It was a Navy Base nowhere near a dock, an Air Force Base with no runways and an Army base where the soldiers would have to cross an ocean to reach the fighting. It was built to serve the military passing through Camp Parks to the Pacific during the war and to disappear once the war was over.

And it did, more or less.

Some of its buildings are still in use, others were moved to other locations and the boards from other buildings were used for new buildings. At its biggest, in 1944, it housed about 22,000 military men and women, plus a permanent military staff of about 5,000 -- not huge, until you consider that this multimilitary facility was built in a hurry at the start of World War II and hunkered down in an area where the three adjacent towns, Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore, boasted a population of maybe 4,000, most of it in Livermore. There were, old-timers boast, thousands more cows than people in the area back then.

Author and local historian Steve Minniear, of Dublin, speaks about the history of Camp Parks during a presentation at the Dublin Library in Dublin, Calif.,
Author and local historian Steve Minniear, of Dublin, speaks about the history of Camp Parks during a presentation at the Dublin Library in Dublin, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Minniear talked about how the military base came to be and the role it played during and after World War II. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The place began as Camp Parks but also served under the monikers Camp Shoemaker, Shoemaker Naval Hospital (which started as a 1,000-bed facility and grew to 3,000 beds as the government planned for massive injuries from the ground war in Japan, which never happened) and Livermore Naval Air Station, where pilots were trained on an enormous square of land with no paved runways.

"It made it easier for the young pilots, who didn't have to be as precise as they were learning," said historian Steven S. Minniear, of Dublin, and Georgean Vonheeder-Leopold, a longtime Dublin resident active in local agencies and historical groups. Together, they co-authored "Dublin and The Tri-Valley: The World War II Years" (128-pages, Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), which is filled with photos of the facility and the towns, filling in many blanks about what the camp had and how massive it was.

Minniear, who has lived in Dublin 23 years, spent much of that time working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, found himself driving past what remained of Camp Parks on his way to and from work and found the historian heart that beat within him wondering what in the world what the facility was. His ticker beat even quicker when he found a number of the buildings at the lab had been part of the old air station. Minniear will appear at Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton at 7 p.m.

Camp Parks main gate sign on the western edge of Fleet City (one of the informal names for Camp Parks). One of the few remaining World War II structures at
Camp Parks main gate sign on the western edge of Fleet City (one of the informal names for Camp Parks). One of the few remaining World War II structures at Camp Parks.. Courtesy of the Seabee Museum
March 11 to discuss the book.

"Nobody knew anything about Camp Parks. Oh, everyone around here had a story or two, but nobody knew much of the history -- and there's a big difference between stories and history," said Minniear, whose passion for most of his life has involved history -- in fact, if he has his way, his next project will be a mostly-prose book about the history of the facility from 1942 until 1980.

The camp had a huge impact on its surrounding communities from the time construction started in 1942 (remember, Pearl Harbor was attacked in December of 1941, to touch off American entry into World War II). The area's rural feel ended, at least a bit, when the construction crews touched off a housing shortage in Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore.

New Year’s Eve party and performance by Harpo Marx and the Fleet City Band, for the troops at Camp Parks (date unknown)  Courtesy of the Seabee
New Year's Eve party and performance by Harpo Marx and the Fleet City Band, for the troops at Camp Parks (date unknown) Courtesy of the Seabee Museum

Parks began life as the Navy Construction Battalion Center, Livermore, in 1941. But within a year, the facility was renamed, with the removal of Livermore and addition of the Camp Parks name, honoring Charles Wellman Parks, who joined the Navy Civil Engineer Corps in 1884, and was instrumental in helping the country win World War I as the rear admiral in charge of a shore construction program.

From there, the boom continued, with housing for married military personnel being built in the three cities and construction of the USO sites in the area and the Hostess House on the base, where young women, including some in high school, "volunteered" to serve as hostesses at dances and other camp-approved activities.

   Built in 1944 at Camp Parks, it was a place on the base for Seabees’ wives or dates to meet socially. It had vaulted ceilings, an outside pond, a
Built in 1944 at Camp Parks, it was a place on the base for Seabees' wives or dates to meet socially. It had vaulted ceilings, an outside pond, a huge brick fireplace and a beautiful view. It was designed by Seabee Bruce Goff, who was a well regarded architect when he entered the service. Courtesy of the Seabees Museum

Overall, too, the camp had a look that was quite different from the others springing up around the country as the country set itself on a war footing. Since, Minniear said, the country had yet to develop cookie-cutter designs, the brass was interested in what those on the construction sites could do to put their own stamp on the bases. A poll of draftees was bound to contain men with a wide variety of skills and talents.

For example, actor Robert Taylor, a draftee, ended up at the Livermore air base, where he traded stardom for his work as a flight instructor teaching cadets. He also starred in a series of basic aviation films.

Somewhat less well-known was an established architect, Bruce Goff, from Tulsa, who enlisted in the Seabees in 1942, and ended up at Camp Parks after a stint in Alaska. He put his talents to work at the camp, designing the unique, California Art Deco entry gate sign, the Hostess house and the McGann Chapel, the base church that started as a Quonset hut and was elaborated on by Goff and turned into a masterpiece of found materials. It is also still serving as a church in San Lorenzo.

"The church (perhaps the only surviving Camp Parks building) was bought by the church people when they were selling off buildings at the base. It was sort of a bitter and sweet story," said Minniear. "The bitter was that it was a poor congregation, which was also the sweet, since the building still stands as it was when it was removed from the base. Everything, the furniture, the lights, the walls, everything, is just as it was during the war. It's a perfect example of an authentic military church from the period."

Each of the Parks' bases issued its own newspaper, some of which are saved at Cal's Bancroft Library, giving an idea of daily camp at the complex.

And since the base had thousands of servicemen and women who were spending a lot of time waiting for assignments or discharge (at the end of the war, Camp Shoemaker discharged up to 1,000 men per day), the facilities had to find ways of keeping those there busy.

So, frequently, big names in entertainment and music -- Harpo Marx, live broadcasts of the "Duffy's Tavern" radio show, and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys performed a month before the camp hosted its own rodeo, with the help of local cowboys, including those at Rowell Ranch in the hills above Dublin and Pleasanton.

FYI
An Evening with Author Steve Minniear: Meet Steve Minniear, a co-author of "Dublin and the Tri-Valley: The WWII years" at 7 p.m. March 11. The new Arcadia Publishing book covers the military base and hospital activities at Camp Parks and Camp Shoemaker during World War II. Books will be sold and signed after the program at Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton. Tickets are $10, $7 for seniors, $5 for museum members and $3 for student and teachers with ID. Tickets are sold at the Museum on Main, 603 Main St, Pleasanton, or call 925-462-2766.