A Time of Building

The 1920s

By 1923, after two years of construction, the newest resident of Point Loma was beginning to emerge. Training at Yerba Buena had ceased on Aug. 23, 1923, two months prior to the final dedication ceremony. By the time the new station was commissioned, the Navy had spent $2 million.

A small commissioning ceremomy was held on June 1, 1923. A group of Naval officers gathered on a patio at the newly-formed station. The Fifth Marine Brigade Band played the national anthem and Rear Adm. Roger Wells, the supervisor of the construction, made a few brief statements, signifying the offical commissioning of the station.

Construction went smoothly. The first phase consisted of a mess hall, a dispensary and a ward and four barracks. Other buildings constructed included a fire house, a pump house, the head quarters building, the guards quarters and gate and an information building.

One month prior to the final dedication, eight additional barracks were completed,along with a post office and four sets of officers' quarters.

The final dediation was conducted on Navy Day, Oct. 27, 1923. Capt. David Foote Sellers, first commanding officer, was host of the ceremony.

Several local distinguished citizens gave speeches during the afternoon. The Honorable Phil D. Sing; the Honorable John L. Bacon1, the mayor of San Diego; and Mr. Elwin B. Gould, president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, all gave addresses.

William Kettner had the honor of delivering the dedication, and following his speech, the flag was raised by Miss Maxine Edmonds, a senior at San Diego High School.

A group of 100 school children sang "The Star Spangled Banner" for more than 4,000 Sailors and guests.

An official tree-planting ceremony was conducted and a BlackAcadiawas chosen as the first tree planted. The shovel used in the planting of the tree was later preserved in casing along with a plank of wood cut from the tree. The shovel was kept in the center commander's cabin in building 200 up to the disestablishment in 1997. Now it is in storage on the grounds of NTC during the planning stage of a Museum.

The Chamber of Commerce presented Capt. Sellers with the regimental colors and he, in turn, delivered the colors to members of the regiment.

Now the new training center could commence operations. The initial staff consisted of 10 officers and 50 enlisted men. They were expected to train approximately 1,500 new recruits in a 16-week boot camp. The term 'boot camp' was derived from the white leggings or 'boots' that recruits wore.2

During the first three weeks of boot camp, recruits were 'indoctrinated' and lived in 'detention camp.' Although it sounds bad, Detention Camps were actually used to ensure that new recruits would not expose other recruits to diseases. New recruits were berthed together for a period of time as more of a medical quarantine until it was sure they were medically fit for training.

its first few months of operation, the station was surrounded by mud or dust, depending on the weather. Fleas, ants, black widow spiders and jack-rabbits were frequently seen around the station. Capt. Sellers wanted some landscaping done to the station to spruce up its appearance.

Mr. John G. Morley, who also supervised the landscaping in Balboa Park, undertook a new project here, and his plans were met with much enthusiasm. Even a tree committee was formed to assist in adding green foliage. Mr. G. A. Davidson, a San Diego citizen, became the chairman of the Naval Training Station Tree Committee. Through the committee, local residents gathered donations of shrubs to beautify the station. The Department of Agriculture donated 100 Pistache tress and by Dec. 22, 1923, Century Plants, Acacias and Palm trees had been planted. Gras was beginning to grow and within a few years, many of the trees had grown taller than some of the buildings.

In 1924, more construction was underway. The second phase saw construction of a brig, a reception center, a larger mess hall and galley and two more barracks. With the construction of a new swimming pool, Sailors would have a place to train. For recreation, a ball field and boxing arena were built.

Also during this time, a huge grinder was built for Sailors to practice marching and drills.

With the new training station in its infancy, recruiting was low following World War I. What better way to promote the Navy, than to film a recruiting 'movie', something which was fairly new to the country.

The film 'Boots' was a four reel silen movie filmed on station. It was written by Mr. Tay Garnett of Los Angeles and directed by Chaplain C. A. Neyman, who was also the first editor of the base newspaper, The Hoist.

A Navy Chief Photographer's Mate photographed the film using a Bell an Howell camera and local Sailors appeared in the film. The film was highly publicized throughout San Diego, in anticipation of its premiere in the San Diego Civic Auditorium on June 24, 1924.

