California Museums

Hollywood, Fame & Fascination Seen at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro

By C. MacDonald

SAN PEDRO, CA--If you ever saw "Pearl Harbor," "The Battle of Midway," "Dragnet" and other films, chances are you saw parts of Fort MacArthur's spectacular 20-acre National Register of Historic Places site. But, like its breathtaking views and beauty situated on a hill overlooking the ocean, that's only part of the story.

Fort MacArthur, named after General Douglas MacArthur's Civil War Hero father, Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, is one of the most interesting military sites in America, with a proud history dating from 1888. If you visit it on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday between 12-5, knowledgeable guides will be glad to explain its amazing history and show you significance.

At the museum in Battery Osgood-Farley, you can see actual newspapers, articles, photos and memorabilia, about the United States being attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and how a Japanese submarine fired on an oilfield near Santa Barbara in 1942. You'll also see a Communications Room, soldier's sleeping quarters, military mess hall, and learn about 14-inch guns, capable of shooting 1,460 pound shells, 15 miles out to sea to protect our coast. Fort MacArthur guarded the Los Angeles Harbor from 1914-1974. You can see photos of Battery Osgood firing its huge guns. It shot 130 times in training but never had to sink an enemy ship. Tour Guides, like Lou Lopez, will explain the fascinating way Army personnel knew where to fire these massive weapons. It involves lookouts, great communication, a bell system of signals and well-trained troops. There's even an interesting exhibit on how the fort played a key role in the development of canine sentries for the military.

Museum Director and Curator Stephen Nelson, has produced (along with David Appel) a sensational Arcadia book, "Fort MacArthur," with many photos and captions showing the significance of the spot. He said, in 1888, it began as a remote military reservation but from 1914 to 1974, it guarded the LA Harbor. In 1923, it became a full-fledged Coast Defense Fort. During World War II, it also was the Army's Major Regional Induction Center. In 1946, it became a Reserve Base; then a Nike missile installation in 1954. In 1974, the Nike program was terminated and the fort was scheduled to be closed. The area's Topside was transferred to the City of Los Angeles; Middleside became a support facility for the Los Angeles Air Force Base and Bottomside serves as a municipal marina. In 1985,The Fort MacArthur Museum was established as a special facility of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

"We want to be an experience-based museum where people can see and experience things up close," said Nelson, who also teaches history at Azusa Pacific University. "Everything you see here actually was the type of thing used here."

Nelson took us on an incredible tour of a Restoration Facility, where volunteers are restoring (or have restored) a 40mm Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun and Cannon; an 800-million Candlepower Anti-Aircraft Searchlight, complete with a rare remote search light control system; a 1941 Military Ambulance; a 1918 Dodge Light Repair Truck, and an M16A2 Army Half Track for shooting down aircraft and at ground targets.

(Speaking of shooting down enemy aircraft, on a rainy February night in 2011, more than 650 people came to a fabulous fundraising party based on "The Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942." There was live Big Band Music, Dancing, Great Food and a lot of period equipment and uniforms. As part of the dramatic re-enactment, a plane flew overheard and was "attacked" by anti-aircraft, while search lights lit up the skies above the fort. In case you wondered, there actually was such an Air Raid, when military and civilians thought they were indeed being attacked.)

Inside a massive concrete battery, you can see a Nike Ajax Anti-Aircraft Missile System that the Army used between 1954-64. It's 21' long, weighs 1,051 pounds, had a maximum speed of 1,476 mph and carried 60 pounds of high explosives.

There's just so much to experience at this wonderful facility that you need to come and see it for yourself. You'll be glad you did!

(Fort MacArthur Museum is located at 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro in Angels Gate Park;; 310-548-2631. Arrangements can be made for special tours.)

Other museums and points of interest in San Pedro include:

Jacob's Ladder Sculpture
Angels Beacon by John Okulick
Point Fermin Lighthouse
Korean Friendship Bell
Los Angeles Maritime Museum

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