A few weeks after establishing Camp Howard on North Island, Colonel Joseph Pendleton, on September 6, 1914, was the guest speaker at the U. S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. The subject of his speech was "San Diego, An Ideal Location for a Permanent Marine Corps Base." The drive behind his lecture was the unsatisfactory conditions and the less than convenient location of his men and staff at Camp Howard.
About this same time, Colonel Pendleton wrote to the Marine Corps Commandant at Washington D. C. about the deplorable conditions at Camp Howard and presented the idea of the possible establishment of a permanent Marine Corps base in San Diego.
Located only twelve miles north of the Mexican border, and with the southernmost deep water harbor on the west coast of the United States, the San Diego area presented itself to the strategic planner as a favorable site for an advanced expeditionary base. Convenient to the Pacific approaches, San Diego could also serve as a port of embarkation for forces needed in the South and Central American areas as well as in the Orient.
In the meantime, when the Panama-Pacific Exposition opened in 1914, Colonel Pendleton was ordered to set up a model Marine camp on the fairgrounds in Balboa Park which became the Marine Barracks.
Colonel Pendleton's foresighted thought in realizing the strategic value of San Diego with her proximity to South America, the Panama Canal, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Orient brought a visit from Undersecretary of Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the summer of 1915 with a personal inspection of the tidelands area called Dutch Flats which Pendleton had recommended as the future sight of a permanent Marine Corps base. Following his inspection, and several meetings with city officials, Mr. Roosevelt give a positive report on the proposition to Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Josephus Daniels.
The Navy General Board approved the establishment of a base on January 8, 1916 and the Marine Corps' base on the bay tidelands called Dutch Flats was authorized by a Naval appropriation bill of August 29, 1916, in large part due to the efforts of Congressman William Kettner.
But the tideland area around Dutch Flats had to be dredged and filled before groundbreaking could begin in 1919 for permanent buildings. The Marines moved from Balboa Park to the new Dutch Flats installation after it was commissioned in December 1921.
On 1 December 1921, the new post stood ready for service. On that day General Pendleton placed it into commission as the Marine Advanced Expeditionary Base, San Diego, California with Headquarters, 5th Marine Brigade as the senior command present. The marines from Balboa Park moved in and took up residence in the newly constructed barracks. Although several of the major buildings had been finished, or were close to being completed, several years would pass before all the construction would be completed.
Shortly thereafter, a new tenant became a part of the San Diego base. In August 1923, the Marine Recruit Depot for the West Coast located at the Mare Island Navy Shipyard in Vallejo, California, moved to its new home at the San Diego Marine Base.
On 1 March 1924, the base that had been developed as a result of the vision and efforts of General Pendleton became, officially, the Marine Corps Base, Naval Operating Base, San Diego. The base would be known by that designation for the next twenty-four years.
The newly established Marine Corps Base, with its seven barracks buildings, became the home to the 4th Marine Regiment upon their return from eight long years of service in Santo Domingo. The base would later become the headquarters for the Fleet Marine Force in 1935.
Expansion of the Marine Corps Base began in early September 1939 as the base became a recruit training depot. Thousands of men during and prior to World War II would receive basic training here, under its new name, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, prior to advance training at Camp Pendleton.
The expansion included construction of warehouses, new barracks and mess facilities, a post exchange, dental and medical dispensary buildings, hundreds of 16-man capacity hut-tents for the recruit training depot, a recruit training parade ground, a railroad, and several new roads. The addition of an Officer's mess facility, bachelor officer's quarters, various athletic and training facilities, a communications school, a new administration building, and auditorium were added a short time thereafter.
Despite the expansion activity, the facilities of the Marine Corps Base could not adequately fulfill its dual capacity as a recruit depot and as a Fleet Marine Force base. Prevented from expansion to the north by a developed part of San Diego, on the east by the municipal airport, and on the west by the Naval Training Station, the base could obtain additional acreage for growth only by reclaiming tidelands of San Diego Bay. This process had reached its limit and necessary areas for training had to be found elsewhere.
On 1 January 1948, the Marine Corps Base, Naval Operating Base, San Diego officially became the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
With its redesignation as the Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot, for the first time, the Marine Base was removed from the command influence of the Naval District Commander and fell directly under the Commandant of the Marine Corps for all matters.
Other Online Histories
Extract, US Navy and Marine Corps Installations - Domestic (1985)