Tickets were sold to the premiere and $1,000 was raised to help construct a bandstand on the station where public concerts were then conducted.

By December, the new station was in a festive mood. For the first Christmas, Capt. Sellers sent eight Sailors and a civilian truck driver out to find Christmas trees. The nine men departed with camping gear -- a tent, snow scraper, a stove and five days' rations. They drove 60 miles into the Cuyamaca mountains and teamed up with a road gang and some mules. They walked through waist-high snow drifts onto the property of Mr. Ed Fletcher, and cut several tress for the Station.

One event that began in the early eyars and became tradition throughout the Station's history was the weekly boxing smoker. On the first anniversary of the Station, a huge boxing smoker was held and more than 2,000 people saw "Fitz" Fitzgerald knockout "Rod" Rodriguez in the first minute of the first round.

Another big sporting event occurred on Jan. 2, 1926, when the undefeated basketball team "Boots" played the Sailors from USS Omaha, who were the district champions. The Station's team saw their first defeat, 29 to 26. An article from the Jan. 9, 1926 Hoist stated:

"The Boots played a wonderful game and they did not lose any prestige in this one defeat. We still have a dandy team hear, and despite this loss, they stand and excellent chance to finish on top when the season is over."

A popular man around the Station was Lt. Benton W. Decker3, the athletic coach. Decker coached swimming, track, wrestling and gymnastics until he left in September, 1927. Other forms of recreation a new golf course which began construction on Sept. 5, 1925 and was dedicated on October 2. The original design was a four-hole link golf course on the north lawn of the station. The course was arranged with the holes averaging 250 yards apart. By September 5, an 18-hole putting course and nine holes of the course were completed.

Lieutenant G. T. Campbell, first lieutenant of Naval Training Station in 1925, was instrumental in the layout of the course. The course design is pretty much the same today. The following paragraph was taken from the Sept. 5, 1925 issue of The Hoist newspaper:

"One of the attractive features of the course is the flags marking the holes. The flags have the numbers imposed upon the station insignia, which is a blue diamond trimmed with a red border, in which is centerd a white apprentice knot. Lieutenant Campbell is now in quest of a name for the new course."

The course was named "Sail Ho" and was the birthplace of the San Diego's Junior Golf program in December, 1953 until it held its last tournament in 1995. World Class golfers such as Billy Casper, Craig Stadler, Gene Littler, Jimmy Demeret and Jack Renner have played the course. In October, 1942, Pro-Golf Champion Sam Sneed reported for duty at the Station. Sneed, who entered the Navy in June, 1942, was a specialist second class in the Navy. In March, 1943, Sneed and a Coast Guard Petty Officer Jimmy Thompson, played an exhibition game on the course for the Sailors. Sneed shot a 58 and Thompson shot a 60.

An interesting piece of trivia involves the golf course and the Station's first executive officer, Cmdr. Edwin Burke Woodworth (later Captain). It was Woodworth who approved the construction of the course and was very active in the early layout of the Station.

Woodworth was a native of Cuero, Texas and a 1906 graduate of the Naval Academy. Before he passed away from cancer on Nov. 7, 1932 at age 48, he requested to have his ashes spread on the golf course. His wife, Nell, spread them under a eucalyptus tree planted in his memory. A small undecorated bronze marker placed here contained only the following:

Edwin Burke Woodworth

Captain, USN
First Executive Officer NTS
USNA 1906

It would take 27 years for the Woodworth’s daughter, Nan, to obtain permission to have a marker for her mother.

“The impression I got from the Navy is that they couldn’t approve the plaque for my mother because it would set a precedent and soon everyone would want their relatives to be buried at NTC or other bases," Nan recalled in a Sept. 23, 1994 article from The Compass.

Finally, on Veterans Day (Nov. 11, 1994), Nan succeeded in having a marker placed on the golf course in memory of her mother. NTC conducted a small ceremony for her. The base chaplain said a prayer and the North Chapel Choir sang two verses of the Navy Hymn, ‘Eternal Father.’

