A World War II relic might become Los Angeles’ newest historic landmark

A World War II-era gun in the “drill deck.”

Miles away from the coast, in a narrow canyon near what is now Dodger Stadium, generations of navy and marine reservists were trained to fight a war at sea. The Naval and Marine Reserve Center, located in Chavez Ravine near Echo Park, opened just before World War II with a radio tower, basement pool and a football sized “drill deck” equipped with a torpedo sight, 5-inch cannon and  a 40mm anti-aircraft gun that reservists would find on a battleship. Decades after the last military reservists received training, the former armory, still equipped with cannon and anti-aircraft gun, has been nominated to become a city cultural historic landmark.

Why would  a Navy armory and reserve center be built so far from the sea?  Because it would be “inconspicuously nestled in the hills where raiding bombers in a possible attack by enemy air forces will be least likely to damage it,” a Navy official was quoted as  saying, according to the landmark nomination prepared by the City of Los Angeles.

Declaring the the sprawling building, which covers more than three acres, a historic landmark was part of a deal the city struck with the U.S. Navy to purchase the building and adjacent property for only $1. The building, now known as Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center, has been used by the city’s Fire Department for more than 20 years under a lease.

While the building needs an estimated $5 million in renovations and quake retrofitting,  the facility is relatively well preserved, with many of its World War II features intact. The highlight of the reserve center  is a cavernous wooden structure that rises over the “drill deck,” which was designed to allow two separate reserve units to be trained simultaneously.  A concrete balcony that circles the drill deck served as sleeping quarters for hundreds men, according to the nomination.  The opposite ends of the drill deck resembled the  four-level bridge of a ship and were “used for simulating on-board conditions.”

In addition to an unusual honeycomb roof frame, the building’s floating floor was constructed to deal with a unique problem created when hundreds of men work and live under one roof:

The great room, essentially uninsulated, experienced great changes in temperature between day and night and rose and settled with the changes in temperature. The huge floor was subject to the same changes in temperature and was allowed to ”float” on a bed of sand. At night in particular, the presence of so many men in the room caused a serious condensation problem. The floating floor  was designed to allow the moisture to seep through the wood to the sand, intended to minimize damage to the flooring.

The Cultural Heritage Commission is scheduled to review the nomination on Thursday.


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