The Depression Era

The 1930s

During the early 1930s, the pace at the station slowed considerably. With the depression in full swing, the number of recruits enlisting declined.

By 1933, the Training Stations at Great Lakes, Newport, R.I. and Norfolk, Va., were closed for economic reasons. Even though the quota was low, the San Diego location still processed recruits, because it was cost effective and close to the Pacific Fleet.

Recruiting gradually increased thanks to the Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which gave the Navy 21 more vessels, increasing the need for manning. NTC was now training almost 700 men per month and they expected to train more than 8,000 in 1933. When Great Lakes reopened in 1934, training dropped to 370 men per month by 1936.

In 1932, construction was underway to replace the old tents of the ‘20s that made up Camp Ingram. These canvas-top tents had wooden floors and walls, but were beginning to look outdated. Permanent facilities were constructed on Oct.21, 1932. The new Camp Ingram barracks provided living quarters in two sections with an upstairs and downstairs instead of four sections.

Separate galleys, sculleries and mess halls were inaugurated. A separate library, ship’s service stores department and a Protestant and Catholic church were added for the men at Camp Ingram. The medical department moved into a new, spacious building and many of the street corners were widened to allow the traffic to flow easier. Landscaping was embellished as lawns were planted and flowered parks and tennis courts were added.

The biggest improvement to the base was the installation of a new steam and heating plant, at a cost of $180,000.

Up to this time, recruit review was conducted without the aid of amplifying equipment. By 1934, a “music reproducer” was used for playing marches and the center had five portable long distance horns.

Movies were verb popular during the early years and in 1931, the Fox Movietone News Company produced a news reel on NTC. Tru Vue company from Rock Island, Ill. produced a reel on NTC in 1934. The movie described NTC as an extremely interesting and educational trip through the U.S. Naval Training Station-one of the most beautiful spots in Southern California.

Warner Brothers came to town in l934 and recruits "Went Hollywood" according to a May 5, 1934 Hoist article. The movie Hey, Sailor, was filmed here and it starred James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. Warner Brothers obtained permission to use NTC as a backdrop for scenes with Sailors.

The movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon, and Cmdr. J. A. Murphy the station’s executive officer, and Cmdr. J. F Lowry acted as technical consultants.

In 1937, Buster Keaton filmed a movie entitled Tars and Stripes and many more movies would continue to be filmed here.

With this interest in movies, it’s no wonder the Navy became eagerly involved. This new medium required technicians capable of operating the equipment, so the Sound Motion Picture Technicians School was developed. Under the direction of selected electrical engineers from RCA, the first class convened on Jan. 5, 1931. The 31 members, selected from throughout the fleet, learned the mechanics of operating motion picture equipment. By the end of the year, NTC had two sound motion picture machines, four sound horns and a generator enabling the center to show “talkie” movies. In seven years, more than 850 students graduated from the school.

A motion picture enclosure was built in the early ‘30s. The “theater” was actually an open-air facility and recruits would march over in the evenings to watch the latest movies, like King Kong, A Tale of Two Cities with Ronald Coleman and Roberta with Fred Astaire. News reels were also shown to bring Sailors weekly news.

In December, 1932, news spread throughout the station that Capt. Sinclair Gannon was selected for rear admiral. The station was in a festive mood for the holidays and the Sailors collected $338.50 for the annual Naval Training Station Basket Fund Drive. A Christmas party was held for 150 children of NTC personnel and two Christmas Eve parties were staged for the recruits in South and North Units during the holidays.

On January 13, 1933, the station was in a somber mood when the executive officer, Cmdr. Charles Stanley Keller suddenly died at age 48. His relief, Cmdr. J. A. Murphy, reported from USS Altair and was active in the Sound Motion Picture Technicians School.

On Oct. 12, 1933, the dirigible USS Macon took off for Moffett Field at Mountain View, Calif. via Phoenix for a stop in San Diego. This lighter-than-air blimp was manned by 14 officers, 55 enlisted men and three civilian engineer observers. The Macon’s visit was such a huge success in San Diego that it returned the following year. On August 7, 1934, it passed over the station and continued on to Camp Kearney, an area north of San Diego.

