Washington Naval Depots (World War II)

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 2/20/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10175
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Washington's excellent ports and fine railroad network made the state a good choice for siting large naval supply depots during World War II. Enormous depots were built at Pier 91 in Seattle and near Spokane, used to supply needed war materiel to Alaska and the Pacific. Naval ammunition depots were built at Bremerton, Bangor, and Indian Island to support the fleet and warships that came to the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Most of the depots closed following the war, but several remain in active military use, and the Spokane depot survives as an industrial park.

Washington's Naval Depots 

Ports in Washington state had years of experience in moving material and could be quickly pressed into service to supply the war in the Pacific. Warships returning to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for repairs could be rearmed with ammunition at depots in Bremerton, Indian Island, and Bangor. Large naval-supply depots were built at Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. The total covered storage space was about eight million square feet. The navy sought effective plans for depots that could be quickly built, and selected prominent Washington architects to design them.

Some depots were still in use during the Vietnam War. The military facilities at two of the depots, the Bremerton ammunition depot and the Seattle depot at Pier 91, have almost completely disappeared. The Indian Island ammunition depot remains in active use and the Bangor ammunition depot now serves as a submarine base. The Spokane Naval Supply Depot survives in adaptive reuse as an industrial park.

Indian Island Naval Ammunition Depot

In 1940, the navy acquired 2,716-acre Indian Island in Jefferson County for use as an ammunition depot. Construction started on November 16, 1940, and was completed in eight months.

The facility stored and delivered ammunition to ships during World War II. Today Naval Magazine Indian Island provides ordnance support to the Pacific Fleet and joint services and is a secure and highly restricted military installation.

Naval Advance Base Depot, Tacoma

The Naval Advance Base Depot was located in Tacoma’s Lakeview district. Today this area is within the City of Lakewood. The federal government obtained the Mueller-Harkins Airport, just over 300 acres, for an advance depot to supply airfields in the Pacific. The depot property was obtained in July 1944 and by late fall was in operation. The navy built it, but the civilian construction consortium Pacific Naval Air Bases (PNAB) operated it. This type of arrangement was known as a GOCO, for "Government Owned, Contractor Operated."

The designer for the project was prominent Seattle architect Paul Thiry (1904-1993). The plans called for 36 permanent buildings that, due to wartime lumber shortages, were constructed of masonry block. Included were 22 large warehouses, each 150 feet wide and 450 feet long. The existing hangar, built in 1929, was retained and became the transportation office and motor pool. Administrative and shop buildings were located on the northern portion adjacent to Steilacoom Boulevard, and the warehouses were built on the south side of the facility.

The depot shipped vehicles and airbase materials to the Pacific. In September 1945, with the completion of airfields in the Pacific, the navy took over operation of the facility, which took on a new role and name, Naval Redistribution Depot. It would thereafter receive excess material and ship it where needed. In 1946 the depot begin sales of war surplus and was renamed Naval Storehouse.

The navy made limited use of the depot after the war and in 1951 allowed the Clover Park School District to use some of the buildings. In 1954 Clover Park started aviation training in several warehouses, and that same year the depot’s closure was announced. The Washington National Guard made temporary use of the facility. In the final disposition, Clover Park School District obtained the northern portion in 1958, Lakewood Industrial Park obtained the warehouse area, and the U.S. Geological Survey moved into three buildings at the northeast edge. Today the Clover Park Technical College has its campus here and has demolished navy buildings to erect modern classrooms. The historic hangar now houses the college's residential-construction program. Also on campus remain one former warehouse and the two-story depot headquarters building at the northwest corner. In the Lakewood Industrial Park, seven former large depot warehouses survive (Buildings 12-18). Others have been removed and replaced with new construction.

Naval Magazine/Naval Ammunition Depot, Bangor

In July 1944 the navy acquired 6,500 acres of land near Bangor, on the eastern shore of Hood Canal, displacing farmers from the land. Construction crews soon arrived and begin work on a naval magazine to store and provide ammunition to warships coming to the Puget Sound Navy Yard. The construction included a pier, 39 ammunition magazines, nine storehouses, and barracks. Operations begin in January 1945.

An additional 68 magazines were built during its first year in operation, and a second pier, storage sheds, and three 250-man barracks were added. The Bangor ammunition depot was in use until 1973, when it was converted to a submarine base. It continues in active service with access strictly controlled.

Naval Supply Depot, Pier 91, Seattle

In December 1941 the navy leased Seattle’s Pier 41 (later 91) on Smith Cove, and in January 1942 it purchased the pier and the adjacent Pier 40 (later 90). The two were among the largest in the nation. The navy used existing sheds on the piers and quickly added large two-deck warehouses. When completed, the depot would have 20 large warehouses with a total covered storage of 2,031,911 square feet. In May 1944, to reduce confusion for arriving ships, the military established uniform renumbering of the Seattle docks. Piers 40 and 41 became 90 and 91. During World War II the navy expanded the facility inland, adding warehouses, barracks, and shops.

In 1943 the navy decided that the 13th Naval District commandant should have a home on the hillside above the naval base. Rear Admiral Sherwoode A. Taffinder (1884-1965), the depot commandant, was commuting from a home at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton to his office in the Exchange Building in downtown Seattle. He would catch the 5:30 a.m. ferry from Bremerton and in the evenings often finding it difficult to get home. He also lacked a facility to properly entertain the many important visitors to Seattle. Taffinder improved the situation somewhat by moving to the Highlands community in Shoreline. Meanwhile, Seattle architect Roger Gotteland (1914-1999) designed a commander’s house, a two-story, 7,316-square-foot colonial-style home with eight bedrooms. It was built on Magnolia Bluff above Pier 91 and overlooking Smith Cove, and had one of the most impressive views in Seattle. On October 20, 1944, Rear Admiral Taffinder and his family became the first residents of the home, designated Quarters A.

