World War II Era Quonset Buildings in Micronesia

They were once a common sight on many of the islands of Micronesia.  U.S. forces built thousands of them for military use during WWII.  In the immediate postwar era, more were constructed to replace destroyed buildings and provide new facilities.  The Quonset building became a symbol of the changes in post-war life on many islands in Micronesia.  Although originally designed to serve as temporary structures, they were widely used for many years.  They began to disappear as many were destroyed by typhoons or demolished for other development.  The tropical climate and neglect took their toll on those that remained.   On a trip to visit several islands in Micronesia in the summer of 2005, I wanted to see what was left. 


The information I had before this trip:

 Saipan had a large number of these buildings during the war and for many years after.  All the WWII Quonsets are gone, many destroyed by Typhoon Jean in 1968.

Chuuk: This island had perhaps a few dozen Quonsets, built during the postwar era.  These were being replaced by newer structures beginning many years ago.  I was not aware if any still existed there.

Tinian: There are no remaining Quonsets of the many built during the war, just scattered remnants. 

Guam also had large numbers of these structures.  There are two WWII era Quonsets left on Naval Base Guam, however both are scheduled for demolition.  One remains on the old COMNAVMAR area on Nimitz Hill, but it has been severely damaged by typhoons. 


Background

WWII   Examples of these buildings in their original use by the U.S. military in the Pacific. 

Post War, 1950s and 1960s   The Quonset remained a common sight in the postwar years in Micronesia. 

Typhoon Jean  The end of the Quonset era on Saipan


What's Left (or recently lost)

Chuuk

 

 Jul 2005.  There are several of these large Quonsets remaining on the grounds of the Truk Trading Company.   

 

 

Guam

Naval Base Guam

Bldg. 151. Shown here while still in use in June 2004.  Now demolished.

More Photos

Naval Base Guam

Bldg. 1686. Pictured in Jul 2005. Now demolished. 

More Photos

Nimitz Hill

Bldg. 191.  Jul 2005  Pretty well demolished already.

More Photos

 

Saipan

Jul 2005.  This Quonset is not a WWII-era structure, but was built in the same style with an interior frame and the familiar corrugated metal. It serves as a reminder of the numerous Quonsets once found here.

 

Tinian

Tinian

Army Hospital.  The rusting frame of a Quonset building is barely noticeable on this normally overgrown site.  The site was cleared for the 2005 commemoration of the end of WWII.


Some corrugated steel sheets and a few concrete pads are about the only visible remains of the buildings of what was once the busiest air base in the world.

509th Composite Group Area

504th Bomb Group Area

  

West Field Service Area


Miscellaneous

Pearl Harbor

Quonsets on Ford Island photographed from the deck of the USS Missouri.  I have heard that Hawaii still has WWII-era Quonsets, but, from a distance, these do not appear to be from that time.  Still there as of Mar 2008.  (Not Micronesia, but included as a point of interest.)


For historic information and photos, see the book Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age and the companion website http://www.quonsethuts.org/index.htm

A brief online history of the Quonset hut can be found  here

The Naval Historical Center has specifications here


Preservation

Many people may not find Quonset buildings aesthetically pleasing or think there is any good reason for preserving them.  These are simple, utilitarian structures and not designed for looks.  However, they were vital to the U.S. war effort and continued to play an important role many years after the war.  It is appropriate to save a little bit of that history for future generations.  Reading a book or looking at a picture can not take the place of seeing the real thing.  The two remaining Quonset buildings on Naval Base Guam are good candidates for preservation.  However budgets always seem to be tight and historic preservation often seems to be a low priority.  One possibility might be to establish a volunteer/donation program to help in a preservation effort.   If you share a belief that these historic buildings should be preserved, you can write a letter to the Commander, Naval Forces Marianas, at this address:

Commander,
U.S. Naval Forces Marianas
PSC 455 Box 152
FPO AP 96540-1000

Update:  Oct 24, 2005,  I received a reply to a letter to the new Commander, Admiral Leidig, about the Quonsets on Naval Base Guam.  He agrees with the former commander and states that the two structures are hazardous and demolition will free up valuable real estate for future growth.

Update:  May 9, 2006:  The demolition of the Quonsets on Naval Base Guam has not happened yet.  It seems they cannot be torn down without the approval of the Guam Historic Preservation Office.  The HPO is not satisfied with the assessment of the structures and is awaiting further documentation from the Navy.  This doesn't mean they will be saved, but it does give them at least a temporary reprieve.

Update: Aug 20, 2011:  The Quonsets on Naval Base Guam have been demolished.  Since the last update, I had contacted Guam HPO a couple of times to find out the status of these structures.  They said they would look into it and get back to me, but they didn't follow up.  After not checking the area on Google Earth for some time, I just discovered that both buildings are gone.  The severely damaged Quonset on Nimitz Hill is apparently still there, but probably deteriorating quickly.  I expect it will be demolished eventually for safety reasons.  As far as I can determine, it is the very last of the WWII era Quonsets on Guam. 


 Acknowledgement
World War II Remnants: Guam, Northern Mariana Islands : A Guide and History by Dave Lotz.  This is a valuable resource for information on WWII remains in the Marianas and how to find them.  It is out of print, and Mr. Lotz has indicated that there are no plans for a reprint.

Links

 

Visiting Micronesia 2005

Quonset: Metal Living for a Modern Age

Micronesian Seminar

B-29 Superfortress -Then and Now

Saipan Pages-Mike Newman

Pacific Historic Parks

Trust Territory Archives

American Memorial Park Saipan


Comments, corrections, or further information welcome.

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