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Rockwell Field
North Island, San Diego, California
Rockwell Field California World War I.jpg
Rockwell Field, California in 1924, looking north. Rockwell Field is in the foreground. On the other side of the island is the Naval Air Station San Diego.

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Type Pilot training airfield (1912-1921)
Rockwell Air Depot (1922-1939)
Coordinates Latitude:
Longitude:
Built 1911
In use 1912–1939
Current
condition
Incorporated into Naval Air Station, North Island (1939)
Controlled by USAAC Roundel 1919-1941.svg Air Service, United States Army
United States Army Air Service
United States Army Air Corps
Battles/wars World War I War Service Streamer without inscription.png
World War I

Rockwell Field is a former United States Army Air Corps military airfield, located 1.1 miles (1.8 km) northwest of Coronado, California on North Island, San Diego. This airfield played a fundamental role in the development of United States military aviation in the period before and during World War I. Originally The Curtiss School of Aviation, founded by Glenn Curtiss. In November 1912, the Army established a permanent flying school on the island. It served as a major flying school during World War I, and remained active as an Army Air Corps facility after the war. The facility was transferred to the United States Navy on 31 January 1939.[1] Today, Rockwell Field forms the southeastern quadrant of what is today the Naval Air Station, North Island (NAS North Island). The facility was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

History[edit | edit source]

Rockwell Field, was named after 2d Lieutenant Lewis G. Rockwell. Assigned to the 10th Infantry, Rockwell reported for aeronautical duty at the Army Pilot Training Airfield, College Park, Maryland on 5 July 1912. Lieutenant Rockwell was piloting a plane with Corporal Frank S. Scott as a passenger to make a test flight in Scott's trial for a military aviator's license. They had been in the air about eight minutes, ascending to a height of five hundred feet, then gliding down, had gotten within thirty-five of the ground. At this point the aviator turned the airplane upward again and something went wrong. Instantly the airplane buckled and crashed to the ground instantly killing Corporal Scott and so seriously injuring Lieutenant Rockwell that he died a few hours later.[2][3]

Origins[edit | edit source]

The first military presence at Rockwell Field was in 1893 when the United States Army in 1893 installed a shore battery on North Island to guard the entrance to San Diego Bay and to augment the batteries being situated on the other side at Fort Rosecrans. By 1904, two 3-inch, 15-pound guns were in place, and the fortification was named Fort Pio Pico in honor of the last Mexican governor who had granted the land nearly sixty years before. The remainder of North Island remained in a natural state.[1]

In 1910, climatic conditions, flat terrain, good beaches and protected stretches of water attracted Glenn H. Curtiss, aviation pioneer and Wright Brothers' competitor, to North Island. At that time North Island really was an island, separated from South Coronado on the Silver Strand peninsula by a narrow bight of water. Both North Island and South Coronado were privately owned, but North Island had not been developed.

Curtiss found it ideal for the operation of a winter flying school, and as a place for the military to buy his airplanes. Curtiss negotiated a three-year lease of part of the island in January 1911. Curtiss moved into an abandoned barn and turned it into an aircraft hangar. The San Diego Aero Club built two canvas and tar-paper shelters and helped clear brush for a landing field. Curtiss solicited the military to send students for training, free of charge. The first class of the school consisted of three Army officers and one Navy officer, plus two three civilians. The school's aircraft consisted of four Curtiss-built planes. The Curtiss School of Aviation at North Island continued with classes in the winters of 1912 and 1913.[1]

Early military use[edit | edit source]

In response to its experience there with Curtis, the Navy's aviation unit established its winter quarters at North Island in 1912. This tent camp outpost, called "Camp Trouble," was located on the northeast corner of North Island, at the point where the Spanish Bight merges with San Diego Bay. Consisting of three planes, three tents, three pilots, and some mechanics, this group stayed until April, then returned east. The Navy would not return to North Island until 1917.[4]

Aircraft and crews of the Army's First Aviation School on North Island, 1914.

