Since the day Fort Ord closed there’s been talk of opening a museum to commemorate the near 80 years it served as a training ground for Army soldiers. That effort has always had more enthusiasm than money and that’s still the case, but now the clock is ticking.
George (Cliff) Guinn is the latest to have an idea for a museum. He walks down a closed road next to dozens of former Army barracks buildings just off Highway 1 in Marina.
The yellow paint is peeling off the siding. All the windows are broken or boarded up. And vandals have clearly been making their mark since the Army base closed in 1994.
But Guinn remembers the barracks when they were full of life. He and his three brothers did basic training here. Then Guinn came back for several assignments before retiring from the Army.
“These buildings held approximately 85 men. How would you like to live with 85 people? There’s only four shower heads, four toilets, two urinals, and six sinks for 85 peoples and no partitions,” says Guinn.
He doesn’t just want to you to imagine it. He wants you to truly see it: a barracks building fully restored with those 85 beds and footlockers. Further down the road, he walks up to an old mess hall, which he’d like to see re-open as a museum restaurant.
“Not all the time, but they could say on this day, ‘Grampa you always talk about SOS, the food the served in the chow hall. Well let’s go out to Fort Ord and have a military meal’,” says Guinn.
Guinn is the founder of a recently formed non-profit called the Fort Ord Restoration Training Heritage Museum (FORTHM).
He stops in front of a row of six barracks the City of Marina said he could restore. They are on land near the intersection of 2nd Avenue and 8th Street. It’s walking distance from the new Gourley VA DOD Clinic.
The City plans to turn the land into a park. City Manager Layne Long says they will incorporate Guinn’s museum into the park’s design, but raising the money is up to Guinn.
“Just to get it off the ground, it’ll be half a million dollars. To complete the project, we’re looking at ten to fifteen million dollars,” says Guinn.
Raising those funds is the biggest hurdle, but Guinn believes there’s interest given all those who served on Fort Ord.
It was training ground for Army soldiers dating back to World War I and that continued through the draft years of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“If you were west of the Rocky Mountains, you were going to be drafted and you were going to be training her at Fort Ord,” says Stephen Payne, Command Historian at the Defense Language Institute.
Fort Ord was also home to the Bayonet Division, also known as the 7th Infantry.
“This became a site for the 7th Infantry to do training for their types of missions including creating the 7th Infantry Light. A light infantry division that could quickly deploy,” says Payne.
That history lingers today in the name Lightfighter Drive, an exit off of Highway 1 in Seaside. But small reminders of what Fort Ord was aren’t enough for community members who have long held out hopes for more.
Steve Levinson has spent about twenty years amassing an enormous collection of Fort Ord artifacts. He hopes one day to share it with a museum. For now, he’s settled on displaying his stuff in small batches in public libraries and city halls.
“Well I’m hoping that we develop enough of a public presence that people realize how important it is and somebody really steps up and starts the museum process,” says Levinson.
His home on the former Fort is packed. He has footlockers, a whole rack of uniforms and even personal correspondence between soldiers and their families. All of it is old and only getting older. Levinson has done what he can to protect it, like storing things in acid free boxes, but he’s concerned.
“I’m more than concerned. I’ve had a few real archivists come through here and they just leave crying,” he says.
He also can’t get his mind off of everything that’s disappearing as former Fort Ord soldiers pass away.
“If we don’t have a space soon that people realize is there that they can then bring their materials to, we’re just going to lose a lot of this history. I mean everyday, we’re losing history into garbage cans,” says Levinson.
George Guinn of the Fort Ord Restoration Training Heritage Museum shares those concerns.
“Once the last building is torn down, of these old wooden barracks, once its torn down, Fort Ord is nothing but a point in history. I’m trying to preserve that history, so it doesn’t become lost,” says Guinn.
There’s no date for when the barracks will be torn down, but development on the former Fort is picking up.
Donations to Guinn’s non-profit FORTHM can be mailed to: FORTHM, 3201 Susan Avenue, Marina, CA 93933.