What a perplexing sight for residents 100 years ago of steam-driven ordnance tractors trundling along Rosecrans Street, their trailers burdened with 12-inch mortars. (Weight of the entourage wrecked the pavement.) These guns were en route to the new artillery batteries White and Whistler at Fort Rosecrans.
La Playa Trail Association explores this history at its next lecture featuring author and historian Kenneth Glaze discussing his book “Fort Rosecrans and the Army in San Diego 1859 to 1950.” Everyone is welcome on Tuesday, March 19 at Point Loma Assembly, 3035 Talbot St. Light appetizers and sips begin 5:30 to 6 p.m., the lecture at 7 p.m. A suggested donation of $10 is accepted at the door.
Glaze is among a handful of volunteer Army and Coast Artillery historians at Cabrillo National Monument. This group of military enthusiasts is responsible for the restoration of one of four base end stations for San Diego’s largest gun, the 16-inch mortar at Battery Ashburn.
“Bunkers for Ashburn existed at the Mexican border, Solana Beach, La Jolla, and here,” Glaze says. “They were placed far enough apart to get a good angle at the target of a suspicious ship in range.”
Cabrillo National Monument is host to visitors from around the world. “They come for the view, and three main attractions,” Glaze says, “the Visitor Center, Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and our bunker.” The restored base end station is open for public touring the first four Saturdays of each month, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is closed on rainy days and fifth Saturdays.
“Welcome to 1943!” they greet as you descend stairs to the underground bunker.
Dressed in World War II herringbone twill fatigues, Glaze and volunteer-in-park cohort, Dave Boyer, stand ready to enlighten park visitors to past military activity in the area.
Receiving the variety of questions from park guests, Glaze began to take note. From his experiences working in the bunker, and some serious research, he compiled a comprehensive history volume, “The Illustrated Fort Rosecrans: A Reference Guide to the Army’s Coast Artillery Corps in San Diego.” (The Coast Artillery was a division of the U.S. Army.)
“This was pretty luxurious for a base end station,” Glaze notes. “When constructed, the bunker’s functional title was Battery Commander’s Position. It didn’t see much action, but soldiers held constant vigil for trouble. Up to 12 soldiers could bunk here—half on duty, half resting.”
The bunker has two levels with a precarious climb to the bunkrooms below via metal rungs attached to the wall. And there was no plumbing, bunker bathrooming was “Bucket, chuck it!”
Post war records describe some two-dozen vessels passing of which were investigated by base end personnel. “Nothing was ever fired upon,” Glaze says, “but the commanding officer here daily tracked every ship off our coast. Anything deemed to be big would be actively tracked.”
Soldiers continually practiced plotting and tracking at this nerve center. A bell controlled by a telegraph system ran every 30 seconds. “We were controlling some pretty big guns!” This is, after all, the extreme southwestern edge of the continental United States, and its closest military post to the enemy of their watch.
By profession, Glaze is a flight instructor and flies tow planes for Sky Sailing, a glider operation in northern San Diego County. His interest in local history goes back to 1971 when he first discovered the military bunker at Cabrillo National Monument, which he would help restore 40 years later.