In July 1944, a navy school for attack-transport training was established at the supply depot, which had grown to become a naval station. The station had a Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) barracks for women working there. The civilian female workforce accounted for more than 35 per cent of the total, with women taking on many nontraditional roles.

Cora Frank (1902-1972) of Seattle was fondly called “Spruce Shed Annie.” She was in charge of the station's huge lumber supply, supervising more than 50 stevedores. The lumber section often shipped out 2.5 million board feet a day, to be used for base construction across the Pacific and within the 13th Naval District. Frank's nickname came from the name of the lumber warehouse that years earlier had been a spruce lumber shed.

During the Korean War the depot served again, and it saw more limited activity during the Vietnam War. In 1957 the army moved its depot activities from Pier 36 to the Smith Cove depot. The Port of Seattle leased the former navy piers in 1970 and acquired them in 1976. Since 1976 the navy structures have been replaced with modern facilities that have served shipping, and today accommodate cruise-ship docking. Navy residents occupied Quarters A, also called the "Admiral’s House," until 2006. The house not only served as a residence, but also as a place to entertain distinguished guests. It is now listed as a Seattle Landmark, but has been vacant while a new use is determined.

Naval Supply Depot, Spokane

The site for a large naval supply depot was selected in the Spokane Valley, 12 miles northeast of the city of Spokane at a rail stop known as Velox. This would be one of two navy West Coast inland depots, the other being located in Clearfield, Utah. These sites were selected based upon good railroad connections to multiple bases and safe inland locations.

The Spokane supply depot was on the Northern Pacific and Spokane International railroad lines. The site was level and treeless, enabling rapid construction. The architectural firm of Harold Whitehouse (1884-1974) and Ernest Price (1881-1975) was selected for the design and was instructed to find effective construction techniques to speed building. One strategy was the use of three-inch, poured-in-place, lightweight aggregate slabs as roofing.

The plans called for 18 storehouses, each 200 feet by 600 feet. There would also be five heavy-materials storehouses, a cafeteria, officer housing, and barracks. The depot had 2,960,495 square feet of covered storage space. Construction was launched on May 16, 1942, and during the building phase additional facilities were added. When completed it was the fifth largest naval-supply depot in the nation, with 26 large storehouses. The depot supplied military bases in the Pacific. Shipping was accomplished using what was called a basic-box base load, with each box containing 60 days of supplies for 10,000 men, not including food. The basic load included 9,000 items and weighted 3,500 tons. The depot also became the navy’s primary landing-craft depot.   

About 35 percent of the Naval Supply Depot Spokane work force were women, including WAVES. Ensign Florence Otto (b. 1920) assumed the important position of depot accounting officer. She married while at the depot, and after the war, as Florence Boutwell, she wrote extensively on Spokane Valley history.

The depot closed in 1958 and in 1960 was sold to the Washington Water Power Company. It was converted to commercial use and is today called the Spokane Industrial Park.  

Puget Sound Naval Ammunition Depot, Bremerton

In 1904, a naval magazine opened on Ostrich Bay, Bremerton, to supply battleships and other combat vessels leaving the Puget Sound Navy Yard. By World War II the ammunition depot had 40 buildings, and more would be built during the war. By 1940 the demand on the depot exceeded its capacity, and another ammunition depot was authorized at Indian Island.

In 1943, additional storage was developed at Bangor. The Puget Sound depot closed in 1959 and the property was put to new uses. The upper portion that had been the administration area became a Bremerton's NAD Park, where the original gate and two log cabins survive. In 1965, the navy built 100 homes in a subdivision called Jackson Park, located in  the former magazine area. It was named in honor of Washington’s U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983). On the waterfront is the nine-story Naval Hospital, Puget Sound.

Sources: Kit Oldham, Peter Blecha, and the History Link Staff, The Story Of The Port Of Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011); Florence Otto Boutwell, The Spokane Valley, Vol. 4: The Naval Supply Depot at Velox (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 2004); Bureau of Yards and Docks, Building the Navy’s Bases in World War I: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1947); Louise M. Reh and Helen Con Ross, NIPSIC to NIMITZ: A Centennial History of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton: Federally Employed Women, 1991); "Work to Begin On Ammunition Depot Nov. 16," The Seattle Daily Times, November 8, 1940, p. 8; "One Step Nearer the Goal Of a Great World Seaport," The Seattle Daily Times, June 28, 1943, p. 6; "Woman Bosses Stevedores; She Makes Toughest Quake!," The Seattle Times, September 12, 1943, p. 47; "Seattle Pier Speeds Supplies For War In Pacific," The Seattle Daily Times, September 10, 1944, p. 52; "Canal Created 'Mysterious' Indian Island," The Seattle Daily Times, June 18, 1961, p. 81; "$1,920,400 For Bangor Station," The Seattle Daily Times, July 17, 1945, p. 17; "Navy Ordnance Base Inspected," The Seattle Times, February 5, 1946, p.14; "School District May Acquire Navy Property," The Seattle Daily Times, March 22, 1957, p. 13; "Loss of Navy Supply Depot Here Feared," The Seattle Daily Times, December 13, 1960.

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