In 1912, the Army started looking for a place to establish a permanent flying school. Sporadic pilot training had taken place at the Signal Corps Aviation School, College Park, Maryland, where a flying school had been started the previous year, but it could not be fully utilized during winter months, requiring the temporary transfer of all activities to Augusta, Georgia, where a winter school was established in November, 1911. However, it was found that rain and cold were also problems in Georgia. The decision was made to use North Island, came on 4 November 1912, the first Army detachment of eight enlisted men arrived, followed a couple of weeks later by the commanding officer and soon thereafter by ten more officers and ten more enlisted personnel. Aircraft from College Park arrived in December consisting of two planes, a Curtiss 60 horsepower and a 40-horsepower "Grasscutter" training plane, The Wright aircraft remained at Augusta.[1]

The Army flyers established a tent camp at the north end of North Island, and for about a year, the Signal Corps Aviation School rented airplanes and hangars constructed for the Curtiss school. Flying in those early days was perilous. Perched out front in the open on a canvas wing, the pilot sat close to a rudimentary engine, exposed to the wind and elements— and without a parachute. Sudden death or severe injury was not unexpected in case of a mechanical malfunction or an error in judgment. Twelve out of the first 48 Army pilots—25 percent —were killed in flying accidents. They were truly guinea pigs, experimenting in the unknown, learning by trial and error.[1]

The first of the new 1st Aero Squadron Curtiss JN–2s at the Signal Corps Aviation School, North Island California. Sgt Vernon L. Burge stands under the propeller. The figure in the cockpit appears to be Capt. Foulois.

The first organized unit of planes and men, the 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional) was moved to North Island on 28 November 1913 under the command of one of the Army's original pilots, Captain Benjamin D. Foulois (called by some the “father of U. S. military aviation)”, It consisted of two companies of eight officers and 45 enlisted men each, and eight aircraft. At the time of its formation, the 1st Company consisted of Burgess Model H tractors S.C. No. 9, 24, 25, and 26; while the 2d Company consisted of Curtiss aircraft S.C. No. 2 (a Curtiss Model D), 6 (Curtiss Model E), 22 (Curtiss Model G) and 23 (an aircraft assembled from spare parts for the Curtiss E). The initial composition of the squadron was short three pilots. (According to the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency, during this period other training aircraft included at least one example of the Wright Model B, Burgess F, Burgess I-Scout, Burgess J-Scout, and the Martin T. Detachments of the 1st Aero Squadron returned to Fort Crockett, Texas, on 30 April 1914 when the Tampico Affair threatened war with Mexico, although they arrived too late to be transshipped to Mexico and their aircraft were never uncrated. While the 1st Aero Squadron prepared, the Signal Corps began planning a permanent home for the unit on the “Old Target Range” northeast of Fort Sam Houston on land obtained by Lt. Col. Samuel Reber, chief of the Aviation Section, in January 1915. As work on the new post went forward, the Signal Corps ordered the 1st Aero Squadron to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to conduct observation and fire control experiments with the field artillery.[5]

Curtiss JN-3 at Rockwell Field, 1915

The Army's exclusive occupancy of North Island was interrupted in July 1914, when the Fourth Regiment of the United States Marine Corps set up camp under the command of Colonel Joseph H. Pendleton (for whom Camp Pendleton was later named). Some 1,400 officers and men moved in and created an orderly, Marine-efficient facility in an area near the Spanish Bight, but away from the flight operations of the Army. It was called Camp Howard. This occupation lasted only for about five months until December of that year, when the regiment was reassigned to various other duties, although a few Marine caretakers were left on the island until 1916 for patrolling purposes and to operate the rifle range.[1]

The occupation of North Island by the Army was always somewhat tenuous, having established an operational base at the invitation of Glenn Curtiss, who had a rent-free lease for only three years to operate a private flying school. Starting in 1913, attempts were made by the Army to buy North Island, without result. The situation was aggravated in December 1915, when Army was sent a notice to vacate the property “as soon after March 31, 1916, as possible,” since the Coronado Beach Company, which had been paying taxes on the property all along, declared that it wanted to subdivide and sell lots as “high class residential property”. But the Army stayed put.[1]

It was clear that the Army Air Service was expanding during the 1914-16 period, but its growth was gradual. In June 1915, the Army's flying school at North Island consisted of 30 officers, 185 enlisted men, 12 civilians, and 30 planes. The Army assembled another group at North Island, the 2d Aero Squadron, which in December 1916 was sent to the Philippine Islands. The next year, it created the 6th Aero Squadron and dispatched it to Hawaii, and then organized and assigned the 7th Aero Squadron to Panama.[1]

