The U. S. Navy’s “Phantom” World War II Hospitals in California, Part I

by Thomas L Snyder

One of Navy World War II Surgeon General VADM Ross McIntire’s biggest concerns was to create or find enough hospital beds to provide care for the huge influx of patients expected from the Pacific Theater. Because almost all previous war activity (and therefore patient care) involved the Atlantic area, the U. S. West Coast had a relative dearth of hospitals at the beginning of the war–San Diego Naval Hospital with a bed capacity of around 1400, Mare Island with about 650, and Bremerton, Washington, with 300 beds.(1)

I am in the National Archives in College Park, MD (Archives II) researching hospitals the Navy constructed or otherwise acquired for the care of patients returning from the Pacific. New construction in California alone included Naval Hospitals at Shoemaker (now Dublin), Treasure Island, Oakland, San Leandro, Long Beach, and Santa Margarita Ranch (became Camp Pendleton). In addition, the Navy, in a search for beds readily convertible for patient use, leased resort hotels in Santa Cruz (Hotel Casa del Rey), Corona (The Norconian), Yosemite Valley (Ahwahnee Lodge), San Bernardino (Arrowhead Resort Hotel) and Boyes Springs (Sonoma Mission Inn). The Navy also took over former Army hospitals built by General Patton for his tank training facilities at Banning and Beaumont.

In this Part I of a three part series, I’ll briefly discuss the temporary hospitals constructed in northern California.

U. S. Naval Hospital, Treasure Island, California, 1944 (Source: NARA, College Park MD)

U. S. Naval Hospital Treasure Island

Located centrally in the San Francisco Bay, the Treasure Island facility, commissioned 4 April 1942 grew to an official bed capacity of 500, but was actually caring for 700 patients a year after its commissioning, and in 1944, capacity was 1326 officers and enlisted. Because it was readily accessible both by water and by road, the it functioned as an acute care facility, receiving the most ill and most seriously injured both from overseas and from around the Bay area. It was scheduled for decommissioning 1 March 1947.(2)

U. S. Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California

U. S. Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California (Photo source: NARA, College Park, MD)


Originally designated “U. S. Naval Hospital, Pleasanton, California”, this 2000 bed hospital sprung up in a vast area of flat land a few miles east of the Oakland Hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally intended to care for people attached to the nearby Construction Battalion Personnel Depot and a Navy Personnel Center, the hospital had 1,000 beds when it was commissioned 1 October 1943. Less than a year later, it had 2,000 official beds, but was capable of caring for nearly 3,600.  Post-war demobilization struck quickly, and the hospital was decommissioned 30 June 1946.(3)

U. S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California with U. S. Naval Hospital, San Leandro on adjacent hills (Source: U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine And Surgery History Library)


U. S. Naval Hospital, Oakland, California

Since the late 1930s, Navy Surgeon General McIntire had determined that the old Naval Hospital at Mare Island could not be enlarged enough to meet the navy’s future hospital needs in the San Francisco area. After a several month search for suitable properties, the site of the Oak Knoll Golf Club was decided upon, and the land purchased for the new permanent hospital. Wartime construction, however, was of a “temporary” type (I worked in one of these “temporary” structures doing Reserve duty in the 1980s). Commissioned 1 July 1942, the hospital ultimately grew to a bed capacity exceeding 6000.  The temporary structures served until a hospital of true permanent construction was opened in 1968. This structure served military personnel, their dependents and retirees until the Navy left the Bay area and closed the hospital in 1996.(4)  Coverage of the final chapter of U. S.  Naval Hospital, Oakland, California can be seen here.

U. S. Naval Hospital, San Leandro, California

Constructed specifically to care for “war neurosis” and “combat fatigue” cases, this hospital, built on rolling hills adjacent to the Oakland Naval Hospital, was commissioned with 500 beds 15 August 1944. Just over two years later, on 1 September 1946, the hospital was decommissioned, and its property subsumed by the nearby Oakland Naval Hospital.(5)

Next Time: U. S. Navy World War II Convalescent Hospitals in California Resort Hotels

