Building the Schools
The cadet program was structured to have three phases. The first phase, which was conducted at the New York, Mississippi and California schools, provided new cadets with sufficient skills and knowledge to make the most of their second phase, shipboard training. Upon completion of their shipboard training, unless directed elsewhere, all Cadet-Midshipmen reported to the New York school for the final phase. This school soon became known simply as “Kings Point”. During their advanced training, Cadet-Midshipmen were prepared to take and pass their U.S. Coast Guard license examinations. As the only school organized to provide both preliminary and final training, Kings Point quickly became the centerpiece of the program. As a result, the development of the Kings Point was the most complex.
The Kings Point advance party, including engineering instructor Lauren McCready, arrived at the former Chrysler estate on the afternoon of January 24, 1942. Gerald Early ’43 who lived in nearby Manhasset was assigned to Kings Point on February 11, 1942. Men coming back from their sea assignment began to receive orders to Kings Point for the advanced training as berthing space opened up. Jim Risk ‘42 said he reported to Kings Point in July, 1942, and the first few nights were spent in the mansion; next he was billeted at the just-acquired Schenck House. Over the next several months, the government also purchased other adjoining properties thus growing the campus to 46 acres with 53 permanent buildings by October 1943.
Photo of 1942 First cadets Occupy Chrysler Mansion for berthing, classes and mess hall
The challenge facing McCready and the other staff was that they not only had to make an immediately useful school, but at the same time keep an eye toward the future, allowing for the longer-term evolution of the Cadet Corps. Making the necessary trade-offs was far from a simple exercise especially because the officers responsible for overseeing the physical redevelopment process were also creating the new curriculum more or less from scratch at the same time.
Photo of Greenhouse was Engineering Dept. in 1942
One clever interim solution involved the use of twelve forest-green wooden buildings left over from the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) days. Disassembled and trucked down from New York’s Adirondacks Park region and from New Jersey’s Fort Dix, these structures would serve a variety of purposes until more permanent solutions could be devised. Delivered on February 18, 1942, they required 14 weeks to install and equip for their new purposes, using almost exclusively cadet labor. Rear Admiral Carl Seiberlich ’43 remembered being part of a team of cadets that helped reassemble the CCC buildings on site. “The first two weeks I was there,” Seiberlich recalled, “that’s all we did.”
Photo of The CCC Barracks Corsair, Defiance and Eclipse
Meanwhile, the existing buildings also were pressed into service. One of the former Chrysler garages housed the Seamanship course; other existing structures became classrooms and an armory. The estate’s greenhouses morphed into washrooms and most other buildings served as barracks. However, constructing temporary buildings and retrofitting existing mansions and their outbuildings represented only a partial solution. The fast growing Academy also needed new buildings. Shortly after installation of the CCC structures was completed, contractors began pouring concrete for the foundations of Palmer Hall, the first in what was to be a cluster of six new barracks.
The building program caused headaches for cadets trying to learn their trade in the midst of construction, mud, and temporary facilities. Milton Nottingham ‘44 recalls: “The conditions were rather primitive. We were quartered in old CCC barracks buildings that lined the oval in front of Wiley Hall… And each one of those buildings housed, I would think, about 125 or 150 Cadet-Midshipmen. We had double-decker bunks, and we were in sections of 25 young men each.” Jack Weinberger ‘44 was a Prelim in 1943 and lived in the barracks Corsair. It was cold in February; the only heat was a coal fired pot belly stove. There was still not enough berthing space to accommodate all the basic cadets from the East Coast in 1943; for example Jim Baker ’45 from Connecticut was sent to San Mateo.
The Academy classrooms were also primitive and inadequately supplied. Weather permitting some classes took place outdoors with tree stumps occasionally standing in as pedestals for teaching equipment. The Academy’s young instructors soon found that their own resourcefulness was an indispensable contributor to the rapid evolution of a campus. Lauren McCready, named head of the Engineering Department in 1942, recalls an opportunity that arose in the furnace room of the Chrysler residence:
“Luckily for us, they had a big industrial boiler, not an ordinary residential boiler. A big, cast iron monster, probably eight feet by seven feet. It had an oil burner, pressure gauges, try-cocks, water-gauge glasses, siphons, stop valves, safety valves, and so on. I was able to use that system to teach the cadets everything they needed to know about boilers. Primitive perhaps, but that boiler probably saved the lives of many men.”
The machine shop was even more primitive. For the first several weeks of the new Academy’s existence, the shop consisted of a bucket of tools that went wherever it was needed.
In a birthing process that might kindly be described as chaotic, McCready and his colleagues built an academy from the ground up. They improvised, made do, went without and scavenged spare parts from the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard to respond to the day’s most urgent need. Meanwhile, similar feats were being accomplished at both Pass Christian and San Mateo. Because these two schools offered only preliminary instruction, their equipment and infrastructure needs were less elaborate than those of their sister school in New York.
The distractions and turmoil of construction, however, were similar on all three coasts. When Charles Renick ‘47 arrived at Pass Christian for basic training in July of 1944, almost a year after work had begun on the campus, the cadets still found themselves being conscripted into work parties between lessons. Although the Pass Christian cadets sometimes felt frustrated that their merchant marine training included land-based construction projects, they also recognized the need to complete the facilities. At no time was this more evident than at taps, when, in the absence of completed dormitories, all 300 Cadet-Midshipmen had to bunk down on cots in the gymnasium. Renick recalls that the facilities were so inadequate for the number of students on the half-finished campus that cadets would often wake themselves at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning in order to use the heads without a half-hour queue.
On the West Coast, construction moved more quickly in part because the buildings on the site were conceived as temporary structures. On June 25, 1942, architect Gardiner Dailey’s plans were approved and grading and tree-clearing began the next day. Cadet-Midshipmen and faculty moved into the facilities on August 15, 1942, with the formal dedication of the school taking place two weeks later.