Bicycling past the Naval Amphibious Base entrance on Silver Strand a couple weeks ago, my friend asked if I knew about the swastika.
“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever happened with that?”
“I thought they were gonna spend a shitload of money to turn it into a big tic-tac-toe grid or something.”
“They didn't. Google it when you get home. Still there.”
Sure enough, the four L-shaped buildings of Complex 320-325, arranged in the shape of the Nazi symbol of Aryan racial purity, at the corner of Bougainville and Tulagi roads, still appear in the most recently updated Google Earth image.
The barracks, used primarily as sailors' quarters, were designed by San Diego architect John Mock and constructed between 1967 and 1970. For more than three decades, nobody noticed their configuration. But then the advent of Google Earth led to the 2005 discovery and distribution of the overhead image of the swastika-shaped building complex and a resultant buzz of worldwide curiosity, questions and complaints.
In response to the concerns, the Navy began to speak out.
Navy spokesperson Steve Fiebing told the San Diego Jewish Times in 2006 that the original plans for the project included only two small central buildings, which were intended to contain a boiler plant and a recreation room, and one L-shaped three-story barracks building.
As plans expanded, L-shaped buildings were repeated three times and placed at 90-degree angles to the central buildings. Fiebing said it wasn't until after the groundbreaking that Navy officials realized how the buildings would appear when seen from above.
With money and momentum committed to the project, the Navy went ahead with the construction, perhaps assuming nobody would notice or mind.
According to the Jewish Times article, Navy Capt. Mike Allen told Morris Casuto, regional director of the San Diego chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, that he was “totally mystified” why no one sought a redesign.
Mock, the designer of the structure, defended it in 2007, telling reporters, “We knew what it was going to look like, but it isn't that. It's four L-shaped buildings....”
Mock even claimed the structure had won architectural awards for its efficient use of space, but he didn't specify which awards. I'm guessing it must've garnered at least a couple Albert Speer Design Excellence trophies.
Despite the murky history of the barracks, it's easy enough to accept that it was an accidental swastika. Stupidity is a far more insidious force than conspiracy.
Sure, lots of silly conjecture hit cyberspace in the wake of the revelation—everything from rumors that the barracks were constructed by World War II POWs as a tribute to Hitler to paranoid fears that the Navy is a secret Nazi organization. Yeah.
Rational critics like Casuto agreed that this spitting image of the hakenkreuz doesn't have any sinister, intentional meaning but said it needed to be addressed so San Diego and its Naval Base don't go on the map as being obnoxiously insensitive to those who find the symbol offensive, particularly San Diego's Holocaust-survivor community.
Thanks to the efforts of individuals like Casuto, Congresswoman Susan Davis and Dave vonKleist, host of a Missouri-based radio talk show, pressure to modify the structures led to action.
According a September 2007 article in The Los Angeles Times, the Navy promised to budget up to $600,000 to make changes to the structure to mask its shape. It's fitting that an array of solar panels would be designed to interrupt the compromised ancient sun sign.
“We don't want to be associated with something as symbolic and hateful as a swastika,” Scott Sutherland, spokesperson for the Navy Region Southwest, told the Times.
So why does Google Earth still reveal a completely unchanged complex?
One answer might simply be that Google Earth isn't updated very often. Although the latest image is clearly newer than the one circulated two years ago (apparent from the different cars in the parking lots), it's dated Jan. 29, 2008, only three months into the Navy's fiscal year. It's quite possible that the modifications to the structure have already been made.
NAB Coronado spokespersonAngelic Dolan told me that the process of contracting, design, allocation and construction can take time, and she didn't know how far along they were, but she would pass my inquiry along to someone who knew.
As this column reaches deadline—almost two years to the day since Sutherland announced that the Navy was going to shell out a half-million bucks to fix the problem—I haven't heard back from the Navy with any answers, so I can't report on whether the Coronado swastika has been concealed.
Ironically, the day I'm writing this is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It would've been a really good day for someone at the Navy to get back to me. I know we've only been in contact for a few days, but even a quick note to let me know they were gathering information would've been nice. I guess the Jewish High Holy Days aren't top of mind over there. Kind of makes you think they haven't done anything about that swastika yet, doesn't it?
Just a hunch.
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