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Pacific Beach Hotel (Grays Harbor County)
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In 1942 a popular Grays Harbor County resort, the Pacific Beach Hotel, was taken over by the United States Navy. It became an anti-aircraft training center, with gun installations on the beach and the former hotel serving as barracks. In 1948 the air force established a temporary Cold War radar station at the site. Following the departure of the air force, the navy returned and built a secret facility, the Sound Surveillance System, that monitored the movement of Soviet submarines and was in operation until 1987. The former base then became a navy recreation and conference center. Today, Department of Defense personnel can enjoy the beach at a site that has been occupied by the military for much of the past 70 years.
The Pacific Beach Hotel
The community of Pacific Beach on the Washington
coast began as a sawmill and cannery town, but before long was developed as a
resort destination. In 1902 the Northern Pacific Railway linked the small community
with Aberdeen and Hoquiam, giving residents of those and other Washington towns easy access to an ocean beach almost two miles long. With the opening of the Pacific Beach
Hotel in 1906, tourists could stay longer to enjoy seaside activities and dramatic ocean views.
Built on a bluff above the beach the two-story hotel became a popular resort. In
1911, Carl A. Cooper (1886-1965) purchased the hotel and became a very active promoter. He went to Olympia and other cities to drum up business and sell excursions
to the hotel. The resort was especially busy in the summer, but it also had a
steady year-round business as winter guests came to enjoy the food and watch
the storms roll in from the Pacific.
Early on the morning of October 3, 1914, a fire broke out on
the second floor of the hotel. One guest, a Mrs. Sterling of Walla Walla, fainted in the second
floor hallway. Carl Cooper found her and carried her to safety as the fire destroyed
the structure. Cooper used the insurance money to build a more modern hotel on the site. The
new Pacific Beach Hotel with 50 guest rooms opened in June 1915. In 1929-1930, Cooper added 25 cabins to the resort, each with a bath.
The hotel had many famous guests over the years, including
actor Frederic March (1897-1975). But by 1942 the hotel business had declined, due to wartime travel and gas restrictions. The hotel was identified as underused facility that could
be rapidly converted to barracks, and the navy purchased the hotel and grounds for use as an
anti-aircraft-gunnery training school. The site was ideal -- guns
could fire over the ocean at targets towed by aircraft, without endangering the public.
The navy opened its gunnery
school at the Pacific Beach Hotel on August 3, 1942. It was one of five anti-aircraft training
centers (AATC) on the Pacific coast, with others at Point
Montara, Point Magu, Point Hueneme, and Pacific Beach, all in California. The guest
rooms were converted to barracks, the hotel restaurant and ballroom became a large
cafeteria to serve the 350 navy personnel, and other hotel space became
classrooms and offices. The commanding officer moved into a guest cottage and additional
cottages served as officer housing.
The navy added a two-story north wing to
the hotel, and the beach below the structure was graded and a platform laid down for the guns. A firing line with the various anti-aircraft
guns -- 20mm, 40mm, and 1.1-inch -- was laid out facing the ocean. This allowed for
an unobstructed field of fire. To the rear of the guns were wooden tables used by instructors. A restricted area was established that included
all the sea area westward of the beach and nine miles out from the hotel. Vessels
were instructed to stay out of the area 24 hours a day.
Training Center closed in 1945, and the War Assets Administration offered the
property to Pacific Beach for one dollar. Because the beach community was unincorporated, it could not legally take title to the property, which sat vacant until 1948.
Pacific Beach Air Force Radar Station
During August 1948 the air force flew test flights to probe the Washington radar detection system, and it discovered a
number of gaps between Fort Stevens (near Astoria, Oregon) and
Neah Bay, on the northern edge of the Washington coast. These gaps could allow enemy bomber formations to slip through
various points on the Washington coast and proceed to critical targets, such as
the Hanford atomic works and the region's military bases.
The 505th Aircraft
Control and Warning Group conducted site surveys to identify possible radar locations
along the coast to close the gaps. On September 14, 1948, Pacific Beach was
identified as one such location. One week later a detachment of the 635th
Aircraft Control and Warning Group arrived to locate the best site for the
radar and for administrative facilities. Pacific Beach and other temporary radar bases
would employ stopgap measures until more advanced radars could be installed. The radar technicians selected a site just
below and south of the former Pacific Beach Hotel near what is today (2012) just south of Main Street, between Sprague Place on the west and 1st
On October 14, 1948, radar equipment arrived from McChord Air
Force Base and was installed. On October 21, 1948, the station started 24-hour-a-day aircraft detection duties. The Pacific Beach station transmitted its
aircraft data to a control center at Paine Field, Everett. By October 29 the air force had closed the
radar coverage gaps.
The Pacific Beach station included two radars. The TPS-1B search radar was World War II vintage and could
search 120 nautical miles. The TPS-10A height radar, also dating to World War II, could detect bombers at a range of 60 miles at 10,000-foot altitude.
