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BOOK REVIEW – The Navy in Norco

bash-navy-norcoBy Kevin Bash and Brigitte Louxtel. Arcadia Publishing, Mount Pleasant SC. (2011)

Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

This book is part of the Images of America series. Norco, California, is located some 50 miles east of Long Beach. On 8 November 1941, the U.S. Navy began proceedings to purchase the bankrupt 700-acre Norconian Resort and converted it into United States Naval Hospital Number 1. During World War II, the hospital went through a number of name changes, in January 1942 to U.S. Naval Hospital Norco and in February 1942 to U.S. Navy Hospital Corona. The hospital was active, with decreasing bed capacity, until 1 November 1949 when it was closed. The hospital was reopened in February 1951 and then closed for good in 1957. Local efforts to have the hospital transferred to the Veterans Administration met with failure. During World War II, while the hospital handled war wounded, it served mainly as a contagious disease treatment center. The hospital had wards devoted solely to the treatment of tuberculosis, polio, and rheumatic fever.

In 1951, the National Bureau of Standards, Missile Development Division, took over a third of the hospital buildings for scientific research. In 1953, this organization was renamed Naval Ordnance Laboratory Corona and in 2011 is still in existence. The laboratory actively participated in supporting missile development based at Point Mugu.

Starting in the 1960s, various portions of the hospital grounds were declared surplus to the Navy’s  needs and transferred to the state of California and to the city of Norco. The state of California turned its portion of the holdings into a drug treatment center and prison. The division of the land among three different governmental units has led to various land use conflicts. At present, many of the state and city-owned structures are deteriorating due to this ongoing conflict.

The book has a nice two-page introduction which provides an overview history of Norco from 1920 to 2010. This, in turn, is followed by 118 pages of photos divided into eight chapters. With a few exceptions, each page contains two photos, with each photo having 50 to 100 word captions attached. The first three chapters recount the history of Norco before the Navy arrived, while the last five cover the Navy’s presence. Chapter Four’s 45 pages cover the history of the World War II hospital from the point of view of the staff and its patients. Chapter Five records the various celebrities that visited the hospital and is a Who’s Who of Hollywood. Chapter Six covers the relationship of the citizens of Norco with the hospital, bond drives, USO dances, and scrap drives. Chapter Seven covers the Navy’s scientific use of the hospital site by the National Bureau of Standards/Naval Ordnance Laboratory. The last chapter looks at the hospital site today and is very sad reading.   

This book should be read by anyone interested in U.S. Navy medical history. One often forgets that diseases during World War II were still a great killer and incapacitator of sailors. Tuberculosis, which today we consider rare, forced the U S Navy during World War II to construct a 500 bed isolation ward at Norco. The pictures and text give an excellent view of the inter-relationship of one community with the U S Navy.

Charles H. Bogart is a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews and was named a 2011 Naval Historical Foundation Volunteer of the Year.

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  1. I was transferred from my ship in San Pedro (USS Surfbird) to this hospital on 21 June 1955 with acute appendicitis attack and appendix was removed a few hours after my arrival. I was released to return to my ship on 7 July 1955. The apparently long time was because we had to be fit for shipboard duty before we could leave the hospital. It was a grand old building and after a couple of days there was a lot of time to read, relax and enjoy meeting all the people who had just been separated from their appendix. Remember seeing a movie The Seven Little Foys with a lot of the gang recovering from the operation and not being able to laugh because of the discomfort from the clamp or stitches in our sides.

  2. Clint

    I was born at that hospital in Norco on December 25, 1953. It’s such a shame when I go by there every so often to see it surrounded by a barbed wire fence and the place just slowly deteriorating.

  3. Tom Nesbitt

    My dad was a corpsmen at the this hospital, I was born there on June15, 1956.

    • John Bangit

      Good afternoon, Tom Nesbit! I hope you are in the best of health and faring well. I too was also born at the Corona Naval Hospital on December 10 , 1953. Like a salmon, it would be a great opportunity to know & go back to my birth place. My father was in the Navy and was stationed in Long Beach at the time and spent 32 years in the Navy prior to retirement. Born on Christmas is special and finding someone born 15 days later than me is spot on back in 1953. If by chance you can point me to References or any information about the hospital back in 1953 , it would be highly appreciated. Take care and hope to hear from you one way or another. John

  4. Julian Love

    I lived on base for 3 years from 1954-1956. Attended Corona Jr. High as there was only 1 grade school at the time in Norco. I was fortunate enough to be the oldest son of the C.O. pictured on page 71 of the book. Capt. Julian Love MC USMC. We had the run of the base, well within reason and explored every inch of the place while spending every day during the summer at the main pool. I remember seeing first run movies for 10 cents, back in the days when there were 1 or two cartoons, a short and then the main movie. The Navy Exchnage, the pool hall it was quite the place. throw in the lake, the row boats and fishing. I even swam out to the small island and explored that a number of times. Yes, we were Navy Brats of the first order. It was a great 3 years and a fun place to spend my early teen years.

  5. Lisa DeCicco

    Julian Love is the official that signed my birth certificate !!! I was born there at this hospital on September 12, 1954.

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