A Page from History: Schools, camps, sailors — Naval Training Center was all that and a lot more

Boots, barracks and flowers. The upkeep of the grounds of the recruit training base in Point Loma was a Navy priority.
Boots, barracks and flowers. The upkeep of the grounds of the recruit training base in Point Loma was a Navy priority.
(Ocean Beach Historical Society)

This year is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the former Naval Training Center — now the Liberty Station commercial and cultural complex — in Point Loma. Here is its story, told in a multi-part series. Part 1 last month covered the base’s origins.

When we last convened, what was then called Naval Training Station San Diego had finally opened and was officially dedicated with appropriate pomp and ceremony on Navy Day, Oct. 27, 1923.

The base that ‘really made San Diego a Navy town’ was a community effort spearheaded by local Congressman William Kettner.

July 19, 2023

About 4,000 sailors and guests were on hand as the regimental colors were delivered and a chorus of 100 local schoolchildren sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A black acacia tree was planted as part of the ceremony, the first of many trees to be planted on the dusty reservation.

The base was originally staffed by 10 officers and 50 enlisted men. Some 1,500 recruits underwent a 16-week training period prior to assignment. The recruits wore lace-up canvas leggings, like tall spats, which looked somewhat like boots, hence the term “boot camp.”

A recruit might be addressed as “Boot” inside jargon reflecting his status as not yet a sailor. A boot’s first three weeks were spent in Detention (D Camp) tent accommodations undergoing indoctrination, also referred to as “sailorization.”

Detention, or D Camp, was the first stop for recruits at the Naval Training Station.

The early buildings at the Naval Training Station, many of which still stand, were designed in the Spanish Colonial/Mission Revival style popular in the San Diego of the early 20th century. The design of the early base buildings is frequently attributed to architect Lincoln Rogers — then Cmdr. Rogers of the Civil Engineering Corps — or his young associate, designer Frank Stevenson. The truth is that the design of the original buildings, including the four officers’ quarters, was more likely the work of a team of draftsmen and engineers working under Rogers’ direction.

Rogers and Stevenson later collaborated in civilian practice for several years, designing the Army & Navy YMCA downtown and the splendiferous Natatorium, or Bath House building (the Mission Beach Plunge), at the Mission Beach Amusement Center.

The landscaping for the new base was undertaken by San Diego’s energetic superintendent of parks, John Morley. As the honcho of horticulture in San Diego for 27 years, Morley is credited with the realization of Balboa Park’s master plan and the early design of the San Diego Zoo.

Civilian G.A. Davidson was named chairman of the Naval Training Station Tree Committee. Donations of young trees and shrubs from the San Diego citizenry helped to spruce up the base, and the Department of Agriculture donated 100 trees.

It was an auspicious outset for the station, to be certain. By 1926, NTS was home to over 2,000 recruits housed in 12 barracks plus D Camp. The base was then made up of 45 buildings on 238 acres and had already trained over 10,000 sailors.

In 70 years, the installation would swell to over 300 buildings on some 550 acres and would train well over 3 million recruits.

With such a broad subject, we will have to compartmentalize.

The camps

The station grew in phases in response to national demand for trained personnel and as more dry acreage was dredged up out of San Diego Bay.

The camps, as they were known, were developed as self-contained towns, each with its own dispensary, gym, recreation center, canteen, auditorium and pool. All were named, as were the streets on the base, for naval heroes. The oldest part of the base, sometimes referred to as the historic core, became known as Camp Paul Jones. This is primarily the area currently referred to as the Arts District at Liberty Station.

The Detention Camp was renamed Camp Ingram, much to the relief of Capt. David Sellers, the first commandant of the station, who didn’t want parents to think their sons were being detained by the Navy.

In the late 1930s, the tents were retired when Camp Lawrence was completed.

Before and during World War II, the training station quadrupled in size with the completion of Camps Luce, Mahan, Decatur and Farragut. The final camp to be completed was Camp Nimitz, over the bridge east of the boat channel.