World War I[edit | edit source]

Trainee "Tent Camp" at Rockwell Field, 1918

Curtiss JN-4s and other trainers at Rockwell Field, 1918

America's entry into the World War I in April 1917 brought matters to a head. After a joint Navy/Army board concluded that North Island “is the best location in this country for the establishment of a joint Army and Navy aviation station for the primary training of pilots,” Congress authorized the President to issue an executive order seizing the property, with compensation to the owners to be determined later. President Woodrow Wilson signed the order on 1 August 1917, and the Army immediately assumed control in the name of the United States of America, but Congress did not authorize the purchase of North Island, for $6,098,333, until July 1919.[1]

Shortly afterwards the Army's Aviation School on North Island received a more formal name, being changed on 20 July 1917 to Rockwell Field, in honor of Second Lieutenant Lewis C. Rockwell. The Army selected well-known Detroit industrial architect, Albert Kahn, to develop a site and building designs. Permanent construction of Kahn's design began in mid-1918 [1]

When Congress approved acquisition of the island, it was for the express purpose of accommodating aviation training schools of both the Army and Navy. The Navy's first occupancy of North Island occurred on 8 September 1917. The Army was not particularly enamored about this but had no choice. After considerable negotiations, a dividing line between the two bases was established, with the Army agreeing to shift its operations to the southern side of the island.[1] The war brought on rapid expansion, with new ground facilities being constructed—officers’ quarters, a hospital, a research laboratory, three hangars—with about five hundred Army aircraft utilizing the field.[1] During World War I, Rockwell Field provided training for many of the pilots and crews sent to France. In 1917, flight training took eight weeks and consisted of pilots learning basic flight skills under dual and solo instruction. Pilot training units assigned to Rockwell Field were:[6]

  • Post Headquarters, Army Flying School, San Diego (later: Rockwell Field)

  • 1st Aviation School Squadron (Organized from Aviation Company "A"), May 1917
Re-designated as 14th Aero Squadron, August 1917
Re-designated as Squadron "A", July–November 1918
  • 2d Aviation School Squadron (Organized from Aviation Company "B"), May 1917
Re-designated as 18th Aero Squadron, August 1917
Re-designated as Squadron "B", July–November 1918
  • 132d Aero Squadron (II), April 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "C", July–November 1918
  • 133d Aero Squadron (II), April 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "D", July–November 1918

  • 204th Aero Squadron (II), March 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "E", July–November 1918
  • 290th Provisional Aero Squadron, June 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "F", July–November 1918
  • 291st Provisional Aero Squadron, June 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "G", July–November 1918
  • 292d Provisional Aero Squadron, June 1918
Re-designated as Squadron "H", July–November 1918
  • Flying School Detachment (Consolidation of Squadrons A-H), November 1918-September 1919

The 135th Aero Squadron was formed at Rockwell Field as a complete unit on 1 August 1917. It was trained at Rockwell field before being sent to France on 25 November 1917 as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.[7]

Group photo of the 135th Aero Squadron pilots, taken at Gengault Aerodrome, Toul, France. With the group is their famous mascot "Rin Tin Tin". The 135th was the only squadron on the western front trained at Rockwell Field before being deployed to the American Expeditionary Forces as a complete unit.

The Army Flying School was also used to train experienced pilots as instructors, who were then sent to the new March Field and Mather Fields as core cadres to train new pilots at those airfields:[6]

  • 283d Aero Squadron, Formed at Rockwell Field February 1918; transferred to Mather Field in June 1918
  • 68th Aero Squadron (II), Formed at Rockwell Field March 1918; transferred to March Field in June 1918
  • 6289th Aero Squadron, Formed at Rockwell Field July 1918; transferred to March Field in August 1918

In August 1918 Rockwell Field's mission was changed from its traditional primary pilot training to a pursuit and gunnery school.[1]

During the war, Rockwell Field had trained over 800 pilots and trained several hundred more airmen in gunnery skills. In celebration of the Armistice in November 1918, 212 planes were assembled for an aerial show over San Diego on November 27, 1918, with the Army sending aloft 141 planes and the Navy 71.[1]

