In the Hills of Point Loma

By Karen Scanlon

Artillerymen, in 1936, practice firing mortars at Battery Calef-Wilkeson. The concrete skeleton of this battery is visible from Naval Base Point Loma’s recreation facility and café. (Photo courtesy Cabrillo National Monument.)

 

Scattered in the hills over Point Loma’s military reservation are the concrete remains of 12 artillery batteries, and 15 searchlight bunkers. Some of these 60-inch GE carbon-arc lights were kept in camouflaged buildings and rolled into position along narrow-gauge tracks, while others rose from beneath the ground in pop-up shelters.

What a perplexing sight for residents 100 years ago of steam-driven ordnance tractors trundling along Rosecrans Street, their trailers burdened with 12-inch mortars. (Weight of the entourage wrecked the pavement.) These guns were en route to the new artillery batteries White and Whistler at Fort Rosecrans.

A 110-horsepower steam-driven Case ordinance tractor trudges along Rosecrans Street burdened with 12-inch mortars for newly constructed artillery batteries at Fort Rosecrans, 1915 to 1919. (Photo courtesy Cabrillo National Monument.)

La Playa Trail Association presents its next lecture, Fort Rosecrans and the Army in San Diego 1859 to 1950, by author/historian Kenneth Glaze. Everyone is welcome on Tuesday evening, March 19 at Point Loma Assembly, 3035 Talbot Street. Light appetizers and sips begin 5:30 to 6:00 PM, the lecture at 7:00. A suggested donation of $10 is accepted at the door.

Ken Glaze is among a handful of volunteer Army and Coast Artillery historians at Cabrillo National Monument. This group of military enthusiasts is responsible for the restoration of one of four base end stations for San Diego’s largest gun, the 16-inch mortar at Battery Ashburn. “Bunkers for Ashburn existed at the Mexican border, Solana Beach, La Jolla, and here,” Ken says. “They were placed far enough apart to get a good angle at the target of a suspicious ship in range.”

Cabrillo National Monument is host to visitors from around the world. “They come for the view, and three main attractions,” Ken says, “the Visitor Center, Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and our bunker.” The restored base end station is open for public touring the first four Saturdays of each month, 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. It is closed on rainy days and fifth Saturdays.

“Welcome to 1943!” they greet as you descend stairs to the underground bunker.

Dressed in World War II herringbone twill fatigues, Ken and volunteer-in-park cohort, Dave Boyer, stand ready to enlighten park visitors to past military activity in the area.

Receiving the variety of questions from park guests, Ken began to take note. From his experiences working in the bunker, and some serious research, he compiled a comprehensive history volume, The Illustrated Fort Rosecrans: A Reference Guide to the Army’s Coast Artillery Corps in San Diego.” (The Coast Artillery was a division of the U.S. Army.)

Author/historian Kenneth Glaze enjoys a beautiful sky over Cabrillo National Monument at the entrance of the restored base end station of San Diego’s largest gun. (Photo courtesy Karen Scanlon.)

“This was pretty luxurious for a base end station,” Ken notes. “When constructed, the bunker’s functional title was Battery Commander’s Position. It didn’t see much action, but soldiers held constant vigil for trouble. Up to 12 soldiers could bunk here—half on duty, half resting.” The bunker has two levels with a precarious climb to the bunkrooms below via metal rungs attached to the wall. And there was no plumbing, bunker bathrooming was “Bucket, chuck it!”

Post war records describe some two-dozen vessels passing of which were investigated by base end personnel. “Nothing was ever fired upon,” Ken says, “but the CO here daily tracked every ship off our coast. Anything deemed to be big would be actively tracked.” Soldiers continually practiced plotting and tracking at this nerve center. A bell controlled by a telegraph system ran every 30 seconds. “We were controlling some pretty big guns!” This is, after all, the extreme southwestern edge of the continental United States, and its closest military post to the enemy of their watch.

By profession, Ken is a flight instructor and flies tow planes for Sky Sailing, a glider operation in northern San Diego County. His interest in local history goes back to 1971 when he first discovered the military bunker at Cabrillo National Monument, which he would help restore 40 years later.

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