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Los Angeles Air Force Base celebrates Fort Mac Arthur centennial

Historic Fort MacArthur, located in San Pedro, is part of Los Angeles Air Force Base. As an Army post, the fort played a role in costal defenses from 1914 until 1974.

Historic Fort MacArthur, located in San Pedro, is part of Los Angeles Air Force Base. As an Army post, the fort played a role in costal defenses from 1914 until 1974.

Historic Fort MacArthur, located in San Pedro, is part of Los Angeles Air Force Base. As an Army post, the fort played a role in costal defenses from 1914 until 1974.

Historic Fort MacArthur, located in San Pedro, is part of Los Angeles Air Force Base. As an Army post, the fort played a role in costal defenses from 1914 until 1974.

Los Angeles Air Force Base's Pacific Crest Housing Area

Los Angeles Air Force Base's Pacific Crest Housing Area


An anticipated crowd of up to 3,000 active duty personnel, retirees and family members are expected to descend on the parade grounds of the historic Fort MacArthur in San Pedro Oct. 19 for a belated birthday party of sorts.

Although it’s not 100 years on the dot -- it’s a little more, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the 100 year celebration for “Fort Mac” as residents call the former Army installation. Plans for the day-long event include a Military Heritage exhibition and a Kids Zone.

“Fort MacArthur has had a great history that needs to be embraced and retold,” explained Lt. Col. Keith White, 61st Air Base Group deputy commander.

According to White, the military heritage quadrant will be the biggest part of the celebration, featuring a civilian flag jumper to start the event and antique vintage aircraft flyovers.

“There’s a great collaboration ongoing with the Fort MacArthur museum that’s going to showcase WWI and WWII artifacts,” said White. “The stories that have been shared there need to live on and it’s just part of our military culture. And it’s two services, not one. It’s the Army and the Air Force. It’s our only active duty Air Force Fort.”

In actuality, the history of Fort MacArthur dates back to an executive order issued by President Grover Cleveland on Sept. 14, 1888, which set aside a strip of land adjacent to the boundary of the newly incorporated city of San Pedro, California. The order designated the area of "the old government reservation" obtained during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 to be used as a military reservation. Fort MacArthur, however, would not be known as such until Oct. 31, 1914. Almost two decades would pass before definite steps were taken to convert this coastal area into what is now Fort MacArthur.

According to the California Center for Military History, the area surrounding Fort MacArthur is as colorful as the annals of the post itself. First recorded mention of the area was made in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator. While chartering the west coast of North America, Cabrillo entered in his log a notation that he had sighted "A Bahia dos Humos" or "Bay of Smokes" at this latitude. Some sixty years later, on Nov. 26, 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino visited the bay and named the place in honor of Saint Peter (San Pedro), Bishop of Alexandria.

With the exception of the establishment of a submarine base at San Pedro in 1910, no military post has played such an important role in the development of Los Angeles than that of Fort MacArthur. Named for U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Jr. (father of five-star Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur, who played a prominent role in the Pacific theatre during World War II), Fort MacArthur is located in the heart of San Pedro, California, where its 14-inch guns once overlooked the port and harbor of Los Angeles.

The fort was a training center during World War I, and the first large gun batteries for harbor defense were installed in 1917. The effectiveness of these fixed gun emplacements was debated for many years, since the test firings were extremely unpopular with nearby residents. The concussion shattered windows in buildings and houses for miles around.

During World War II, Fort MacArthur established a Harbor Entrance command post and a Harbor Defense command post for U.S. seacoast defense of shipbuilding factories such as CalShip and Todd Pacific, as well as the Douglas, Hughes, Martin and Northrop aircraft factories, the Huntington Beach oil field, and San Pedro Bay harbor which included the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. All of this made the Los Angeles metropolitan area a prime target for attack.

By the end of World War II the large 14-inch guns were already being removed, with the last decommissioned in 1948. Battery Osgood-Farley is probably the best preserved example of a United States coastal defense gun emplacement, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. A second site, Battery John Barlow and Saxton, was added to the Register in 1982.

During the early years of the Cold War, Fort MacArthur became a key part of the West Coast's anti-aircraft defenses, becoming the home base of the 47th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade. A Nike surface-to-air missile battery was activated at the fort in 1954, remaining in service until the early 1970s. The Fort MacArthur Direction Center was the U.S. Army Air Defense Command Post for missile batteries located at Fort MacArthur, starting in 1960. The Direction Center provided radar coverage for integrating the area's Integrated Fire Control of 16 Nike-Hercules missile sites surrounding the greater Los Angeles basin until 1968. The DC had High Frequency Crosstell communication with the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, or SAGE Master Direction Center at Norton Air Force Base for coordinating Army intercepts of targets penetrating through the larger Los Angeles Air Defense Sector defended by Air Force fighter aircraft from 1959 to 1966.

By 1975, Fort MacArthur became a sub-post of Fort Ord, and the Army transferred ownership of the fort's upper and lower reservations to the City of Los Angeles two years later. The lower reservation was cleared off and dredged and is now the city's Cabrillo Marina. Fort MacArthur's remaining middle reservation was transferred to the Air Force in 1982 for use by Los Angeles Air Force Base for administration and base housing. The upper reservation is now a city park: San Pedro's Angels Gate Park, home of the Korean Bell of Friendship. It is also frequently used by television, motion picture and music video productions. The artillery emplacements have been seen in the television series 
24 and in films including Tora! Tora! Tora!, Midway and Dragnet. Madonna filmed parts for her Like a Prayer music video in 1989 around the fort.

            “We need to embrace our military heritage. If one were to take a trip to the Fort MacArthur museum, they would really get a sense of how important the history was. There are people at the museum who have dedicated their lives and years to preserving the history that is felt within that area,” explained White. “Fort Mac as it currently stands, is only less than a third of what it used to be. The mission required three different bases that were built together. The Fort MacArthur museum sits on something they call topside, down by the port was called bottom side and then we were kind of in the middle, but it was a whole new front for them to challenge any kind of threats that would come out of that area.”

“The general consensus is our celebration will be a family fun day while learning and honoring our past,” said White.