The City of Dublin, California, was the home of the U S Navy’s World War II “U S Naval Hospital, Shoemaker, California”. Town history goes back to the 18th C: a local water spring early served the needs of travelers in the Amador Valley, which lies to the east, behind mountains that rim the San Francisco Bay. A little community developed to cater to two crossing stage-coach routes – one running east and west between the Bay and Stockton in the California interior and a route running between Martinez to north and San Jose to the south. The Amador Valley was an agricultural area when war came. It was large, wide and flat – and close to the large Naval bases then present in the San Francisco Bay – ideal for placement of a large Naval logistical center that came to be known as “Navy City”. The Naval hospital, initially provided care to the 15,000 or more people working and stationed at Navy City. But it quickly grew to 2500 beds, and ultimately served the combat injured from the Pacific Theatre of war.
Today, the “Old Town” section of Dublin represents just a small part of a city characterized by California-modern townhouses, condominiums, large business parks and shopping centers. Navy City along with its accompanying hospital is long gone. Fortunately, a dedicated group of citizens, backed by their City government, have sought to make something of their past. They’ve developed a donated turn-of-the-20th Century farm into a historical center. Volunteers, supported by Dublin Heritage Park & Museum Director Elizabeth Isles, are busy at work enhancing their City heritage by collecting artifacts, and researching to write about the City’s history. The former Shoemaker hospital site is now a spacious, comfortable City park complex.
I became familiar with Dublin because the Society for the History of Navy Medicine, of which I am Executive Director, is developing a program to place plaques on sites of significance in the history of Navy medicine. Because of Dublin’s proximity to my base of operations, and because of the uniqueness of the Naval Hospital formerly located there, I contacted Dublin officials to explore the notion of placing our first plaque there. I was referred to Ann Motolla, Dublin’s Heritage and Cultural Arts Manager. Quite remarkably – in this age of governmental restraint – Ms Mottola offered enthusiastic support of the idea, and today I went to Dublin to meet her and Ms Isles. We walked the hallowed ground of the former hospital, to the top of a small hillock which overlooks the entire hospital property – an ideal spot, my friendly guides pointed out, for a plaque containing an aerial view of hospital along with a short historical narrative. The message I received today was, “We value our history and we want to promote our past as a way to give our citizens a sense of ‘rootedness’. We welcome your idea, we’ll try to make it easy to do, and there might even be a little financial support from the City – at least for a display pedestal for mounting the plaque”.