All construction at Rockwell Field was ordered to came to a complete standstill with the end of World War I. At the end of the war, the only permanent buildings completed were three hangars, a hospital and lab, two officers' duplexes, a gate house/meter house and an oil dispensing station. Numerous temporary wood and tar-paper structures were also in continuous use, including a post exchange, machine shop, aero supply, garage, and mess halls. However, what was built had to be used and made due. No new buildings would be started until 1933.[4]

Inter-war years[edit | edit source]

The wartime expansion of the armed forces of the United States ended abruptly with the sudden end of World War I on 11 November 1918. “Demobilization” was the watchword of the day, and it took place with lightning speed. The order came from Washington to return all unspent funds to the U. S. Treasury. The Rockwell Field Army Flying school was shut down and all training operations ceased in January 1919. The cadre of personnel, which had grown to about 1,200 enlisted men were ordered to be demobilized, which left about 400 men to dismantle the 300 training planes. By the end of 1919, Rockwell Field was down to 84 officers and 381 enlisted men.[4]

In 1920, the Navy started to use North Island again for lighter-than-air operations, the Army objected, but was ignored. Yet in 1924, when the Navy needed mooring facilities for the arrival of the giant airship USS Shenandoah (ZR-1), space was provided by the Army at Rockwell Field. The inter-service rivalry was always present, but never dominant.[1]

During most of the Inter-war years much of the island was sand dunes and the landing and takeoff areas were just plain dirt and grass with an open all-way airfield area between Rockwell Field on the south side and Naval Air Station San Diego on the north side of the island. As Army and Navy aircraft became heavier, and the engines larger, the problems became aggravated. It was not until 1933 that a paved landing and takeoff area, circular in shape and 2,200 feet in diameter, was constructed for the Army, and not until much later were solid runways built for the Navy.[1]

United States Army Border Air Patrol[edit | edit source]

In 1919–20, Army planes from Rockwell and nearby March Field in Riverside Country were used for daily forest patrols, flying over the Cleveland National Forest, looking for fires that periodically ravaged the area. Also the 9th and 91st Aero Squadron, which were assigned to the field after returning from service in France during the war were assigned to the United States Army Border Air Patrol after American troops under Brig. Gen. James B. Erwin, Commander of the El Paso District of the Southern Department, were attacked by about 1,600 Pancho Villa’s men in Juarez during the night of 14/15 June 1919. Stray fire from across the river killed an American soldier and a civilian, and wounded two other soldiers and four civilians. Around 3,600 U.S. troops crossed into Mexico, quickly dispersed the Villistas, and returned to the American side.[5]

A Dayton-Wright DH-4B flying over United States cavalry on the American/Mexican border, 1919

Flying from Rockwell Field to sixty miles east of Yuma, Arizona, in the morning, and returning in the afternoon, they observers in the Dayton-Wright DH-4Bs were not looking for aliens who might be coming into the United States, but were searching for smugglers that might be transporting arms and ammunition into Mexico. Auxiliary fields were established at Calexico, California and Yuma, Arizona. The pilots were often unsuccessful in navigating over the wilderness along the border, and planes were sometimes lost on both sides of the international dividing line.[5]

In the autumn of 1920, Brig. Gen. William Mitchell’s need for men and planes from the border for bombing tests against naval vessels off the Virginia Capes in June 1921 brought border patrol to an end.[5] In 1920 Rockwell Field's mission was changed from being one of the major Army Air Corps pilot training bases on the West Coast to an Aviation General Supply and Repair Depot. It was designated as the Rockwell General Supply and Repair Depot, and in 1921 was again renamed the Rockwell Air Intermediate Depot.[1] The field became responsible for the mundane, but undoubtedly important, task of supplying and repairing Army aircraft for the IX Corps Area.[1] A proposed pursuit school was never opened.[4]

Notable Aviation Achievements[edit | edit source]

Despite its mission as a aircraft repair depot, Rockwell Field was the location of several aviation achievements in the 1920s. Through the Twenties and early Thirties, pilots in the United States military worked hard in trying to make the public more aviation-conscious. Budgets were extremely limited during this period, and it was thought that only by demonstrating the potentials of air power would money be forthcoming from Washington.[4]

