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

In earlier posts, I discussed World War II Navy Surgeon General Ross McIntire’s anxiety to have enough beds on the west coast to care for sick and wounded sailors and Marines from the Pacific Theater of Operations, and the steps he took to create the beds required. In this post, I complete the California story with brief comments on hospitals constructed in southern California that became “permanent” facilities.

U. S. Naval Hospital San Diego

While Navy medicine had a presence in San Diego from 1914 in the form of field hospitals and dispensaries, it was only in 1922 that a proper Naval Hospital with 396 beds came into commission.  By 1929 as series of expansions resulted in a bed capacity of 1,030 beds.

Naval Hospital San Diego, c. 1923. (San Diego Veterans' Memorial Center website)

Wartime construction expanded the facility substantially, resulting in an authorized bed capacity of 10,499 (and a maximum recorded patient census of 12,014) at the end of hostilities. (1)  The Naval Hospital moved to its current location in the mid-1980s.

U. S. Naval Hospital Santa Margarita, Oceanside

This 1534 bed facility, located on the shore of Lake O’Niel on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, was commissioned in 1943.(2) It survived the end of the war, and served people associated with the base until a new hospital was opened nearby in 1973. Construction of a state-of-the-art 56 bed hospital is currently under way, with an opening date of 2014.

Naval Hospital Santa Margarita (National Archives College Park, MD)

 

Naval Hospital Corona

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy purchased the facility, built in 1923 as a luxury resort hotel (The Norconian), after it fell on hard times due to the great depression. Commissioned on 15 December 1941(3), it had a total of 18 patients when the first element of Mayo Clinic physicians arrived in June 1942, and 2000 when they left in 1944.(4) Largely a convalescent facility utilizing the spa facilities of the former hotel, its maximum bed capacity approached 5000 by war’s end. The hospital closed briefly before the Korean war, but reopened to care for patients from that conflict. Final closure came in 1957. In 1962, the State of California converted it for use as a drug rehabilitation facility, and later as a womens’ prison. The facility now lies fallow, with the Lake Norconian Club Foundation and others looking for the money necessary to rehabilitate the majestic buildings.(5)

U. S. Naval Hospital Long Beach 

This hospital was commissioned with 2281 beds in 1942.(2) It survived the end of the war, and was replaced with a new facility in the late 1960s.(6) It was closed as a result of the BRAC process 31 March 1994.(7)

U. S. Naval Hospital Long Beach (National Archives, College Park, MD)

 
(1) Unpublished historical summary of U. S. Naval Hospital San Diego, History Library, U. S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Washington D.C.
(2) The History of the Medical Department of the United States Navy in World War II (NAVMED P-5031, Volume 1, GPO, 1953.
(3) CNIC//Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, About Detachment Corona, http://www.cnic.navy.mil/SealBeach/About/Installations/Corona/index.htm, accessed 2 June 2011.
(4) Mayo Naval Medical Units in World War II-Reminiscences of Mark B. Coventry, M.D., May 1970, by permission of May Historical Unit, Mayo Foundation, Rochester, MN.
(5) “Norco to decide fate of historic landmark” [Riverside CA] Press-Enterprise, 19 October 2005, clipping.
(6) Information on the hospital is hard to find on the internet. I did find an allusion to the new Long Beach Hospital (in which I did a two week Reserve duty in the late 1980s) in this website: http://www.navycorpsmen.com/001.html, accessed 2 June 2011, owned by James “Doc” Rockett.
(7) California State Military Department, The California State Military Museum, “Historic California Posts-Naval Station, Long Beach”, at http://www.militarymuseum.org/NOBLongBeach.html, accessed 2 June 2011.
 
© 2011 Thomas L Snyder
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