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History of Fort MacArthur

On September 4, 1888 by Executive Order, the “Old Government Reservation” next to San Pedro Bay became property of the U.S. War Department. The property was originally a Spanish public landing and was reserved as “Government Land” when the United States gained control of Alta, California in 1848. In 1897 and 1910 additional tracts of land were added to the reservation in preparation for the construction of fortifications to guard the newly completed deep water harbor facilities of the port for the city of Los Angeles. The reservation was geographically divided into three parts: the Lower Reservation, Middle Reservation, and Upper Reservation.

In 1914 the property was named Fort MacArthur in honor of Lt. General Arthur MacArthur, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and father of General Douglas MacArthur.

By 1919, construction had been completed on Fort MacArthur’s main armament of four 14-inch rifles mounted on ingenious “disappearing carriages” and eight 12-inch mortars mounted in massive concrete emplacements. These guns protected Los Angeles Harbor and had a range of up to fourteen miles. In addition to the big guns, electrically controlled mines were stored on the Lower Reservation for rapid deployment across the harbor entrance and were protected from enemy mine sweepers by four 3-inch rapid fire guns located on a sand spit off the end of what is today known as Terminal Island. By this time, the barracks and administration buildings on the Middle and Upper Reservations were also nearing completion.

After World War I, Fort MacArthur was regularly used for training and housing of California National Guard units, Citizens Military Training Corps, Army Reserve units, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1920, four 3-inch anti-aircraft guns were added to the post’s arsenal and two 155mm guns were delivered in 1928. The biggest additions of firepower came to Fort MacArthur in 1925 and 1930 in the form of two 14-inch railway guns. Named Battery Irwin, these mobile guns could fire their 1400 lb. shells a distance of 27 miles and were eventually stored in special “breakaway” buildings.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, additional 155mm and 3-inch anti-aircraft guns were added to the defenses of Los Angeles and a new fortification program hurried toward completion. This included the addition of Battery Paul D. Bunker located at White Point, and another unnamed 16-inch battery at Bolsa Chica beach that was never completed. These batteries were armed with two 16-inch Barbette mount guns enclosed under large concrete portals. These were the largest and most powerful seacoast defense guns ever deployed by the United States and had a maximum range of about 26 miles.

To reinforce these batteries, three new 6-inch batteries were also built. Battery Harry J. Harrison at Bolsa Chica, Battery Barnes at Long Point, and Battery 241 located on the Upper Reservation. These guns were protected by 6-inch thick “teardrop” shaped metal shields and looked like they would be more at home on a warship rather than on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, more than a dozen 90mm and 37mm guns were installed around the harbor area. As these new weapons were installed, the older guns were deactivated and shortly after 1945, all of Fort MacArthur’s big guns were cutup for scrap. Fort MacArthur continued to serve as an induction and separation center throughout the 1940s and 1950’s.

From 1950-1974, Fort MacArthur was part of the Nike surface-to-air defense system. At its peak in 1958, over eighteen missile launch sites were administered through Fort MacArthur at areas surrounding Los Angeles — from the San Gabriel Mountains to the north and the Whittier Hills to the east. In 1954 a Nike Ajax missile launching complex was installed at White Point, and Batteries Leary – Merriam were converted as its radar control station. The launch facility was later upgraded to support the nuclear-armed Nike Hercules System. In the 1970s the Nike missile system was declared obsolete and all of the sites were deactivated.

In 1977, the Army decided that Fort MacArthur no longer fit its needs and declared it surplus property.

At that time, the Upper and Lower Reservations were deeded to the city of Los Angeles and within a few years all of the buildings on the Lower Reservation were removed and the property was dredged to create the Cabrillo Marina. The city of Los Angeles turned the Upper Reservation into a city park in 1982.

Fort MacArthur’s 94 years as an Army installation came to an end in 1982 when the Middle Reservation was transferred to the Air Force for use as a housing and administration facility supporting the Los Angeles Air Force Base. Today Fort MacArthur continues to serve the United States in that capacity.