In 1922, Second Lieutenant James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, who had trained at Rockwell Field during the war and also had been a gunnery instructor at the field, made two record-breaking long-distance flights that terminated at Rockwell Field. The first was in May, when he and Lieutenant L. S. Andrew flew from San Antonio, Texas, in a Dayton-Wright DH-4B, with intermediate refueling stops at El Paso, Texas and Nogales, Arizona taking 12 hours and 10 minutes at an average speed of 100 miles per hour. Later that year, he flew solo in an another DH-4B, coast-to-coast, from Pablo Beach, Florida, to Rockwell Field, with only one intermediate refueling stop at Kelly Field, Texas, covering over 2,000 miles in 21 hours and 20 minutes.[1]

Charles Lindburgh and the Spirit of St Louis at Rockwell Field, 1927

Atlantic-Fokker C-2A Question Mark endurance Flight 1929. Note that the aircraft carries the emblem of the former Rockwell field-based 14th Aero Squadron.

Also in 1923, two other pilots who had trained at Rockwell Field during the war attempted to fly nonstop across the United States, something that had never been accomplished. It took three tries, but finally taking off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York on 2 May 1913 made it off the ground being loaded with 737 gallons of fuel and 40 gallons of oil. The flight successfully ended at Rockwell Field on May 3, 1923, after 26 hours and 50 minutes in the air, at an average speed of 99 miles per hour for the nearly 2,700 miles.[1]

Perhaps the most famous historic event took place in 1927, when Rockwell Field was peripherally involved in the flight of 25-year-old Charles A. Lindbergh across the Atlantic Ocean. Using his newly designed plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, built by the Ryan Aeronautical Company of San Diego in only sixty days, Lindbergh made 23 test flights over San Diego during an 11-day period, landing and taking off at Dutch Flats, Camp Kearny, and Rockwell Field. When it came time to start across country to his New York jumping off point, Rockwell Field was selected because the field was large enough to handle his heavily loaded aircraft. Lindbergh he started his first leg, a 1,500-mile flight to St. Louis, Missouri, on the afternoon of May 10, 1927, accompanied by three other planes—two from the Army, one of which was carrying the base commanding officer, and one from Ryan, with company representatives aboard.[1]

The first air-to-air refueling experiment took place in San Diego skies in 1923 when it was successfully demonstrated by Rockwell Field officers of the Army Air Service. Two Dayton-Wright DH-4Bs were modified in the shops at Rockwell to permit the transfer of fuel from one to the other by a dangling 40 to 50-foot hose while airborne.[1] However, in 1929, an endurance record was set over the skies of San Diego by four Army pilots, each of whom would become major figured during World War II—Maj. Carl A. Spaatz, Capt. Ira C. Eaker, 2d Lieutenant Elwood R. Quesada, and Lieutenant Harry A. Halverson; and their mechanic, Sgt. Roy W. Hooe. The flight in a modified Atlantic-Fokker C-2A named the "Question Mark" ended after covering about 11,000 miles and being refueled 43 times—12 of these at night—with 5,660 gallons of fuel and 245 gallons of oil. The plane landed after 150 hours and 45 minutes—nearly seven days in the air.[1]

Transfer to the United States Navy[edit | edit source]

Map of San Diego Bay Showing Anchorages and Moorings, featuring Rockwell Field, Coronado, National City, and the surrounding area.

Army-Navy inter-service rivalry for control of North Island had been rampant ever since joint tenancy was established by Congress in 1917. Despite the established boundary, the Navy was determined to have the entire North Island land area to itself, and the Army was equally adamant about staying, arguing that they had been in residence since Glenn Curtis had invited them to share his facilities in 1912.[4]

As the Navy's emphasis was shifting from seaplanes to the land planes used on aircraft carriers, its requirement for land instead of the surface of the bay and bight increased. Air Congestion became a problem with both services operating more and larger aircraft from North Island. Although the Army had always been adamant about their need to retain use of their half of North Island, a joint congressional committee investigated the problems of the two air facilities and sought a solution to the Navy's frequently stated demand for use of the entire North Island land area.[4]

In May 1929 the Joint Army/Navy Board recommended the Rockwell Field should be phased out and a new Army airfield be developed elsewhere on the West Coast. However, this was a long-term goal, and no immediate resolution was forthcoming. Because of the continuing cramped conditions at NAS San Diego, one solution sought was to expand the available land. In connection with deepening the harbor ship channel to accommodate deep-drafted Navy ships (and especially the new aircraft carriers), sixteen million cubic yards of dredge spoils were dumped onto the tidal flats along the northwestern shore of North Island. This increased the area of North Island by some 620 acres, mostly to the benefit of NAS San Diego.[4]

NAS North Island in 1944. Rockwell Field still dominates the lower side of the island, the bay between the island and Coronado not filled in yet.

