There are not too many places you can visit, where you can learn about Southern California history, military history, and enjoy great views of the ocean, but there is one—Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.
The Fort, located at the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor, is a former United States Army installation offering the chance to explore the local military history and pay respect to those who have served our country so valiantly.
In 1888, President Cleveland designated the area overlooking San Pedro Bay as a military reservation to improve the defenses of the Los Angeles harbor area. Fort MacArthur was formally created in 1914 and used as a training center during WWI.
Large gun batteries for harbor defense were installed in 1917 with test firings shattering windows in buildings and houses for miles around, obviously unpopular with the local residents. By the end of World War II, the large guns were removed and decommissioned.
The site is named in honor of Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur. His son, Douglas MacArthur, would later command American forces in the Pacific during World War II.
Fort MacArthur is probably the best-preserved example of a United States coastal defense gun site on the west coast.
The upper reservation is now a city park called Angels Gate Park and is home to the Korean Bell of Friendship. The bell was presented by the Republic of Korea to the American people in celebration of the bicentennial, to honor American veterans of the Korean War, and to symbolize the friendship between the two nations.
Modeled after the Divine Bell of a King the Great, it is among the largest bells in the world with over 17 tons of copper and tin, and gold. It has a diameter of 7.5 feet and a height of 12 feet while the exterior surface is richly decorated.
The Fort MacArthur Military Museum is located at the site of Battery Osgood-Farley and displays exhibits on the history of the Fort, its role in defending the Los Angeles area and the role of Los Angeles as a military port. Volunteers are well versed in military history and more than willing to tell a story or two.
Every February Fort McArthur hosts an entertainment event called “The Great LA Air Raid of 1942.” The event is the museum’s celebration of one of the most fascinating and controversial events in Los Angeles history.
A night when literally thousands of military and civilians were convinced that Los Angeles was being attacked from the air, and even from space. What really happened that night is debatable, but the recreation offers an exciting time.
The Great LA Air Raid event is held outdoors, under the stars in the courtyard of the Museum. Just down the hill from Fort McArthur is the historic Point Fermin Lighthouse.
Built in 1874, the Point Fermin Lighthouse was the first navigational light into the San Pedro Bay. Tours of the lighthouse are given Tuesday through Sunday and are free. Donations are appreciated.
Finally, for the animal lover, you must visit the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur. This complex is a fine alternative to ocean theme parks like San Diego’s Sea World.
Here, you can view sick or injured seals and sea lions rehabilitating in preparation for their return to the ocean.
The center is run mainly by volunteers, catering primarily to California Sea Lions, Northern Elephant Seals, Northern Fur Seals, and Harbor Seals. The center also has a gift shop and exhibits with materials intended to educate the public about marine mammals.
Admission is free although a three dollar donation is suggested. All funds are used in the operation and preservation of Fort MacArthur. Next time you’re looking for an educational and fun way to spend an afternoon, give Fort MacArthur a visit. The Fort is located at 3601 South Gaffey Street San Pedro, CA 90731. Angels Gate Park.