The Pacific Beach Hotel, again served as barracks and
offices, and the former resort's cottages provided additional housing.
A radar station with more advanced equipment opened near Naselle, Washington, in December 1951. This station allowed
the closing of the temporary Pacific Beach and Fort Stevens radars. The Pacific
Beach station was deactivated in February 1952, and the site would be
largely abandoned. Again it sat vacant, until 1958.
A Secret Navy Base
On May 14, 1958, the navy commissioned a Sound Surveillance
System (SOSUS) station at the former air force radar station at Pacific Beach. This secret
facility was identified as a Naval Facility (NAVFAC) conducting oceanographic
research, but SOSUS was in fact a Cold War technology developed to
track Soviet submarines. It was a key,
long-range warning system to protect
the United States from Soviet submarine ballistic-missile attacks.
submarines in the early 1950s were considered a significant threat to North
American security, and the Sound Surveillance System had arrays of hydrophones on the
sea floor at locations that accessed the deep-sound channel. These arrays listened for the distinctive
sounds of Soviet submarines. It was one of the most expensive technologies of
the Cold War, but deemed necessary.
Each station transmitted its data to a processing
facility, and for Pacific Beach the
collection point was the Naval Processing Facility on Whidbey Island. That facility integrated data
from the Pacific Beach station and others to triangulate Soviet submarine
positions. Another Pacific Coast Sound
Surveillance System station was located at Coos Bay, Oregon, and additional
stations were located in California and in the Pacific at Midway Islands and Guam.
The first such stations covered the Atlantic Ocean, and when the Pacific stations were added
a worldwide network continuously monitored Soviet submarine positions
and operations. At the Pacific Beach facility, the hotel was demolished and a commander’s house built on its site. New ranch-style
family housing replaced the old hotel cottages, and a windowless operations
building was constructed. The Naval Facility had 12 officers, 115
enlisted personnel, and 15 civilian workers.
The SOSUS facility came to the aid of
Pacific Beach community in 1985 when, in September, the well that
supplied two communities went dry. Schools had to close, as well as motels
and restaurants. The navy set
up a 3,000-gallon water tank for residents, and the Army Reserve in Seattle brought
in water tankers to supply the elementary school.
A Resort Once More
Improvements in undersea monitoring included the development of
mobile systems. With technological
changes, the Sound Surveillance System was merged with other detection programs
into the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS). On September 1, 1987, the Pacific Beach facility
was decommissioned. In late 1987 the base was turned over to Puget Sound Naval
Station at Bremerton and later to Naval Station Everett for use as a recreation
and conference center. A new hotel was built and the family housing units
converted to cottages.
Veterans of the Sound Surveillance System have held reunions at the old site, with some able to stay in the same cottages that housed their families when the facility was still in use. Today the windowless operations
building serves as a storage facility, and there are no traces of the radars or
anti-aircraft gun positions. The recreation center is open to Department of
Defense guests who can stay in its hotel, cottages, recreational vehicle
spaces, or camping sites. The Windjammer restaurant at the center is open to
The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation
organization, Naval Station Everett, today operates the resort and conference center. In addition to
surviving features of the undersea warning station, a recent landfill excavation
found artifacts from the World War II navy era. They are now in the collection of the Museum of North Beach in nearby
David L. Winkler, Searching the Skies:The Legacy of the United States Cold War Defense
Radar Program (Langley, Virginia: United States Air
Force Air Command, 1997); "Pacific Beach," Museum of the North Beach website accessed August 3, 2012 (http://moclips.org/regions/pb/pb.php); "$10,000 Resort Destroyed," The Oregonian, October 4, 1914, p. 2; "Pacific Beach Gets New Hotel," The Oregonian, June 17, 1915, p. 10; "Eagles Hold Initiation," The Oregonian, January 31, 1922, p. 13; "Pacific Beach Hotel Will Be Taken by Navy," The Seattle Daily Times, July 26, 1942,
p. 18; "Carl Cooper’s Famous Hotel Now Serves Navy 'Guests,'" The Seattle Daily Times, November 5,
1942, p. 21; "Pacific Beach GCI (L035),
WA," Radomes.org website accessed July 31, 2012 (http://www.radomes.org/museum/documents/PacificBeachWAhistorical.html); "SOSUS: The 'Secret Weapon' of Undersea Surveillance," Undersea Warfare magazine website
accessed August 6, 2012 (http://www.navy.mil/navydata/cno/n87/usw/issue_25/sosus.htm); "Emergency Actions Ease Coast Towns' Water Crisis," The Oregonian, September 10, 1985, p. 18; "Pacific Beach Recreation Center," NavyLifePNW website (http://www.navylifepnw.com/site/68/Pacific-Beach.aspx).
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