Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor
The US Navy dredged the first deep-draft channel into its coaling station at Pearl Harbor in 1903, and suddenly the US had a strategically important naval station in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. To guard it, the Navy, as usual, called in the US Marines. The fifty-man contingent was given an acre on the naval station’s southern edge, along with a floorless coal shed, circa 1842, that would serve as headquarters and barracks. Thus did the Marines spend their first years in paradise bivouacked in a coal shed.
A century later the “Marine Barracks” at Pearl Harbor Naval Station is a 5-acre campus built around a parade ground and shaded by mature monkeypod, banyan and coconut trees … with no Marines in sight. USMC-Hawai‘i headquarters moved to Camp Smith in 1956, and the last guard company left the barracks in the 1990s. But it’s still there and protected by law.
The first permanent buildings were completed in 1914: a row of four three-storey masonry officers’ quarters, painted a crisp white, which look like modernist Italian villas peeking out from behind towering hedges of mock orange, panax and hibiscus. Across the parade ground stands Puller Hall, a dignified three-storey concrete barracks converted to administrative uses and now slated for renovation. Both were designed by Washington, D.C., architect Jules Henri de Sibour, who did many large houses, hotels and embassies in the capital.
Just prior to World War II, the perimeter of the parade ground was filled in by quick construction of simple wooden barracks, mess and galley buildings and warehouses. Today this relatively intact complex is considered an important example of WWII-era military design and construction, and several of the buildings have been restored—at considerable cost—to their original condition. Except for the sylvan effects of the landscaping, the Marine Barracks campus remains
almost completely unchanged since WWII, a fact that guaranteed its inclusion in the Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark district, designated in 1964.
One more thing: As any Marine will guess, Puller Hall’s namesake was Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated US Marine in history. Known for his heroics at Guadalcanal in 1942 and during the Korean War, Puller served twice as commander of the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor and lived in one of the villas. His terse report from a battlefield in Korea: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” For that battle, he was awarded his fifth Navy Cross.