Several hundred Navy and Marines waited at Camp Kearney to assist in Macon’s mooring. Sailors from companies 34-17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 had the honor of assisting as the ground crew. The 785-foot long, 185-foot wide aircraft spent 14 hours in and around San Diego before departing. Several recruits remained overnight at Camp Kearney to assist in the departure.

In April, 1934, the station received a new rigging loft to train recruits in knot tying and elementary steps of seamanship. At the time, the rigging loft contained a complete set of signals, flags, pennants and ground tackle.

Following the Macon's visit, more excitement occurred in September, 1935 when NTC got a taste of early naval aviation. A Navy Vought Scout plane attached to USS Saratoga made an emergency landing on the tennis courts at the training center. According to a Hoist article of Sept. 28, 1935:

"the plane was engaged in operations with other planes when trouble developed and the pilot was forced to land. The plane was badly damaged, but the pilot and radioman, who constituted the crew, were uninjured. Skillful handling of the plane by the pilot resulted in only a small amount of damage to the tennis court."

NTC Sailors were soon at the site disassembling the plane to load on a truck to transport back to Naval Air Station, North Island.

Several distinguished persons visited NTC in 1935. In April, the commandant of the Eleventh Naval District, Rear Adm. W. T. Tarrant, made an annual inspection of NTC. On May 17, the assistant secretary of the Navy, Col. Henry L. Roosevelt, visited NTC for the second time.

The station received sad news when its first official "mascot" was killed. The mascot, a small bull dog named "Dick", arrived at NTC on Aug. 15, 1928, a gift from a Boatswains Mate 2nd Class McCormick. Dick was a two-week-old pup when he arrived and then commanding officer Capt. Cole made him the official mascot of NTC. The dog was frequently seen around the base visiting with recruits. On Aug. 12, 1935, Dick was struck by a car and taken to a local veterinary hospital, where he died on Sept. 16.

More sad news came on Ja. 2, 1936, when Capt. David A. Weaver suddenly died at NTC. He was survived by his wife Vivienne Thomson Weaver and a son, David A. Weaver Jr. Following Capt. Weaver's death the executive officer, Cmdr. Frank Luckel, a 1910 graduate of the Naval Academy, was acting commanding officer until Capt. Paul Blackburn arived in April 1936. Luckel reported to NTC on April 10, 1935 and retired on June 15, 1937.

There was a lot of excitement around TNC from August 19 to 21, 1937, when the base held a carnival to benefit the Navy Relief Society. The three-day affair garnered more tha $18,000 and approximately 35,000 military and civilians attended the event. Admission was only 25 cents and the carnival featured daily variety shows, games for children, a dance hall, restaurant, ferris wheel and merry-go-round, fortune tellikng and golf-drivnig range. The main event at the carnival was a chance to win a Packard automobile valued at a whopping $1,285. Following the carnival, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison, son of the famous inventor, visited the base for an extensive tour and inspection.

With Franklin Roosevelt as president and the world moving toward war, the Navy began expanding. The faciltiies and activities at NTC increased dramatically. Training at the schools continued at a steady pace. June 20, 1938 saw the opening of a new classroom building. The building housed a new "Electrical Ordinance" school, a 16-week course that provided instruction for classes of up to 150 students. The base population had grown considerably, that by 1938, the Dental Clinic at NTC was one of the Navy's largest. The clinic had a staff of six doctors, one Chief Pharmacist and 25 corpsmen working. There were facilities for 52 patients in "sick bay."

The 30s were coming to a close and NTC was in a constant change -- modernizing, growing, expanding. In 1939, trainiflg was reduced from 12 to eight weeks and a recruits enlistment was extended from four to six years, thanks to an act of Congress. With 113 new ships being built, the Navy needed new recruits.

President Roosevelt authorized the immediate enlistment of 29,000 new recruits and NTC prepared for the growth by appealing to the Sailor. A Sept. 16, 1939 Hoist article said:

"..all must do their share to help make the adjustments painlessly..everybody bear a hand. Recruits in training can help by giving the most immediate and generous cooperation.."

This growth and expansion cost a significant amount of money in the pre-war years. The station spent almost $4,400,000 to accommodate the Sailors, including expanding the golf course and building a recreation room with ping pong tables, in December, 1938.

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