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Carnett: When OCC was young

May 07, 2012|By Jim Carnett

I took a walk through my Mesa del Mar neighborhood the other evening.

It was just after sunset — the gloaming — and the sky had the luminescence of a shiny pearl. A fresh ocean breeze wafted across the mesa.

For a few moments I tried to imagine how things might have appeared had I walked the same real estate in 1943. The residential neighborhood would have then comprised the parade ground of the Santa Ana Army Air Base.

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The breeze no doubt would have been stronger in '43 because few buildings existed on the mesa to break up prevailing wind patterns. The parade ground, I was convinced, would have been deserted and ghostly.

The air base was open from 1942-46 and contained hundreds of wooden barracks. It encompassed 1,336 acres, covering one-fifth of today's Costa Mesa.

In the early 1950s, my friends and I used to play in several abandoned two-story barracks sitting near the present-day Civic Center. We occasionally uncovered such treasures as uniform buttons and insignia.

The air base's buildings resembled thousands of other World War II-era wood-frame structures built on installations throughout the world. Simple and utilitarian, they were arranged in long, neat rows.

In 1945, on what three years later would become Orange Coast College's campus, sat two rows of the distinctive two-story structures, 12 in each row. The buildings were exact replicas of one another. Numbers stenciled above the entrances were the sole means for telling the avocado-hued barracks apart.

While I served in the Army in the 1960s I was housed in such buildings at Ft. Ord, Calif., and Ft. Benning, Ga.

Military lore is replete with tales of soldiers staggering back to installations after an evening "on the town" and awaking the next morning in a strange bunk in unfamiliar surroundings.

Following the war, some of the two-story barracks on OCC's site were torn down; others were moved to locations near and far. In early 1948, some on OCC's new campus were cannibalized so that the wood and nails might be used for the conversion of other campus structures into educational facilities.

Two barracks remained from a former row of 12 and from 1948-60 served as the college's dormitories. They were situated where the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building is today.

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