The Hoist

The front page of The Hoist on Dec. 12, 1941.
The front page of The Hoist on Dec. 12, 1941. The weekly paper was produced in-house at the naval training base in Point Loma for more than 70 years.
(The Hoist)

The Hoist chronicled life at the base for over 70 years. The weekly paper, usually four pages, was fun and informative, written by and for naval station personnel. The first edition was published Nov. 11, 1923, the month after the base opened. The first editor was base Chaplain C.A. Neyman.

The final copy of The Hoist rolled off the press June 17, 1994. A comprehensive archive of The Hoist does not seem to be readily available, though single copies and even bound volumes may be found for sale on eBay.

The movies

On June 24, 1924, the San Diego Civic Auditorium hosted a fundraiser for the construction of a bandstand at the Naval Training Station.

The festivities included a concert by the station’s excellent big band, including songs from a chorus of 100 bluejackets. The highlight of the evening was the world premiere of the four-reel silent film “Boots,” an in-house production filmed on the base featuring a cast of sailors.

The film was shot by a chief photographer’s mate and directed by Chaplain Neyman, a man of many talents. Planned as a recruiting tool, the film was described by the San Diego Tribune as “depicting life at the big Loma Portal government establishment from the moment the youngster arrives from his home until he has mastered the fundamentals of Navy routine and is sent to sea.”

“Boots” failed to rival “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in box-office popularity, but it did screen nationwide and served as a screen test for the big base.

A long association with the film industry and later television was to follow. A newsreel about the naval station was produced by Fox Movietone News in 1931, and a Tru-Vue newsreel two years later described the station as “one of the most beautiful spots in Southern California.”

“Hey Sailor” (1934) — later retitled “Here Comes the Navy”featured Jimmy Cagney and Frank McHugh as a couple of recruits intent on making life miserable for a chief petty officer played by Pat O’Brien. The first of many film collaborations between Cagney and O’Brien was filmed partially on the NTS base.

“Tars and Stripes,” a comedy short featuring Buster Keaton, was filmed entirely at the station in 1935. Spoiler alert: Poor Buster ends up in the brig. You saw that coming.

With the ever-increasing popularity of motion picture entertainment, the early 1930s saw an outdoor movie enclosure erected on the base. The theater was like a large sit-down drive-in with bench seats.

Luce Auditorium was completed in 1941, the same year Abbott and Costello’s “In the Navy” was filmed at NTS. Many films incorporated station exteriors and personnel, including “Here Come the Waves” with Bing Crosby in 1944 and “Sailors Beware” with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 1951. Soon a Sound Motion Picture Technicians School became part of the station’s extensive curriculum. By 1960 the base had its own state-of-the-art television studio.

NTC TV, the in-house television studio at the Naval Training Center, is pictured in the early 1960s.
(The Hoist)

An impressive list of entertainers and other celebrities appeared on the base over the years, including Marlene Dietrich, Betty Grable, Chico Marx, Claudette Colbert, Jimmy Durante, Burns and Allen, Roy Rogers and the Harlem Globetrotters. Luce Auditorium featured performances by Tommy Dorsey, Nat King Cole, Jack Benny, Lawrence Welk, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope, Marty Robbins and Raquel Welch.

A 1970 graduate of the base’s Hospital Corpsman School, actor Samuel L. Jackson (a recruit chief petty officer), received the American Spirit Medal for best expression of honor, loyalty and initiative.

The schools

Advanced training at the station commenced in summer 1927 with the development of three programs: the Buglemaster, Cooks and Bakers, and Sound (later known as Radio) schools. Soon, the Electrical, Yeoman or Stenographers, Naval Academy prep, Gyro-Compass and Dentistry schools were established.

The terms of instruction varied from eight to 30 weeks, depending on the discipline. Over time, Radar, Sonar, Fire Control and Prevention, Electronics and Air Conditioning schools were established.

By the mid-1940s, 41 schools were in operation and the Naval Training Station had become Naval Training Center San Diego, or NTC.

The Cooks and Bakers School was one of the first service schools established at the Naval Training Station in 1927.

Capt. R.S. Haggart became the first commander of the center, which had been divided into three commands: Administrative, Recruit Training (boot camp) and Service School.