The year 1932 saw another major change. Almost no new facilities had been constructed since the end of World War I and the “temporary” wooden buildings were still in use. Now, the Great Depression was underway and an attempt to get the unemployed back to work led to expenditures for new public works projects, which, much to the chagrin of the Navy, resulted in $1.6 million being appropriated for new construction at Rockwell Field (Most of which today remains as part of a National Historic District).[1] Also the Army began allowing California National Guard and Army Reserve units use the field for summer drills and pilot training, and announced its plans to move its aircraft overhaul facilities to Alameda County and to replace them with 75 to 100 more operational planes, with the field becoming home to the 19th Bombardment Group of Martin B-10 40 heavy bombers.[1]

The Navy, wanting the Army to move out, invited President Franklin Roosevelt, a former assistant secretary of the Navy and a rabid Navy supporter, to visit North Island on 2 October 1935. As a result of this visit, Roosevelt issued an executive order a few weeks later announcing a re-alignment of several separate military facilities. Rockwell Field, along with Luke Field, Ford Island, Hawaii would be transferred to the United States Navy, with the Army taking over Bolling Field in Washington, D.C., and the Naval Air Station, Sunnyvale, California.[1] This action also changed the name of the now combined facilities to "Naval Air Station, North Island" (NAS North Island). The Army ceased air operations at Rockwell Field, moving most of their aircraft and functions to March Field, in Riverside County. However, the Army was not eager to leave, and it occupied an administration building, warehouses, maintenance shops and various housing and quarters buildings for the next three years. Finally, in October 1938 the Army began to leave these buildings, and a "farewell" of sorts was held on 31 January 1939.[1] The United States Navy took over full control and has remained on North Island ever since.[4]

Major units assigned to Rockwell Field[edit | edit source]

Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps
  • 1st Aero Squadron, 28 November 1913 – 29 July 1915[8]
  • 1st Company, 2d Aero Squadron, 1 December 1915 – 2 January 1916
Organized in the Philippines as: 2d Aero Squadron on 20 July 1917; 5 June-29 November 1919[9]
  • 6th Provisional Aero Squadron, December 1916
Organized in Hawaii as 6th Aero Squadron on 13 March 1917[10]
  • 7th Provisional Aero Squadron, December 1916
Organized in Panama as 7th Aero Squadron on 29 March 1917[10]
Air Service, United States Army
  • 1st Aviation School Squadron (Organized from Aviation Company "A"), May 1917
Re-designated as 14th Aero Squadron, August 1917
Re-designated as Squadron "A", July–November 1918
Re-organized as 14th Bombardment Squadron on 1 March 1935[11]
  • 2d Aviation School Squadron (Organized from Aviation Company "B"), May 1917
Re-designated as 18th Aero Squadron, August 1917
Re-designated as Squadron "B", July–November 1918
Re-organized as 18th Observation Squadron on 25 January 1923[11]

United States Army Air Service/Corps

** Note: the 30th Bombardment Squadron was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group at Rockwell Field from 24 June 1932 to 25 October 1935. The squadron was later re-designated, and today is known as the United States Air Force Thunderbirds

Rockwell Field Historic District[edit | edit source]

The Rockwell Field District consists of historically and architecturally-significant buildings located in the southeastern quadrant of the Naval Air Station, North Island (NAS North Island), that have associations with the use and development of the Rockwell Field Army airfield between 1912 and 1935.[4] The discrete components within the district consist of sixty-three buildings in a groups whose boundaries correspond to the as-built and surviving extent of the original 1917 Albert Kahn-designed site plan, and to those Quartermaster General's Office-designed residential quarters added as a result of the Emergency Relief Bill of 1932.[4]

The predominant styles for these permanently-constructed buildings are Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival. Fifty-six buildings are considered to contribute to the historic and architectural integrity of the district. The remaining seven buildings are not considered to contribute architecturally or historically to the significance of the district. While individual contributing buildings have had varying degrees of alteration, and some non-contributing buildings interpose on the original spatial characteristics of the district, the artistry of its designers remains evident, and some sense of the character of the district during its period of historic significance remains.[4]

