Liberty Station’s land ship opens to the public with historical exhibit

Recruits practice mooring the training destroyer escort USS Recruit at the Naval Training Center in Point Loma in 1980.
(National Archives)

The USS Recruit helped break in sailors at the Naval Training Center in Point Loma between 1949 and the base’s closure in 1997.


After almost two decades of sitting idly at Liberty Station, the USS Recruit, a landlocked ship that once was used to train Navy recruits, has opened to the public.

The June 7 opening ceremony followed a refurbishment of the interior to include a public exhibit on the history of the vessel. It’s a centerpiece of the centennial celebration of the former Naval Training Center presented by the Liberty Station Community Association, which oversees the outdoor spaces at the Point Loma Navy base turned commercial and cultural center.

“If you spend any time here and you walk the halls, you can’t help but want to tell the story so the historical perspective continues,” said Laurie Albrecht, the association’s director.

The Naval Training Center first opened in 1923 as a boot camp for members of the Navy and Naval Reserve.

In 1949, the Navy built the USS Recruit, a two-thirds-scale mock-up of a destroyer escort made almost entirely of 2-by-4 boards of lumber and sheet metal casing.

It was nicknamed the “USS Neversail” because it was built on land at the naval base. It measured 225 feet from bow to stern and 41 feet tall from the tip of the mast to the ground. It is the Navy’s only commissioned ship that has never touched the water.

The USS Recruit is pictured under construction at the Naval Training Center in 1949.
(National Archives)

The Recruit was used to teach Navy newcomers the fundamentals of shipboard procedures. As many as 50,000 recruits a year trained on board.

The ship was refurbished in 1982 as a training guided-missile frigate. The overall length was increased to 233 feet, along with renovation of the classrooms below deck.

The Recruit continued to be used for training until the base closed in 1997.

Over the years, the ship got screen time as a set piece in the original “Top Gun” movie and in the opening sequence of the TV comedy series “CPO Sharkey” starring Don Rickles.

Sailors gather in front of the newly built USS Recruit in July 1949.
Sailors gather in front of the newly built USS Recruit in July 1949.
(National Archives)

The Recruit was the first of three similar training vessels built by the Navy after World War II; the others were in Chicago and Norfolk, Va. The Recruit is the only vessel of its kind remaining.

As the base transformed into Liberty Station, the Recruit sat unused. In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 2004 was designated a California historic landmark.

The property on which the ship sits was previously owned by The Corky McMillin Cos., which attempted a refurbishment in 2014 in conjunction with volunteers from San Diego’s USS Midway Museum.

“It’s been renovated throughout the years with the help of the people at the Midway Museum, but what was happening was it was just falling apart,” Albrecht said. “Nothing had been done with the boat up until this period of time.”

The property was acquired in 2018 by The Seligman Group, a property acquisition and development company based in San Francisco.

“We have a lot of historic buildings here at Liberty Station, but they’ve been repurposed into restaurants,” said Steve Adams, special-projects manager for the group. “I think the boat that was just sitting here, there was a lot of curiosity and we decided to tell the story about what it is and why it was here.”

Before leading development of Liberty Station’s Arts District at the old Naval Training Center in Point Loma, Ziter created many programs with the San Diego Performing Arts League.

June 14, 2023

The Seligman Group also owns historical properties such as the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C., where the company opened the Nixon Lounge, acknowledging the presidential scandal of the 1970s that began there. The Seligman family also owns the largest collections of historical memorabilia from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Albrecht, whose association spearheaded the centennial celebration for the former Naval Training Center, said the group wanted to open the Recruit to the public to further acknowledge the property’s history.

“When you come [to Liberty Station] for a dance class or an art exhibit or for dinner, the history of the space kind of gets overlooked, and that’s the point of this centennial — to tell that story,” Albrecht said.

The USS Recruit then and now: At left, in 1969; at right, on June 7 as it opened to the public.
The USS Recruit then and now: At left, a Navy serviceman stands on the stern of the training ship in 1969. At right, the ship is pictured June 7 as it opened to the public.
(National Archives, left, and Tyler Faurot)

In addition to several pop-up events, the association worked with The Seligman Group to revitalize the Recruit and offer a public exhibition. An archivist with Seligman collaborated with the National Archives and the San Diego Historical Society to gather information about the ship that had been lost when the base closed.

“We were actually able to obtain photographs and a lot of history and knowledge,” Adams said. “We started interviewing people and through the National Archives were able to pencil together the history of it. We found it very fascinating.”

Refurbishing the ship for the exhibit began in November and included sealing leaks in the top deck, installing two doors, putting down new carpet and applying a fresh coat of paint. To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, only a portion of the lower decks is available for viewing. Because of the ship’s construction and its age, options for the renovation were limited, Albrecht said.

“When you go into a boat that was built in the 1940s, you’re always going to find things,” she said. “The ship itself is nothing but ... lumber and sheet metal. We can’t even put things on the wall because we would just be attaching them right to the sheet metal on the outside of the boat.”

Joe Haeussler, Steve Seligman, San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell and Mayor Todd Gloria
From left, Liberty Station Community Association board President Joe Haeussler, Steve Seligman, San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell and Mayor Todd Gloria display a proclamation for USS Recruit Celebration Day at the June 7 opening ceremony of the ship’s public exhibition.
(Tyler Faurot)

The interior exhibition features historical photos and a peek into the different chambers of the lower decks. The Liberty Station Community Association also collected comments from service members who worked on the ship, which play on a video loop in the exhibit and are available on the association’s website at

The exhibit is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays east of Laning Road and north of North Harbor Drive. Admission is free.

Adams said further developments for the exhibit, including installing elevators, are not ruled out and that the organizers are looking into the feasibility.


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