The Guns at Bird Rock

Recruits practicing their skills at the Training Center. Photo from San Diego History Center

Officer Jake Stirling parked his patrol car on the sharp bend of Camino de la Costa, glanced at the house across the street and wondered if the man inside had managed to kill himself yet. He opened the car door and climbed out. Waves crashed on the rocky shore below, where skeletal silhouettes of abandoned artillery batteries loomed against the purpling sky, remnants of a U.S. Navy training facility from the Second World War. The guns had gone silent after the bombing of Hiroshima ten years earlier. The Japanese invasion of La Jolla, California had never arrived.

The above paragraph is from the opening of my novel-in-progress, Esmeralda by the Ocean. I knew some of San Diego’s WWII history when I started my research for the book, but the story of these artillery guns was new to me. The facility was known as the Naval Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Training School.

The facilities included anti-aircraft guns, ammunition magazines, storage buildings, barracks, and gasoline pumps. The first rounds were fired on September 2, 1942 and continued day and night until the facility closed down on November 3, 1945. Over 300,000 men and officers were trained there over the course of the war. Needless to say, if you lived in the area, it was not a pleasant experience.

When the “big guns boomed” at Bird Rock, they damaged the houses and buildings, breaking windows as their “millions of rounds of ammunition” were expended.

Photograph from the San Diego History Center

The training center was located between Bird Rock and False Point (known then as Gunnery Point).

The Navy maintained the site as a surplus supply center for a short time after the war, but facilities were demolished and the property decommissioned in the late 1940s. The post-war building boom soon overran the area and nothing remains of the facility today. You can get a great view of the area and imagine what it might have been like from Calumet Park.