{ COMMUNITY }

LIBERTY STATION

Saluting 100 years

BY WENDY VAN DIVER | PHOTOS COURTESY OF LIBERTY STATION

IT HAS BEEN 100 YEARS since San Diego’s Naval Training Center (NTC San Diego) welcomed its first recruits on the grounds now known as Liberty Station. Over the past century, the area has expanded and evolved into a multifaceted 361-acre community hub that appeals to a diverse blend of cultures and interests. Today’s Liberty Station serves as San Diego’s town square, bringing lovers of art, entertainment, food, drink, fitness, and fun together into one picturesque setting. As we prepare for next year’s centennial celebration, it’s fitting to pay homage to the history of this magnificent and meaningful San Diego institution.

MILITARY ROOTS
In 1915, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, was in the process of surveying locations for a new Naval training center. After some lobbying by local Congressman William Kettner and donations from some prominent San Diego families, San Diego was selected to become the west coast’s first permanent NTC. In 1923, the first seaman recruits reported to the center. The original buildings, built in Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture, were a few barracks, a dispensary, a fire station, and four schools.

USS Recruit, the model training ship used to teach basic naval procedure
USS Recruit, the model training ship used to teach basic naval procedure
Gate 1 with incoming recruits 1935
Gate 1 with incoming recruits 1935

During World War II, NTC San Diego tripled in size to include 41 training schools, churches and medical units. In 1942, a movie theater was added that featured training films in the daytime and Hollywood movies at night. Throughout the war years of 1941 to 1945, the NTC grew to accommodate a population of 33,000 sailors. The grounds continued to provide an important military resource to defend our nation until the end of the Cold War.  

In the early 1990s, naval activity had slowed to the point that the Navy announced it no longer needed the center. The city of San Diego stepped in and, when the NTC officially closed in 1997, the transformation began. In 2006, Liberty Station opened its first building in the arts district. 

Today, where soldiers used to stand on the grass in formation, locals and visitors to San Diego throw frisbees, fly kites, practice yoga, and ride bikes. Liberty Station is now a bustling commerce center boasting more than 30 restaurants, food markets, salons, shops, studios, and a complete art district. Yet, it still pays homage to its roots. The Liberty Public Market—now the region’s central marketplace—was once the naval dining hall. The Loma Club, Liberty Station’s nine-hole par-three golf course, once provided recreation for naval recruits. And each summer, Liberty Station dedicates a private all-day event exclusively to active military families. The Military Heroes Festival is a day of giveback featuring free groceries, haircuts, clothing, school supplies, and giveaway prizes.

NTC, Barnett Avenue, and Rosecrans Avenue, circa 1928
NTC, Barnett Avenue, and Rosecrans Avenue, circa 1928
NTC Fire Station in 1931
NTC Fire Station in 1931
A gun platform mounted with a dual-purpose gun
A gun platform mounted with a dual-purpose gun
Recruits perform a physical drill under arms
Recruits perform a physical drill under arms

ART IN PUBLIC PLACES
In 2017, Liberty Station established an ambitious public outdoor art program called Installations at the Station to encourage residents and tourists to visit its delightful Arts District. The goal of this ongoing endeavor is to exhibit the thriving, dynamic, and constantly evolving visual arts community in San Diego. Local artists are invited to participate through a “request for qualifications” process. They are asked to address the fact that the artwork will be displayed in San Diego and its broader region, including Baja, Tijuana. The selected works are installed across the grounds of Liberty Station. Not only do these compelling murals and sculptures provide a creative lift to the station’s monochromatic architecture, they also inspire new perspectives and conversations.

One fun way to enjoy the public art pieces is through a scavenger hunt. It’s easy to participate. To start their adventure, visitors simply scan the QR Code at any of the public art pieces. Once the hunt is completed, visitors are eligible to receive a prize and several discounts from participating Liberty Station merchants.

Bob Hope visits the NTC in 1942
Bob Hope visits the NTC in 1942
Postcard home from an NTC San Diego recruit during WWII
Postcard home from an NTC San Diego recruit during WWII
Ingram Plaza at the heart of today’s Liberty Station
Ingram Plaza at the heart of today’s Liberty Station

OBSERVING THE CENTENNIAL
Throughout 2023, there will be many events to salute Liberty Station’s centennial anniversary. 

In addition, plans are underway to launch a museum and docent program. For updates, check the Station’s website, and better yet, visit often. There is always something new happening in San Diego’s town square.

The Corky McMillin Event Center is an impressive space for large gatherings
The Corky McMillin Event Center is an impressive space for large gatherings
The vibrant Liberty Public Market is open seven days a week
The vibrant Liberty Public Market is open seven days a week

ABOUT THE ART

Mural: Greetings from the U.S.
Artist: Victor Ving
The artist was inspired by the vintage “Large Letter” postcard art popularized during the 1930s to 1950s. This mural is the modern interpretation of an iconic military postcard and celebrates Liberty Station’s naval history and recent resurgence as one of San Diego’s top destinations for art, life, and the culture in the city.

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Mural: San Diego Letters
Artist: Roxy Prima and Phoebe Cornog
The sign was originally a leasing sign on Truxtun, so artists were hired to paint over it. When they wanted to move the sign, it was so popular that they had it disassembled and reassembled and located on the Spark Cycle building.

CR_San Diego Letters_sml

Mural: Untitled
Artist: James Armenta
The mural merges classic nautical iconography, using maritime signal flags flanked by dazzle camouflage, a pattern used by ships in both world wars to communicate a message to viewers. For many years, maritime signal flags have been used as a system of communication among vessels. The bold, staggered stripes obfuscate a ship’s direction and speed from enemies.

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HOLIDAY EVENTS
Halloween at the Station
Sunday, Oct 30
A free family-friendly event with live music, crafts, activities, entertainers, and an all-ages costume contest. Pets welcome. 

Holiday Tree Lighting
Friday, Nov 25
The lighting of Liberty Station’s iconic 88-foot Norfolk pine tree with live entertainment, fire truck rides, free photos with Santa, and more. 

Nutcracker Tea
Saturday, Dec 10
A family-friendly, narrated performance of The Nutcracker by San Diego Ballet, scrumptious treats, hot cocoa,
photos with Santa, and interactive demonstration by the Ballet.

Menorah Lighting
Sunday, Dec 18
A public menorah lighting in the Central Promenade to commemorate the first night of Hanukkah. Fun for the whole family with music and live entertainment. 

More info at libertystation.com

Dick Laub NTC Command Center
Dick Laub NTC Command Center
Nutcraker Tea
Nutcraker Tea
Menorah Lighting in the Central Promenade
Menorah Lighting in the Central Promenade