The government closes Roosevelt Naval Base, citing its facilities’ lack of modern weapon systems. The closure of the base ends the Navy’s association with Long Beach after more than fifty years. The City considers converting the base into a public recreation area, but it is instead leased to a shipping company to be demolished and replaced with a cargo loading area.
With no major conflict in sight after the Cold War and a changing military strategy, the federal government announced it would close 35 military bases around the country (including Long Beach’s Roosevelt Naval Base.) The bases were declared functionally obsolete, as they did not have facilities to service nuclear vessels. Almost immediately those who had come to know Long Beach as a Navy Town as well as architectural enthusiasts expressed concern for the base’s uncertain future.
The demolition of Roosevelt Naval Base was particularly meaningful as the base had been designed in part by Paul Revere Williams, the first black member of the American Institute of Architects and arguably the most well-known black architect in American history.
The City of Long Beach ultimately granted ownership over the naval base and the neighboring shipyard to the Port of Long Beach in 1995. Immediately after they gained control over the land, the Port entered into an agreement with the Chinese Government to allow their commercial shipping corporation, COSCO, to build a large-scale terminal on the site. This agreement to lease the land to COSCO for commercial purposes required demolition of Roosevelt Naval Base.
The Port of Long Beach faced obstacles in moving forward when awareness of the historic value of the base, as well as natural landscape which had become a coastal habitat for keystone species, spread.
In 1996, the Port faced a lawsuit by Long Beach Heritage, who claimed that they had not done thorough-enough investigations to confirm that demolition of the base was responsible before moving forward with their agreement with COSCO. Though the demolition proceeded, the judge in the case did side with the preservationists, who settled out of court with the Port in 1998.
In a settlement, Long Beach Heritage received $4.5 million which they diverted into a fund for future preservation projects in the City of Long Beach, with an emphasis on the work of Paul Revere Williams. Unfortunately, much of WIlliams’ work in Long Beach would be drastically altered or demolished. Today just a handful of buildings designed by the nationally-known architect remain in the city.
The base was ultimately demolished beginning in November of 1998. Public spectacles were created out of the demolition with the Long Beach Press-Telegram broadcasting footage of the base’s iconic Administration Building tower meeting the wrecking ball to create a lasting and “graphic reminder” of the finality for the project.
Sources we used and further reading on this era of Long Beach:
John M. Broder, “Cheney Seeks to Close 31 Major Bases in U.S.,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1991.
Art Pine, “Clinton Signs Off on Base Closure List,” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1993.
Edmund Newton, “U.S. Officials Tour Shipyard,” Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1995.
Jeff Leeds, “Fight Over Long Beach Base Brews,” Los Angeles Times, September 4, 1996.
Long Beach Heritage v. the Port of Long Beach.
“Two Lawsuits Challenge Demolition of Naval Station,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1996.
Jeff Leeds, “Long Beach Base Conversion Draws Protest,” Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1997.
Douglas P. Shuit, “Long Beach Presses Port Plan at Raucous Hearing,” Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1998.
Dan Weikel, “Long Beach, Port Foes OK Pact,” Los Angeles Times, February 14, 1998.
“Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association,” Long Beach Community Foundation.