SMDC: History: Dependent housing area expands accompanied tours to Kwajalein

By Sharon Watkins Lang (SMDC/ARSTRAT Command Historian)August 3, 2018

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

During the construction phase for the Nike-Zeus program on the Kwajalein Atoll, the population had reached 3,000 on this 6 sq. mile island.

In conjunction with the Nike-Zeus launch cells and radar complexes, a primary interest was city planning -- housing. As the workforce at this time was largely unaccompanied temporary workers, on the island to support the construction program, the primary focus was upon bachelor quarters.

The existing Surf Bachelors Quarters and the Pacific Barracks were renovated while the Sands, Reef and Coral BQs were specially constructed for the new workforce.

In mid-1962, the Nike-Zeus test program was well underway with full-scale intercept tests conducted at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility - Kwajalein Missile Range. With this transition, the composition of the island residents changed from temporary personnel to long-term permanent employees stationed on the island to operate and maintain the system's radars, computer systems, and launch complexes and provide the infrastructure needed for this small community. With this change there was an increased interest in accompanied tours.

While few numbers are available, we do know that the Zeus contractor employees on Kwajalein grew from 100 personnel in 1960 to about 400 in 1961. By the end of February 1962, the population had grown again to 550 employees with an additional 650 dependents -- spouses and children. Not included in this number are the military personnel -- the Navy Sailors who operated the island and the range and the Army Soldiers assigned to the missile program -- nor the government civilians. It should also be noted that this timeline of course represents just the beginning of the Nike-Zeus test program on Kwajalein.

In 1962, to address the overcrowding issue, the Navy and its Army tenant, the Nike-Zeus Project Office, expanded the island by 19 acres. Using coral material dredged from the Kwajalein lagoon, they created a 19-acre stretch at the northwest end of the island which was identified for community housing.

As one source noted, "in a move to permit as many families as possible to accompany employees and military personnel assigned to Kwajalein, the Navy has ordered 257 mobile homes to double the present number of family quarters."

In a joint effort, the Navy and the Army purchased 257 specially constructed mobile homes from the Mobile Holdings Corporation of Cypress California, and the Mayflower Trailers Company, Torrance, California, for approximately $2.25 million. Popularly known as Silver City, the housing area was the first trailer park in the Pacific, according to the Kwajalein Field Station History.

On the outside, the three-bedroom, air-conditioned trailers were similar to other modern mobile homes. The trailers of Silver City, however, were specially constructed to withstand the high temperatures and humidity of island life.

The steel floors, for example, were painted with four layers of a special corrosion resistant pain developed by the Navy. The wood used to construct the side frames was also specially treated. In an effort to protect the wood from fungus and vermin, the wood was treated by a process in which salts were forced under pressure into the grain and well beneath the surface.

As one article noted "all the material that goes into the trailers must be selected with regard to the rigors and detrimental effects of the tropics -- special wiring, fungus-treated plywood inner walls, plaster and copper plumbing, pure aluminum coated alloy outer sheathing and treated flooring insulation. Even the staples and screws must meet special specifications and are usually bronze or aluminum."

Finally, "before the aluminum siding is put on, the entire trailer is encased in a cocoon of vinyl plastic," to create a vapor barrier against the humidity.

By August 1962, 32 units were already installed on Kwajalein. The remaining 225 were scheduled for completion by Sept. 1 with delivery by the Military Sea Transport Service.

Related Links:




Historical archives