The Rockwell Field District contains the site and surviving buildings associated with this period of military historic significance. The history of its development and use has important associations with broad national and regional themes in the early history of military aviation in the United States. The buildings of the district have national and local historic architectural significance. The district's contributing buildings variously embody the distinctive characteristics of the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style as applied to military architecture; some of them represent the work of a master, being a unique example of the use of the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style by a recognized master in another architectural genre - Detroit industrial architect Albert Kahn. As a group, they possess sufficient integrity of location, design, setting, workmanship, feeling and association to convey a sense of the character of Rockwell Field during its historic period of use.[4]

Notable historic buildings[edit | edit source]

The principal masonry buildings of the Rockwell Field historic district exemplify the development of Mission and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Southern California, and the evolution of the prefabricated metal building type.[4]

Five 1918 Mission Revival buildings are the work of Detroit architect Albert Kahn, who was widely known for his designs for industrial architecture. The buildings of the 1932-1933 Army construction program, designed by the U. S. Army's Quartermaster General's Office, are representative of the military construction of the era, and mirror trends in civilian architecture in the region. Rockwell Field had an ambitious, but largely unrealized, development plan due to the transfer of the facility from the Army to the Navy in the late 1930s.[4]

The architecturally-anonymous metal hangers and warehouse buildings are considered significant for their place in the development of the technology for prefabricated buildings.[4]

Field Officers Quarters

Bachelor Officers Quarters Exterior

Bachelor Officers Quarters Interior

Bachelor Officers Quarters Courtyard

Company Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers Quarters

Company Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers Quarters Neighborhood

