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OC History: The Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station is more than just an ammo storage facility. Find out why and view our Web-exclusive photos.

OC History: The Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station is more than just an ammo storage facility. Find out why and view our Web-exclusive photos.

The Navy inspects an anti-submarine rocket on October 26, 1984

Courtesy of the United States Navy

The Navy inspects an anti-submarine rocket on October 26, 1984

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E

ver notice a large, empty patch of land closed off to the public as you drive along the 405 Freeway near Long Beach? Non-spectacular as it may seem at first glance, the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station has played host to several significant events in Orange County history – from helping put a man on the moon to saving endangered species – since its commission in November 1944. Its legacy began in the middle of World War II. The location was perfect for the United States naval fleets stationed in Long Beach and San Diego. The Naval Ammunition and Net Depot debuted quite unceremoniously in Seal Beach, with immediate attention placed into planning swift military action for the coming war over the Pacific. The base had two key functions: storing and loading ammunition for U.S. naval ships, and providing anti-submarine, anti-torpedo nets for the stationary bases at sea. After accomplishing its mission for the war, the station continued to serve and strengthen U.S. forces around the world.

The Seal Beach station hit a landmark in 1954, when the first guided missile service unit was established. Meanwhile, the base became fully functional to accommodate the Navy for the Korean War. By 1956, a channel was created to allow easy wharf-side loading for ships. In 1962, its name changed to the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station to reflect its purpose: the assembly, testing and maintenance of weapons systems. Today, the base contains 220 buildings, 56 miles of railway track, 125 railcars, and over half a mile of storage space for 127 ammunition magazines.

In the 1960s, the naval base broadened its horizons from sea to space when it became involved in the great Space Race between the U.S and Russia. It was at this station where, in 1967, North American Aviation (now the Boeing Company) built the second stage of the Saturn V moon rocket, used for the Apollo mission in launching men to the moon.

But it hasn’t been all war and competition for the station. It also has a gentler side: The station maintains the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, a preserve important to Southern California’s natural ecosystem.

President Richard Nixon designated this 1,000-acre stretch as an extension of the base in 1972 to help preserve natural habitat. A military organization working together with local environmental groups to preserve nature not only played a significant role in American history, but also led to the halt of continued development of the 605 Freeway, which previously threatened the delicate area. This refuge now holds the largest population of red-tailed hawks in the western United States and is also where the only known population of burrowing owls in Orange County thrives. Many rare and endangered birds and fish reside here, including the California brown pelican, the light-footed clapper rail, the belding Savannah sparrow, and the peregrine falcon.

The base is also home to the World War II Submarine Memorial for the West Coast. Dedicated in 1977, this shrine pays tribute to over 3,000 sailors who died in service on submarines, mostly during World War II. This memorial remains open to the public.

For information on the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, the wildlife refuge or submarine memorial, visit cnic.navy.mil/sealbeach


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