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Hind Site

A Base that Earned Its Wings

August 11, 1985|EVELYN De WOLFE

The probability that March Air Force Base may qualify for placement on the National Register of Historic Places has led to a fascinating assignment for architect Edwin Fields.

To determine whether the military facility can meet the criteria, the Los Angeles firm of Fields & Silverman Architects was retained by the U. S Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a preliminary survey and inventory analysis.

"Of particular interest to us is the main core of the base built during the Depression years, which gives March its distinct architectural character," Fields commented. "It was a unique period in the history of our country when the Works Progress Administration sought to ameliorate the plight of the jobless by employing them in construction."

The study reveals four distinct periods of construction, in 1918, 1928-34, 1939-41 and post-World War II.

The period just before the United States entered World War I had seen a phenomenal growth in the country's commitment to air defense. Appropriations for aeronautics had grown from $300,000 in 1915 to $640 million in 1917, and during this period the number of military planes increased from 23 to 40,000.

The plan resulted in extensions of existing Army posts and entirely new ones like March Field.

March Field was officially opened on March 1, 1918, on an initial square mile to the southeast of Riverside. It was named for Lt. Peyton C. March Jr., son of the then Army Chief of Staff, who was killed in a military plane accident weeks earlier.

Full-scale construction with 2,000 workers enabled the job to be completed in a record 60 days. That included 12 hangars, six barracks, a machine shop, a blacksmith shop, a post exchange, aero supply and repairs buildings, a hospital, officers residences and other supportive facilities.

Flight training began in July, and although the war ended four months later, this activity continued until 1921. By 1923, nothing but a caretaker staff remained.

In 1926 the Air Service separated from the Signal Corps to become the Army Air Corps. March Field reopened and by 1927 a hard-surfaced flight line was constructed and a budget of $1.3 million was allotted for construction in Mediterranean style, in an effort to make it "the world's most famous army post."

In the pre- and post- World War II periods, aviation prowess furthered that reputation for March, but from an architectural standpoint, Fields reported, the base's newer structures now evince "considerable stylistic confusion."

In Roman mythology, March honors Mars, the war god. It's nice to report that March Air Force Base honors its history.

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