Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools

Designers: Bruno, Harry A., Architect (firm); Early, Fred J., Jr., Company, Building Contractors (firm); Ambrose Beauchamp Brown (civil engineer); Harry Alexander Bruno (architect); Frederick Jubal Early Jr. (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1942-1943

McKay Avenue
West End, Alameda, CA 94501

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Emergency conditions during World War II created a drastic need for the training of merchant marine seamen and officers. As a result, training curricula were shortened and new training facilities were erected in the Bay Area very expeditiously. To complete the work as rapidly as possible, the US Maritime Service worked with the US Coast Guard to erect an officers training school at Neptune Beach in Alameda, CA, during 1942. To complete the extensive job quickly, a large team of draftspeople, building contractors, engineers, and architects collaborated on the design of this new campus. The work of this large team was led by three men, two of whom had the local knowledge of the building trades in Alameda County needed to direct the work efficienty, building contractor Fred J. Early, Jr., and his architectural designer Harry A. Bruno. Early and Bruno, who knew each other before the war, collaborated with local engineers and officials from the US Coast Guard that supplied much of the labor to get the pages of working drawings done rapidly. A third man, Lieutenant Commander Ambrose Brown, a US Coast Guard engineer, also was put in place to supervise construction.

The US Maritime Service Officers Training School comprised a complex of approximately 18 buildings located in West Alameda, bounded roughly by Central Avenue on the north, Crolls Garden Court on the east, San Francisco Bay on the south and King's and Queen's Roads on the west (roughly where Richardson Avenue stood in 1942).

In 2022, only Savannah Hall, Daniel Webster Hall, the Old Boat House and portions of Sovereign of the Seas Hall (including the middle portion and Golden Light, Hurricane, and Young America Halls) still remained of this important wartime training center.

Building History

During the mid-1930s, many in the US Congress foresaw the need to enhance the capabilities of the US Army, US Army Air Corps (renamed in 1941 the "US Army Air Forces,") and Navy as well as the US merchant mariners that assisted military operations around the world. In 1936 and 1938, Congress passed legislation to create a US Maritime Service, enact standardized codes for ships and sailor training and erect new training schools for officers and crewmen. This 18-building campus on Neptune Beach in Alameda was one of several schools across the country that was built or enlarged following the passage of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. (See Ralph L. Dewey, "The Merchant Marine Act of 1936," American Economic Review, vol. 27, no. 2, 06/1937, pp. 240-252.)

Just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Coast Guard ramped up recruiting for the US Maritime Service. An Oakland Tribune article of 12/24/1941 stated that, at that time, recruits between the ages of 18 and 24 were needed for a seven-month course that "...will entitle them to a certificate of competency for work on merchant ships." The article continued: "The first three months training will be given at the new Pacific Coast Training Station at Port Hueneme and the final four months are spent on the training ship American sailor. On completion of the course, graudates are eligible for positions aboard merchant ships that pay more than $100 per month and include board. After 18 months, the graduate is eligible to apply for entrance in a licensed officers' school, either at New London, Conn., or Government Island, in the Oakland Estuary. This advanced course is for four months and graduates receive licenses for work either on deck or in the enginee room. During the schooling, they receive $99 a month and the other allowances received during the primary training period. Through this system, a recruit has a chance to become an officer in the United States Merchant Marine in about 24 months." (See "Recruits Are Sought for U.S. Maritime Service," Oakland Tribune, 12/24/1941, p. 5.) Due to the war-time emergency, the period of schooling described in this 1941 article was greatly truncated from fourteen months to four.

Because of a serious shortage of merchant mariners, planning for a larger campus at Neptune Beach in Alameda, CA, began rapidly in 1942. A site plan for the United States Maritime Service Officers Training School at Alameda was dated 10/10/1942, meaning that a whirlwind of construction occurred between 10/1942 and mid-01/1943.

An article in the Oakland Tribune of 04/1943 said of the new school: "Transferred recently to Neptune Beach, the former Bay region's playland, from Government Island, the school trains men with sea experience to become officers in the Merchant Marine. They are given an intensive four months' cram course condensed from the former regular 14 months schooling to provide officers for the hundreds of Liberty ships which are being launched all over the Nation." (See "Officer-Candidates to Frolic at Maritime Service School," Oakland Tribune, 04/28/1943, p. 14.)

As noted in the Oakland Tribune and other newspapers of the time, Fred Early and Ambrose Brown played key roles in supervising the design and construction of the 36-acre Maritime Service campus. The US Government had relied upon several large building contractors to erect the military facilities needed for the war effort around the Bay Area by 01/1941. These included the Henry Kaiser Company of Oakland, Dinwiddie Construction of San Francisco, N.M. Ball and Sons of Berkeley and Fred J. Early (1905-1992) of Oakland. Early obtained a contract for government work totaling $94,517 by late 01/1941, and thereafter became a preferred military construction partner. At Alameda, he coordinated the rapid work schedule with Lieutenant Commander Ambrose Beauchamp Brown (1885-1952), who likely supplied programmatic requirements and much of the drafting labor to complete the pages of drawings needed to erect the campus. (See “U.S. Spending 200 Millions in Bay Counties,” Oakland Tribune, vol. CXXIV, no. 23, 01/23.1941, p. 19D.) Brown, had some limited experience in building inspection and perhaps design, but spent most of his career as a road-builder for the US Bureau of Public Roads.

Early brought in Harry A. Bruno (1908-2002), a young friend of his with whom he had worked with in the mid-1930s on his own residence as an architectural designer for the project. A university-trained archtiect at this time would have had primary responsibility for creating a logical plan for the campus, as well as conceiving the basic characteristics of plan and elevation for primary buildings of the ensemble. Bruno, was not a registered architect at this time, but would be licensed immediately after his experience working at Neptune Beach, in 01/1944. On a cover page for the architectural plans, Bruno's name was listed under that of Early as the architect for Maritime Service Officer Training School.

PCAD id: 24342