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Southwest Marine
San Pedro, CA

Facing major economic challenges in its steel-manufacturing business during the 1970s and 1980s, Bethlehem Steel Corporation divested itself of the San Pedro yard in 1981. Southwest Marine, Inc. a San Diego-based company, purchased the yard and continues to operate it as a ship repair facility.

The Bethlehem Shipyard (Southwest Marine Terminal) facility is located at Berth 240 near the southwestern part of Terminal Island along Seaside Avenue. The site comprises two separate areas: a mostly vacant region to the north and a paved area to the south, which is occupied mainly by World War II-era buildings. A chain-link fence encloses the entire yard, which is accessed by a metal gate. Built in 1917, this shipyard is one of the oldest shipbuilding and repair facilities at the Port. Bethlehem was one of the smallest shipyards at the Port, employing 6,000 workers in ship repair and construction. In comparison, California Shipbuilding Corporation employed 40,000, Todd Corporation employed 12,000, and Consolidated Steel Company employed 7,000. Of these shipyards, however, the Southwest Marine Terminal facility (formerly operated by Bethlehem) is the only one that remains in existence.

In late 1940, under the growing threat of war and the need to contend with an expanded destroyer shipbuilding program (the Fletcher class, Destroyer 1941 program), Bethlehem embarked, with the Maritime Administration's assistance, on a $4.25 million program to convert its Terminal Island yard (Berth 240) into a combined ship repair and shipbuilding plant to meet the requirements of incoming contracts. Facilities were added to the south end of the site, including new shops and warehouses, an outfitting berth, ways with colby cranes, and a mold loft. Some of the earlier improvements, particularly on the north end of the site, were demolished in this development phase.

These almost instantaneous physical transformations mirrored the national wartime mobilization effort, and with 3,000 feet of berthing space along the Main Channel and a large dry dock, Bethlehem Shipyard (at Berth 240) made an excellent plant for wartime production. During World War II, Bethlehem constructed and outfitted 26 destroyers. Bethlehem took in an enormous amount of work and assembled ships so quickly that, on average, it repaired and returned to service two large naval vessels for each workday during the war.

After the war, shipbuilding activity decreased. Defense contracts were canceled, and thousands of people were laid off. Bethlehem Shipyard (at Berth 240) remained active by concentrating mostly on repairing ships and mothballing US Navy oil tankers. In early 1959, Bethlehem initiated a cold war improvement program, which included the demolition of four shipbuilding ways constructed during the war, the replacement of wooden piers with high-water platforms to accommodate tower cranes, and the relocation of dry dock no. 2 to the northwest portion of the shipyard.

The area surrounding San Pedro Bay was made a military reservation in 1888 and was dedicated to the defense of the expanding harbor. On 26 April 1899, the first barge load of rock from Catalina for the breakwater that created the outer harbor was dumped into the water the first exercise in the process that would make one of the greatest shipping centers of the world.

The Los Angeles - Long Beach Harbor is formed by a series of rock breakwaters. It is second largest breakwater created harbor in the world. The largest is Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The Los Angeles harbor is officially known as The Port of Los Angeles. It is best and the busiest port in the entire United States. More cargo moves through the port of Los Angeles than any other in the US. The Port of Los Angeles is also the West Coast's busiest passenger port of call. Cruise Ships depart on a daily basis for Baja Mexico, the Mexican Riviera, Alaska and other destinations around the world. The Cruise Ship terminal complex is also the departure point for the Catalina Express. In addition, San Pedro is also home to both commercial and sport fishing fleets. Harbor cruises,shoreline restaurants and waterfront walks let the visitor feel and experience the unique pulse and vitality of the port. The entrance to the Port of Los Angeles (inclusive of the Port of Long Beach) is through two openings in the breakwater that protect San Pedro Bay. The eastern opening (closest to the QUEEN MARY) is called "Queen's Gate" (1967) and the western opening, which is used primarily for access to the Port of Los Angeles is called "Angles Gate."

There are a number of reasons why the ports of San Pedro (Los Angeles Harbor) and Long Beach in San Pedro Bay, California, was a suitable anchorage for the Pacific Fleet. Its 2.11 mile breakwater on the Western San Pedro side of the bay created over 600 acres of anchorage space, much of which was over 40 feet deep. Operational conditions were reported to be near perfect with good weather prevailing 70 percent of the year.

In 1913 a Submarine Base was established on the West Coast at San Pedro, California. When tensions arose in the Far East between the United States and Japan, the the Wilson Administration transferred 200 warships to the Pacific. This powerful fleet included America's newest battleships. Admiral Hugh Rodman, commander of the fleet, brought his dreadnought through the Panama Canal in record time in the "war scare" atmosphere of 1919. The Port of San Diego was considered too shallow to handle the largest ships and so, on August 9, 1919, the fleet steamed north to what would become the new battleship anchorage, the Ports of San Pedro (Los Angeles Harbor) and Long Beach in San Pedro Bay, California.

At various times since the establishment of the Submarine Base in San Pedro, many of the destroyers built on the West Coast called upon the Base for supplies or were based there as well during their sea trials. With the exception of a Submarine Base and its pier which were leased from the city of Los Angeles' Harbor Department, the 1,400 men stationed there, and the Reserve Training Center, other shore facilities in the San Pedro area were non-existent. By 1922, the Submarine Base's facilities were soon being shared with destroyers. The base would eventually give way to the destroyers, with the last mention of the Submarine Base at San Pedro being made in official Navy Orders was in 1929, when the base had already become specialized in servicing of auxiliary ships.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:56:20 ZULU