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Its Past, Present and Future

An historical account of the activities of Navy Band Southwest must begin with the rapid growth of the San Diego Naval Complex during the early years of this century. 

The earliest significant signs of naval activity were seen in 1901 with the establishment of a coaling station on Point Loma. The extension of the railroad to San Diego in the 1880's and the massive westward migration had, by this time, established San Diego as a major population center. Its ample natural harbor and strategic location made San Diego an inevitable hub of naval activity. In 1911, aviator Glenn Curtis established the pioneer Naval Aviation School on North Island, and in 1914 a training camp for the Fourth Marine Division was established. During World War I, troops were trained in Balboa Park's Panama-Pacific Exposition buildings erected for the 1915 extravaganza.  It was during this exposition that then Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt was approached by 11th District Congressman William Kettner with a proposal to erect a large Naval Training Center on 277 acres donated by the City of San Diego and the Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. involvement in the war postponed these plans, but in 1921, construction began on the Naval Training Center. That same year marked the establishment of the 11th Naval District, the Naval Hospital, the Naval Base, and the Naval Supply Center.  Overnight, San Diego had evolved into a significant Naval Power.

The Naval Training Center (NTC) was commissioned June 1, 1923.  It was the homeport of Navy Band San Diego consisting of 30-40 musicians.  The band was clearly a performing entity upon the center's commissioning.  Some previous musical activity may have taken place during World War I.  Another clue that Navy Music had become well established in San Diego prior to 1923 is that two of the four fleet training schools established during the first six months of the Naval Training Center were "Bugler and Band."

As the presence of the Navy grew in San Diego so did the Navy's musical contributions.  Other bands were added, some ashore, some on ships, and some less permanent than others.  Because of the constant change along the waterfront, it was impossible to determine exactly how many bands were present.

Dr. Frederick Fennell, a noted American Bandsman, was stationed at the Naval Training Center during 1943-44.  He reported having two very large and capable bands that "really played."(1)  Retired Bandmaster, Harry Greenfeld reports that in addition to these bands there was a sizable string section and several dance bands formed from these players.  Many of Hollywood's favorite stars joined in the war effort, and quite a few ended up a short drive south at NTC.  Greenfeld suggested with a chuckle that "some of them continued to perform in the civilian domain while enlisted!"(2)

As the United States entered the postwar era, numbers of available musicians diminished and some restructuring was done.  It was certain that 5-7 postwar bands in addition to the NTC Band continued to operate.  Each of these groups remained autonomous until the mid 1970's when further cuts were necessary.

At this juncture, the only Navy Band in San Diego was designated "Navy Band San Diego" and the musicians of the composite group operated from the Naval Training Center.  Additionally, the operational control for Navy Band San Diego fell under the Commandant, 11th Naval District.

The Naval Training Center was the homeport of Navy Band San Diego until November 1997.  Due to nationwide military base closures, Navy Band San Diego relocated to Naval Air Station North Island, where the musical support continues to grow even stronger.  In 1999, falling in step with the naval asset reorganization, the band was renamed Navy Band Southwest.

Now the musical representative of Commander, Navy Region Southwest, the band is comprised of 45 professional musician Sailors.  Because of the wide geographic area it covers, this musical organization must provide a great variety of musical services. Navy Band Southwest offers the following groups: a large Ceremonial and Marching Band, a Concert Band, a Popular Music Group: the "Destroyers," The 32nd Street Brass Band, the VIP Reception Combo: Seabreeze, and Brass  & Woodwind Quintets.  Today, the band performs over 600 engagements annually for military ceremonies, receptions, command social functions, public concerts, parades, recruiting and civic events. 

Always striving to remain on the cutting edge of military music and the entertainment industry, while providing the best musical product.  Navy Band Southwest is dedicated to the pride and professionalism that is represented worldwide by the United States Navy!

  1. Personal Interview, Dr. Frederick Fennell, Protland, OR, 1982
  2. Personal Interview, Harry Greenfeld, Ensign, USN (Retired), San Diego, CA 1986 

SAN DIEGO AND THE NAVY, Lubbock, C.F. Boone Publications, Inc., 1964
NAVAL TRAINING CENTER, SAN DIEGO, Military Publishers, Inc., 1967
University of San Diego College for Men, 1969


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