  • Field Officers Quarters
The Kahn-designed Mission Revival Field Officers Quarters (Quarters T-U and V-W, 1918; now Married Officers Quarters, Quarters T-U and V, respectively) are reinforced concrete framed, in-filled with hollow terra cotta tile, and finished in buff color stucco. Interior partitions are framed with wood. They are covered by low-pitch, red clay-tile hip roofs, with bracketed eaves.[4]
  • Aircraft Hangars (Buildings 501, 502 and 503, 1918)
Kahn's Mission Revival Hangars (Buildings 501, 502 and 503, 1918) are framed in reinforced concrete, in-filled with hollow terra cotta tile, and finished with stucco. They have red clay-tile, gabled roofs. They were built to the same plan: a rectangle, 135 feet by 70 feet, with 30 feet clear to the ceilings. A low, flat-roof, lean-to on the east side of each contained offices. The end walls were designed for rolling hanger doors which were not initially built. The end walls project beyond the side walls suggesting masonry buttresses. The side walls have high, steel-sash windows in bands, and round arched man-doors. They featured decorative herringbone brickwork above the hanger doors, windows, and man-doors.[4]
  • Army-Navy Gate House/Meter Room (Building 505, 1918)
Located on the bluff edge at the North Island end of the Coronado-North Island causeway, the Army-Navy Gate House/Meter Room (Building 505, 1918; now Meter House) functioned as the gate house for both Rockwell Field and NAS San Diego, and as the metering station for water and other utilities servicing the bases. Initially, it consisted of a small, low, one-story building, on an irregular plan, set well forward on its lot on the south side of the entrance road. Its features included massive walls with inset windows and doors, a cross-axial, gabled, red clay-tile roof, and an offset, raised entrance. This original building was supplemented in the 1930's by a second rectangular structure running perpendicular to the south, and designed with compatible Spanish Colonial Revival detailing. This second building is detached, but tied to the original building by a trellis/pergola over a small concrete patio. The building has been little altered over the years, and still has many of its original elements, including wooden doors and windows, and wrought iron ornaments. It has perhaps the best architectural integrity of any individual building in the district.[4]
  • Aero Supply Warehouse
The prefabricated steel Aero Supply Warehouse (Building 830, 1918) and Doge House (Building 833, 1930; both now General Storage) are made of factory-manufactured units, representing an early type of mass-produced, easily-erected and dismantled multi-purpose building. The construction components consist of steel roof trusses, bolted steel framing, corrugated sheet steel cladding and roofing, steel sash windows and rolling, steel-clad bay doors. Each building is gambrel roofed, one story, and rectangular in plan. These can be joined end-to-end in a continuous bay, or side-by-side in multiple bays. Building 830 has two bays, while Building 833 is a single. Early photos show Building 830 as roughly L-shaped in plan, with the crook of the "L" having been filled in with structural components from similar buildings that were dismantled. Building 833 appears to be in the original configuration.[4]
  • Building 825
The only surviving examples of Rockwell Field's early use of over twenty of this type of temporary structure for hangars and storage in the absence of the originally-planned, but un-funded, permanent concrete and masonry buildings like Buildings 501, 502 and 503. Manufactured in Pittsburgh, Building 825 was designed as the first-ever mass produced hangars under the direction of the Department of Military Aeronautics (Chambers Consultants and Planners 1982; Williamson and Watts 1988). Most of the now absent buildings were dismantled shortly after the incorporation of the Rockwell Field area as part of Naval Air Station, North Island, in 1935. The dismantled components were reused elsewhere on the air station to construct industrial and storage facilities.[4]
  • Bachelor Officers Quarters
The Bachelor Officers Quarters (Building I, 1933, and Building I (East), 1936), consists of two, opposed U-shaped sections which surround and enclose a garden courtyard. The main entry (Building I) off Quentin Roosevelt Blvd. opens into a two-story volume which carries a red clay-tile, gabled roof. The officers rooms are in the single-story wings, which are hip-roofed, single story construction. The connected Building I has a red clay-tile roof, and the detached Building I (East) a red, composition-shingle roof. The two building wings otherwise differ in their methods and style of construction. Building I has reinforced concrete and hollow terra cotta tile walls finished with stucco, on concrete foundations and floors. It has an arcaded, quarry tile-paved interior walkway surrounding the courtyard. Building I (East) is a plain stuccoed wooden frame building, on concrete foundations with a wooden joiced floor, and no arcaded walkway. It is not rendered in a Spanish Colonial Revival style. Building I (East) is not considered as contributing to the architectural integrity of the district.[4]
  • Company Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers Quarters and Garages
The Quartermaster General Office-designed Company Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers Quarters and Garages (Buildings J through S, SA through ST, and NA through NJ, 1932-1933; now Married Officers and Married Petty Officers Quarters) form the remaining contributing buildings. This category consists of forty-six buildings in three groups. These are a simple Spanish Colonial Revival style, constructed in concrete and terra cotta tile with stuccoed exteriors, and low-pitch, red-tile, cross gable roofs. While the plans vary within and between the three groups, the exteriors are consistent in their design elements and detailing. Entries are through concrete slab porches. The interiors are typical of the many small homes of similar design character built in San Diego during the Twenties and Thirties. Typically, they have living rooms featuring a brick fireplace, which serves as an entry and circulation space. Bedrooms and baths are at one side of the living room, dining and kitchen to the other. A patio/sleeping porch is off the rear of the living rooms. The larger Field Officers Quarters (Buildings J through S) also had a servants quarters, a feature seldom found in small homes of the period. All quarters have partial basements, an unusual feature in this region. The quarters have been altered without consistency, the typical most of which is the replacement of wood casement windows with aluminum sliders.[4]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 Forgotten Air Pioneers: The Army’s Rockwell Field at North Island
  2. Arlington National Cemetery Lewis G. Rockwell
  3. Location of U.S. Aviation Fields, The New York Times, 21 July 1918
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 National Register of Historic Places, Rockwell Field
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Maurer, Maurer (1987), Aviation in the US. Army, 1919– 1939, United States Air Force Historical Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. ISBN 0-912799-38-2
  6. 6.0 6.1 Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the First World War, Volume 3, Part 3, Center of Military History, United States Army, 1949 (1988 Reprint)
  7. Series "E", Volume 17, History of the 135th Aero Squadrons. Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917–1919, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  8. AFHRA 1st Reconnaissance Squadron Lineage and History
  9. AFHRA 2 Air Refueling Squadron Lineage and history
  10. 10.0 10.1 The United States Army Air Arm, April 1861 to April 1917, USAF Historical Division, Air University, May 1958]
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Clay, Steven E. (2011), US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941. 2 The Services: Air Service, Engineers, and Special Troops 1919-1941. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press. ISBN 9780984190140.

External links[edit | edit source]

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