My dad, Tom, was a 19-year-old enlisted man in the Radioman A School in fall 1941. He had already been a licensed ham radio operator for four years. Tom and two classmates had a 12-hour pass on the sunny Sunday morning of Dec. 7. The three sailors had taken the city bus to the end of the line in La Mesa and were hiking up the dirt road that wound to the top of Mount Helix. You could see for miles up there, or that’s the way they had heard it.

A pickup truck careening down the hill passed them before the driver slammed on the brakes and threw his rig in reverse. Rolling down his window, the driver asked the fellas if they shouldn’t be getting back to their outfits.

“No sir, we are good till 8 p.m.,” they told him.

“Haven’t you heard?” asked the driver. “Pearl Harbor in Hawaii has been bombed! It was on the radio! All U.S. personnel are supposed to report back to your units on the double!”

The sailors blinked in disbelief. The driver asked where they were stationed and they replied “the Naval Training Station in Point Loma. We just left there a couple of hours ago!”

“Come on and jump in,” the kindly citizen told them. “I’ll give you a ride back.”

On returning to the station, the sailors were issued World War I-vintage lard-lubed bolt action rifles and doughboy helmets. The station was at general quarters for 48 hours. The fear that San Diego might be the next target at any moment was very real for those couple of days. The base had been closed to the public and security had been heightened in the months before Pearl Harbor, but the United States was not really prepared to fight a war in the Pacific.

Ten days later, the stars and stripes were raised at the Federal Building as the Palisades area of Balboa Park became a Naval Training Station Annex. Carpenters worked over the Christmas holidays to refurbish and retrofit several of the 1935 Exposition buildings for Navy use. The new recruits were again sheltered in tents. The annex became known as Camp Kidd.

Three hundred temporary wood-frame and stucco buildings were quickly constructed at the Naval Training Station. Boot camp and combat training were streamlined as up to 90,000 sailors were trained annually during wartime.

The Mission Beach Plunge was commandeered and NTS recruits were marched to Mission Beach weekly to learn to abandon ship, tread water and swim.

A cloud, reflected in the boat channel, drifts above the Naval Training Center in 1965.
A cloud, reflected in the boat channel, drifts above the Naval Training Center in 1965.
(The Anchor)


The WAVES first came ashore in May 1943. Fifteen Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — trained clerical staff — reported for duty at the Naval Training Station direct from Stillwater, Okla.

Ensign Vesta Wiley had over 100 WAVES under her guidance by June. While you may find this difficult to believe 80 years later, the notion of women in uniform was a rather controversial subject during the Second World War. Navy brass was initially rather cool to the idea.

Women of at least age 20 with a high school diploma and some college or business training were accepted. Guidelines for the interface between the WAVES and servicemen were scant to non-existent. The women worked it out as they went along.

The WAVE contingent at the station had its own barracks, gear lockers and bunk beds. The women were expected to adhere to the policies and traditions of the Navy. Reveille was at 0530 hours, and they stood duty every four days. The women worked as postal clerks and switchboard operators and as medical and dental assistants, teletypists and office staff for the base commanding officers.

The WAVES entertained themselves as best they could. They swam, bowled and golfed on the base. They lined up for inspection, enjoyed a weekly liberty, and their unprecedented experience provided a thin plot line for that Bing Crosby film mentioned previously.

By 1959 there were 225 enlisted WAVES and five female officers stationed at NTC. Capt. Robin Quigley assumed the reins of the Service School Command in 1973. At the time it was the largest command ever given to a female officer.

The golf course

The Loma Club golf course at Liberty Station was known as Sail Ho on the old naval training base for decades.
The Loma Club golf course at Liberty Station was known as Sail Ho on the old naval training base for decades.
(Howard Lipin)

Everybody loves the little golf course on the corner of Rosecrans and Lytton streets. Even if you don’t play or like golf, you can surely appreciate the shady green space recumbent along the busy thoroughfare.

Now known as The Loma Club on the west side of Sellers Plaza at Liberty Station, the little pitch and putt course was known as Sail Ho on the naval training base for decades.

Construction began on what would become Sail Ho in September 1925. Sail Ho was only six holes for its first dozen years before it was enlarged to nine in 1938.