(1) These numbers obtained from “HyperWar: History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II”  Chapter One “Facilities of the Medical Department of the Navy” authored by Joseph L Schwartz, Captain, Medical Corps, USN, Retired. This appears to be an official history, extensively footnoted, and transcribed for HTML by Patrick Clancy of the HyperWar Foundation. accessed 8 April 2011.
(2) NARA, College Park, MD (“Archives II”), RG 52, Entry 15B, Records of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Box 110-111, Files relating to NH48.
(3) Archives II, RG 52, Entry 15B, Records of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Box 120, Files relating to NH72.
(4) California State Military Museum website, Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields, Naval Regional Medical Center, Oakland. accessed 09 April 2011.
(5) Archives II, RG 52, Entry 15B, Records of the navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Box 121, Files related to NH75.
© 2011 Thomas L Snyder
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  • donald gabbert  On 20 Apr 2011 at 17:56

    I was stationed at Oak Knoll in 1958-59 as a hospital corpsman and completed Operating Room Technician training there. I worked as a ward corpsman in the urology ward for six months prior to OR Tech. training. Great memories. All patients that underwent surgery were transported to and from the Surgery Suites by ambulance. One corpsman didn’t follow procedures and tried to transport a patient on a guerney from the ward to the Surgery building. Unfortunately, he didn’t use the ramp system and tried to move the patient down the hill to God knows where. The patient and guerney got away from him and went sailing down the hill. I don’t recall that I ever know what was the outcome. I tried to ride a guerney along the ramp from the urology ward and ran into the wall of the ramp in a curve. I slid off the guerney and went over the wall. Fortunately for me I was able to grab hold of the ramp wall and pull myself back onto the ramp. Great memories. Admiral Nimitz used to come to the hospital and would chat with young sailors. What a magnificent head of white hair he had. And, a very kind face. I was told recently that some of the buildings are still standing. True?

  • Vonnie Willenbring  On 28 Feb 2012 at 14:22

    Am I able to get information regarding patients. We think our Father was in Sterling after WWII. He passed away in 1982, I have documentation of his death if that is needed.

    • thomaslsnyder  On 28 Feb 2012 at 20:16

      V Willenbring,
      Thanks so much for your comment in Of Ships and Surgeons. I’d like to get more details, to wit: I’m not certain of the location of the “Sterling” you mention. Is this a city, or a hospital location? Navy? Army?
      Let’s dialog.

      • Vonnie Willenbring  On 29 Feb 2012 at 06:43

        We located some information about my Dads military service. It mentioned Sterling Island. As I was researching Sterling Island I found there was a Naval installation there that included a hospital. So I was checking to see if someone there could look in the patient records and see if my Dad was in that hospital.

  • Margaret B. McNeill  On 10 Oct 2013 at 11:25

    My mother was a Navy nurse stationed at the US Naval Hospital at Shoemaker. She has lots of memories about the experience and her fellow nurses. I am going to sign this with her name.

  • Rochelle Maag  On 09 Dec 2013 at 01:50

    My first husband went through Lab School at Oakland in 1958-59. I joined him when base housing came available. He hoped that would get him to Hawaii. He had been to Korea, Dallas NAS, Twenty-nine Palms, Millington,Tenn. and he put in for Lab school, so back on the road again. Had second child while in route, so had to fly with two daughters to San Francisco. Came time for orders, he ask for Hawaii, Dallas (my home). Do not remember third choice. So I returned home to get ready for Hawaii. Orders came in KODIAK, ALASKA. So back to the west coast and on into Kodiak. Not bad, but he was not a cold weather Sailor. 1961 Back to Texas, and waited for news of Hawaii. Yep! Camp LaJeune, NC. There during the Cuban Crisis, and Kennedy assassination. He ask for orders as soon as possible, and waited for Hawaii. Orders came, Beaufort Naval Hospital, S.C. Across from Parris Island Marine Base.
    He finished his time there, and passed on in 2009. Never did get to Hawaii.

  • June Sullivan  On 20 May 2016 at 06:47

    Fold 3 listed a record indicating that Jack Hahn was transported to the Naval Hospital, Treasure Island on 16 Jan 1944 and rec’d 24 Jan 1944. Is there any way his family can find the records showing the cause? We are not aware of an injury received during the war. He served on the USS Carina.

  • bruce  On 18 May 2017 at 11:00

    Hi, I see this site is a little old but perhaps you can help me. I was hospitalized (May – July 1970) at Navy Hospital, Oakland, CA but my DD-214 states I was discharged from Naval Station Treasure Island. How can this be? Thank you.

    • thomaslsnyder  On 18 May 2017 at 11:13

      Bruce, I will check with a man who may have been the CO of the Naval Hospital in Oakland at the time, and get back to you. TomS

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