Whittier's Post-War Quonset Huts

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Background Information

Quonset huts were military shelters made of corrugated galvanized steel, with a semi-circular cross-section. The name comes from Quonset Point, Rhode Island, where such huts were made during World War II. Quonset huts were used overseas to house soldiers and store supplies, and served as hospitals.

Following World War II, two problems aligned for the good of veterans: the military had a surplus of Quonset huts, and many veterans returning home from the war had no place to live. In July of 1946, the War Assets Administration held a sale at Port Hueneme in which 811 Quonset huts were offered to veterans of World War II. 75% of these were claimed the first day of the sale, by 600 vets [1].

Vets who bought their own Quonset hut were faced with the problem of transporting it from Port Hueneme to the land on which they intended to live. The huts weighed approximately six tons each, and could be shipped disassembled via rail freight at a price of 32 cents per hundred pounds ($3,840), or, if six vets went in together, for a discounted price of ten and a half cents per hundred pounds ($1,260) [2].

Quonset Huts in Greater Los Angeles

Local governments were given Quonset huts to house returning veterans, including the City and County of Los Angeles, which each received 1,500 mid-1946 [3]. The Quonset hut village in Los Angeles was called Rodger Young Village [4].

Quonset Huts in Whittier

Whittier received 46 huts in 1946. Eleven were placed at Friends Park, where the Civic Center complex is today. 35 were placed at Palm Village, on Palm Avenue between Broadway and Beverly, where Palm Park is today [5]. The opening and dedication of Palm Village took place on August 30, 1946. The Fred C. Nelles School Band played for the occasion, and R. W. Hunt sang a song called “The House I Live In”. At the end of the ceremony, the community sang “The Star Spangled Banner” [6].

The first family to occupy a Quonset hut in Palm Village were Orville and Virginia Weldon and their two-year-old daughter at 1607 Marine Way. (The other street at Palm Village was named Soldier Lane [7].) Half of the Palm Village units were furnished by the City of Whittier, with a monthly rent of $33.75, and half were partly furnished, with a monthly rent of $28.75. Fully furnished huts included a kitchen table with four chairs, two occasional chairs, a stove, an ice box, twin beds, a double bed, and a chest of drawers [8]. 

Each hut consisted of two units, meaning there was room for 70 families at Palm Village and 22 families at Friends Park. Some of the units were set aside specifically for veterans attending Whittier College: 20 units at Palm Village and all 22 at Friends Park [9].

Aftermath: The Land

The Quonset huts’ days were numbered by 1950. From the start, they were intended to be temporary housing until their occupants could build a home in East or West Whittier, where housing stock was rapidly expanding, or find shelter elsewhere. The City Council extended the stay of Whittier College students in the Quonset huts in Friends Park one year past the deadline of July 1950 for vacating the huts, after they learned most of them had one more year of college to attend before graduation [10].

Once the title to the huts was transferred to the city from the federal government in November 1949, councilmembers began planning other uses for the land they stood on [11]. On August 13, 1951, the west half of Palm Park (facing El Rancho Drive) was opened to the public. The new park included playground equipment, barbecue pits, restrooms, a softball diamond, and a community center (which was dedicated on February 25, 1950 [12]). Future plans for the park included two tennis courts; a bowling green; a lily pond; a swimming pool; areas for horseshoe pitching, croquet and shuffleboard; and “a shallow-water pool for wading by youngsters, model boat sailing, and practice casting” [13].

The new civic center complex, located where the Friends Park Quonset huts once stood, opened in 1955.

Aftermath: The Huts

One Quonset hut was used as a Whittier Theatre rehearsal hall. It was relocated from its original location at Palm Village, to Friends Park [14], and finally to Savage Canyon (“a stone’s throw from the dump” [15]).

In April 1950, the City of Whittier put four unoccupied Quonset huts up for bid to be relocated at the buyer’s expense, with a minimum bid of $500 [16].

As of October 1951 there was a Quonset hut used for a “teen age club” at Loma Vista Elementary in South Whittier [17].

In February 1953, the City Council approved sale of Quonset huts to the Isaak Walton League and a “West Whittier group who plan to build a branch library in Sorensen Park” [18].

The next month, the Soroptomist Club of Whittier began fund-raising efforts to purchase six Quonset huts from the City for use as youth clubhouses at East Whittier elementary schools [19]. Fund-raising efforts included a Mother’s Day Breakfast at Nixon’s Drive-In [20]; a drive to collect rags and newspapers [21]; and a Christmas Tree sale, organized by Boy Scouts [22].

On July 8, 1953, the Soroptomists presented a check to the City of Whittier for $2,400 for the purchase and relocation of six Quonset huts from Friends Park to six school grounds in the East Whittier Elementary School District: Evergreen, Laurel, Ocean View, Valley View, Ochardale, and Mulberry [23]. By July, the first two had already been moved, to Ocean View and Laurel School [24].

Mrs. Gertrude Pickering, secretary at Ranchito School District, raised funds to purchase two Quonset huts for Boy and Girl Scouts, one each at North Ranchito School and South Ranchito School [25].

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[1] WDN 1946-07-17 “Downey G.I. Gets One of Quonset Huts”

[2] WDN 1946-07-19 p.9, “Quonset Huts are knocked down for trucking to site”

[3] WDN 1946-01-24 p. 4 “3000 Housing units will be ready for vets in 3 months”

[4] WDN 1946-08-22 p. 7 “Compton Refuses Quonset Huts: AVC in Protest”

[5] WDN 1946-10-03 p. 1 “City Erecting 11 More Huts”

[6] WDN 1946-08-29 p. 1 “Hut Village Dedication is set Friday”

[7] 1946 Whittier City Directory

[8] WDN 1946-09-05 p. 1 “Life in Quonset Huts: War Veterans and Families Happy in their New Homes!”

[9] WDN 1946-12-21 p. 1 “Order Curbs New Housing”

[10] WDN 1949-12-20 “City Will Sell Quonset Huts as soon as it can, council members decide”

[11] WDN 1950-03-22 “Heard in the Barber Shop”

[12] WDN 1949-12-20 “City Will Sell Quonset Huts as soon as it can, council members decide”

[13] WDN-1951-08-10 p. 1 “Development of Palm Park is Rushed by City Crews”

[14] WDN 1953-05-11 p.7 “Community Players Reading”

[15] WDN 1954-08-06 p. 4 “Et Ceteras: It all started back in 1922”

[16] WDN 1950-04-26 p. 1 “Quonset Huts for Sale”

[17] WDN 1951-10-08 p.6 “Calendar of Events”

[18] WDN 1953-02-11 p.4 “Gym-Auditorium”

[19] WDN 1951-08-10 p. 1 “Development of Palm Park is Rushed by City Crews”

[20] WDN 1953-05-08 p. 5 “Mother’s Day Breakfasts to Aid E.W. Youth Activities”

[21] WDN 1953-03-26 p. 21 “East Whittier Paper Drive for Quonsets”

[22] WDN 1953-12-14 p. 9 “Tree Sale to Aid E.W. Quonset Huts”

[23] WDN 1953-07-08 p. 1 “Soroptomists Buy Huts for East Whittier Youth”

[24] WDN 1953-08-03 p. 3 “Quonset Huts Removed From Friends Park”

[25] WDN 1953-12-23 p. 3 “Ranchito Schools Secretary Retires”

10/2019, E.F.S.