Isn’t somebody buried on the course? No, but the ashes of Capt. Edwin Burke Woodworth, the station’s first executive officer, and his wife, Nell, were scattered there under a eucalyptus tree, where a marker commemorates that fact. Woodworth was a prime mover in the build-out of the early NTS and pushed for the construction of Sail Ho.

Many of golf’s luminaries have played the course over the years and it is known as the birthplace of San Diego Junior Golf.

With 28 PGA Tour wins under his belt, one of the greatest golfers of any era, Spc. 2nd Class Sam Snead — then the reigning PGA champ — reported for duty at NTS San Diego in 1942. His two-year hitch was spent managing Sail Ho.

Sailors in the community

“Four hundred men from this station save flood-menaced city of Old Town,” read The Hoist headline from Feb. 19, 1927. Following six days of heavy rain, the men of the Naval Training Station were called in to help shore up the Derby Dike, saving Old Town from flooding. Sailors and Marines used sandbags and bales of hay to stem the tide of the surging San Diego River from reverting to its old course toward San Diego Bay and both the Marine Corps Advance Base and the Naval Training Station.

A marker in Sellers Plaza next to NTC’s community Christmas tree reads: “This white fir tree was removed from the Cuyamacas and replanted in this position by a sincere friend of this station, Mr. Ralph M. Dyar, in appreciation for the assistance rendered by officers and men of this command in quelling a destructive forest fire in the Cuyamacas, Christmas, A.D. 1928.”

More than a few times over the decades, San Diego and environs have benefited from the assistance of a force of well-trained, able-bodied sailors from the naval training base.

NTC sailors fought 40-foot flames with water from a swimming pool as a 1970 fire ravaged a large mobile home park in Alpine.

NTC sailors helped clean up the North Park neighborhood where a PSA airliner went down on Sept. 25, 1978. Two dozen sailors were dispatched to a General Dynamics hangar, where they helped in the reconstruction of the aircraft.

The base closes

With the substantial reduction in the size of the U.S. military in the early 1990s, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recommended the closure of over 40 military bases in April 1991. NTC was not on the original list but was added a month later.

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission, or BCRC, was charged with reviewing Cheney’s recommendations and submitting its own list to President George H.W. Bush. In July 1991, the commission removed both NTC and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, along with Naval Training Center Orlando, from the closure list.

Revisiting the issue two years later, BCRC recommended closing both NTC San Diego and Orlando, with personnel, equipment and support to be transferred to the Great Lakes naval training facility.

Recruits cross the bridge over the boat channel to Camp Nimitz in the 1960s.
Recruits cross the bridge over the boat channel to Camp Nimitz in the 1960s.
(The Anchor)

By the end of 1993, Navy Seabees began boarding up the buildings at Camp Nimitz, and the bridge across the boat channel was gated and locked. The city of San Diego established a task force and NTC established a Restoration Advisory Board.

After September 1993, the Recruit Training Command no longer accepted recruits.

As the big base shut down piece by piece, public organizations were able to use NTC facilities on a temporary basis. NTC was chosen as the first site for the DEFY (Drug Education for Youth) program. The Civilian Community Corps was housed at NTC in 1994. Also that year, the San Diego Food Bank moved into an empty 23,000-square-foot NTC warehouse, where it was able to operate rent-free for several years.

Capt. Stephen Drake became the last NTC commander in October 1995. On Dec. 1, Sail Ho became a public golf course when it was turned over to the city of San Diego. One year later, NTC’s Service School Command was formally disestablished, and the base closed for good March 21, 1997.

The classic architecture of NTC’s historic core is preserved in this Barracks 17 arcade at Liberty Station.
(Eric DuVall)

The vast waterfront park formerly known as Preble Field (the big grinder) is now known, fittingly, as NTC Park. The history of the facility may be investigated at the Dick Laub Command Center and other historic buildings in the Arts District at Liberty Station (

Many of the old base buildings are now home to studios, galleries, museums, theaters, shops, restaurants, breezy arcades and sun-splashed plazas. The place is abuzz with activity.

As much as I’d like to discuss how that transformation came to be, it is now officially past my bedtime.

Eric DuVall is president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society. He will present a free NTC centennial program at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at Water’s Edge Faith Community church, 1984 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., Ocean Beach. Membership in OBHS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is $25 annually. Visit


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