On Jan. 26, 1928, a new swimming pool opened. The pool was 60 feet long, 25 feet wide and eight feet deep. Prior to its construction, Sailors received swimming instruction in the “swimming hole,” an area of the channel logged off for training and competitions. However, due to space limitations, swim meets were not opened to the public. Only competing recruits were allowed entrance.

For leisure, Sailors could visit the library where new books were constantly being updated. Sailors watched silent movies featuring Mary Astor, Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino. At the canteen, they could buy a variety of items, including irons for $2.50; two bars of soap for 15 cents; cases of cigarettes for $1; socks for 25 cents a pair; razors and shaving cream for 35 cents; and boxes of stationery for 65 cents.

"It was real fine military training for infantry drill and manual of arms. Every day we went through what they called the physical drill with arms. You used your rifle as a weight."

-- Lt. John Finn, USN (Ret.), Boot Camp, 1926

Meanwhile, life on the Station was becoming routine. Improvements were continuing and by 1925, streets and intersections were busy. The streets and drill fields were named after Naval heroes. The main roads from the main gate were Truxton and Decatur. The cross streets were Perry, Farragut and Dewey. The name “Detention Camp” was changed to Camp Ingram in honor of Osmond K. Ingram. Capt. Sellers said changing the name pleased him because he frequently received letters from concerned parents who believed their sons were being “detained” in the Navy. Later, when the detention camp went away, the flagpole area in front of building 200 was named Ingram Plaza.

Other names included Camp John Paul Jones, Lawrence Court, Luce Court and Preble Field.

On July 25, 1925, Secretary of the Navy Curtis Wilbur made the first of several visits to the station. He attended church services at the barracks and during Sunday divine services he addressed the congregation for about 30 minutes. Wilbur also visited in September, 1926 and August, 1928.

In February, 1927, the men of the Station were called to assist in an emergency. The headline from the Hoist newspaper from February 19 said “Four Hundred Men from this Station Save Flood Menaced City of Old Town’.

The Derby Dike near Old Town was in danger of flooding because of six continual days of rain. NTS Sailors worked with Marines using sandbags and bales of hay to help stop the breach. This prevented the river from doing further damage. Apprentice Seaman V. R. Granville swam across the flood waters with a line clenched in his teeth to tie some floating logs together. Three Marines in a small boat rescued two elderly gentlemen, whose shack became a boat when flood waters marooned them. By saving Old Town from flooding, the Sailors and Marines also saved the Station,

NTS Sailors again responded to emergency in December, 1928, when a fire broke out in the Cuyamaca Forest. Sailors helped combat the fire and for their assistance, the Station was presented with a White Fir tree, which was planted at John Paul Jones court. An inscription was placed near the tree that said:

“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 appreciaion of the assistance rendered by officers and men of this command in quelling a destructive forest fire in the Cuyamacas. Christmas A.D., 1928.”

Sailors also participated in a huge celebration in Balboa Park for Charles Lindbergh on Sept. 21, 1927. Four hundred Sailors marched in a parade, along with Sailors from USS Omaha, USS Holland and the Naval Air Station.

A frequent visitor to the Station during the 1920s and early 30s was a woman named Edith M. Ellsworth -- affectionately known to the Sailors as “Mother Ellsworth”. An entry in the May 8, 1926 issue of Hoist describes her as

“the smiling little elderly lady of the flowers, who can always be counted on to be in Camp Ingram detention barracks every Sunday afternoon, bringing flowers, cheer and encouragement to her ‘boys’.. She has brought oceans of sunshine to homesick boys, many of them away from home for the first time. She loves her boys and they all love her, for she has become as much a part of the spiritual life of the Station as any factor to be found in that splendid Naval institution.”

Born on July 1, 1871, Ellsworth came to San Diego in 1920 to be near her son Don, who was then a seaman in the Navy, undergoing treatment at Balboa Naval Hospital for injuries he sustained during World War I. Through her visits at the hospital, she met other Sailors and became greatly interested in the Navy. When her son was discharged, she did not allow her interest in the Navy to wane. She regularly visited every Sunday, for church services and every Thursday for exhibition regimental drill (recruit graduation). She was featured in every Mother’s Day issue of The Hoist through 1934.

