grant of Don Luis Maria Peralta. In 1864, the terminus of the first transcontinental railroad ended at Pier 2 at the old Alameda Point.

Alameda Point is in the confines of what would become the Alameda Naval Air Station. An oil refinery was built in 1879 and was purchased by Standard Oil until 1903. The site of the Engine Overhaul Building was used as the Pacific Borax Works.

The City of Alameda saw the possibility for a Naval Base on the west end of the Island of Alameda. In 1936, Congress authorized Franklin Delano Roosevelt to accept the land at Alameda Point for the purchase price of $1.00.

Complete just in time for World War II, the History of NAS Alameda shows the original site 300 acres of high ground. The total area was 2,527 acres or one-third of the island of Alameda.

Dredging operations began in 1938 and the air station grew almost overnight. In January 1941, the Assembly and Repair Department (A&R) received its first assignment. One Curtis Sea Gull (SOC) aircraft, the first one overhauled. On Dec. 7, 1941, the A&R employed 1,935 personnel and repaired 14 aircraft a month. In 1958 O&R produced 1,305 jet engines and 881 reciprocating engines.

Carriers based at Naval Air Station Alameda included USS Ranger, USS Midway, USS Coral Sea and USS Hancock. All called Alameda home.
NAS Alameda had two 8,000 ft. runways, three seaplane ramps and a lighted seadrome. The air station had 300 buildings and 30 miles of roads.
Presidential History at Alameda Naval Air Station

The pages of the Alameda Sun have often featured stories of Alameda native Jimmy Doolittle leading the historic bombing raid on Tokyo in response to Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Hornet’s role in the rescue of the Apollo 11 astronauts. Still another event tied to NAS Alameda may be of interest to Alameda history buffs: President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Alameda on March 23, 1962.

The president’s visit occurred almost exactly 20 years after the Doolittle Raiders left Alameda for their historic destiny and 94 years after the creation of the University of California. Followed by Senator Clair Engle of California; Rep. George P. Miller of California; Naval Aide to the President, Captain Tazewell Shepard; White House Secret Service agent, Gerald A. “Jerry” Behn, Kennedy deplaned Air Force One at Alameda Naval Air Station. He was greeted by California Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown and University of California regent, Edwin W. Pauley while Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stood nearby.

The president had a full schedule for the two-day excursion to the Golden State. After reviewing the troops stationed in Alameda, Kennedy was whisked off in a convertible to U.C. Berkeley for a ceremony commemorating the university’s original charter.

A photo of Kennedy’s car turning left on Webster Street appears above. The motorcade then continued to Berkeley along Telegraph Avenue with the president fully exposed to the public’s adulation along the way. The photos of the motorcade look ominously similar to those of the fateful motorcade that took place the following year in Dallas, Tex.

Alameda City Council resolves to greet president
President Kennedy received hundreds of cards and letters —archived in the National Archives at San Bruno — welcoming him to California. From elected officials, to military brass, from local florists sending bouquets to celebrity crooner Bing Crosby’s letter of appreciation, everyone wanted to please the president.

City of Alameda Resolution No. 6340 was dedicated to this purpose: “Resolution of the Council of the City of Alameda, California, extending greetings and a cordial welcome to John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America.

“Wheras, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America will visit the City of Alameda, California on Friday, March 23, 1962, en route to the University of California to address the assemblage at the Charter Day Ceremony; and

“Whereas, this event presents an opportunity to many thousands of people to personally participate in expressing their pride of country by paying homage to the President of the United States of America.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the council of the City of Alameda, California, on behalf of the citizens of this community, does hereby extend felicitations and a most cordial welcome to John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America.

“Be it further resolved that a certified copy of this resolution be forwarded to the honorable George P. Miller, Representative, Eighth Congressional District, in order that he may make the proper presentation to President Kennedy of the salutations of the City of Alameda, California, as of this occasion.

“Be it further resolved that this resolution be spread in full upon the minutes of this meeting of the Council of the City of Alameda, California.”

The resolution is signed by the Mayor of Alameda at the time, Franz S. Collischonn.

As of this writing, I wasn’t able to determine if President Kennedy ever officially received the City of Alameda’s resolution as indicated in the text above.

Eric J. Kos is a historian who has contributed to several history titles including Lost San Francisco and Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.

Above: President John F. Kennedy and his entourage deplane Air Force One at NAS Alameda on March 23, 1962. Left: Kennedy rode with California Gov. Edmund “Pat” Brown through Alameda and Oakland to UC Berkeley. Below: NAS Alameda personnel line the route of Kennedy’s motorcade.
National Archives, San Bruno -- President Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental convertible turns left on Webster Street in Alameda during his California visit in 1962. All photographs credited to Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.