"Mother Ellsworth was a motherly-type who took young recruits under her wings. She’d help them write letters and talk to Sailors. I was 17 years old and she was always there for the Sailors who were feeling a little homesick. In those days, Sailors didn’t have counselors, they had Mother Ellsworth.."

-- CWO1 Kenneth Browne, USN (Ret.),
Boot Camp, 1929

On Jan. 4, 1930, Capt. Cole presented her with a loving cup for her “unselfishness in being a real mother to all the recruits who come to this Station.’ Capt. Cole said the cup was a token of appreciation from the Sailors and they hoped her presence would long continue. She remained in San Diego several more years and died on March 16, 1946.

As the “Roaring Twenties” were coming to a close, the station was beginning to grow. There was a firehouse bell inscribed with ‘USS Yorktown, 1888’ which struck every hour to remind recruits of the time.

Recruit companies were made up of at least 100 men per company. The companies competed against each other in seabag and personnel inspections, and of course, barracks cleanliness.

The number of schools were also beginning to grow. By the end of the decade the schools included a diverse group of courses including Bugler, Musician and Buglemaster; Cooks’ and Bakers’; Stenography, and Preparatory Class for the Naval Academy. These schools lasted from eight to 30 weeks in length. There were also technical Schools including: Radio operator, Electrical, Sound, Radio Material, Dentistry and Gyro Compass.

Prior to 1898, electrical installations aboard ships were manned by Gunner’s Mates qualified as seaman gunners. In October 1898, first and second class electrician ratings were established along with an electrician school at Boston Naval Yard. In 1924, that school moved to San Diego. The first Electrical School was 30 weeks long: 22 weeks in general electricity and eight in gyro compass. Class complement was usually 18 Sailors.

On August 16, 1928, Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur visited NTC again for recruit graduation and an inspection of the station. He proceeded to John Paul Jones court where he visited the training barracks schools. He inspected Camp Ingram and gave a short speech to new recruits just arriving for duty.

As the Secretary left NTC, a 19-gun salute was fired and a mass flight of 135 Navy planes passed in review over the San Diego bay in his honor.

In December, 1928, strong winds blew over a large pine tree in the Cuyamacas near the home of NTC Chief Petty Officer Carpenter Colvin. He offered to remove the tree for the owners, thus saving them disposal fees and the station obtained a magnificent Christmas tree by sending a working party in a truck to retrieve it.

During this time, NTC officers and Sailors assisted in fighting a forest fire in the Cuyamacas. In appreciation for their help, Cuyamaca resident, Mr. Ralph M. Dyar, donated a huge white fir tree, which was planted at NTC on the grounds between the flagpole and firehouse (presently the site of building 1 which was later the commissary, in John Paul Jones Court). The Hoist ran an article on Dec. 15,1928 which read:

“We thank Mr. Dyer for this evidence of his interest, thoughtfulness and goodwill. This great pine will be a permanent Christmas tree which will blaze forth with many colored lights this year and years in the future, we hope.

The tree still stands today.

On April 6, 1929, a stone marker was placed near the tree with the following inscription:

‘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 of the assistance rendered by officers and men of this command in quelling a destructive forest fire in the Cuyamacas, Christmas, A. D. 1928.”

By September 30, 1929, the Station had spent more than $228,000 at the markets of San Diego for fresh provisions for the Sailors’ mess. The Station now occupied 235 acres of land in a narrow strip, almost 7,000 feet long.


Continue to 1930s



1. Bacon, John L. (b. 1862) of Hartford, Windsor County, Vt. Born in Chelsea, Orange County, Vt., June 18, 1862. Republican. Member of Vermont state house of representatives, 1892; Vermont state treasurer, 1898-1906.
2. In 1990, staff at Recruit Training Command researched Navy history and it was very possible that boot campwas not derived solely from the white leggings recruits wore but boot might have also come from 'basic orientation and organizational training'. The researchers noted that leggings were uniform item for all enlisted sailors in the fleet. However this was never added into recruit training history curriculum as it could not be positively documented.
3. Rear Admiral Benton Weaver Decker (1899-1983).