The day the U.S. Navy invaded Algiers
Algiers’ relationship with the Navy began on Nov. 6, 1901, when the U.S. Naval Station was formally established with the arrival of Naval Dry Dock YFD-2. Coverage in the next day’s Daily Picayune was nothing short of rapturous, proclaiming that the dry dock was “not the consummation, but the consequential detail, of a grand scheme on the part of Congress to make New Orleans a great naval station and augment her glory as mistress of commerce.”
The installation, which became formally known as Naval Support Activity New Orleans, was active until September 2011, when it was shut down, six years after the Pentagon included it on a list of bases to be closed. Title was transferred in 2014 to the Algiers Development District, which announced a plan to convert it into a multipurpose center employing 10,000 people, but that hasn’t happened. In 2016, the district terminated its contract with Vista Louisiana, which it had hired to develop the site.
- The Algiers land is part of an immense tract that the Company of the Indies gave to Jean Baptist Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, New Orleans’ founder, in 1719, a year after he founded the city.
- After several changes of ownership, the federal government bought the land in February 1849 for a Navy yard, but nothing happened for more than a half-century. During that period, the tract was leased for farming.
- The facility grew to include land across the Mississippi River. The Navy’s East Bank operation was in Bywater, hard by the Industrial Canal at the foot of Poland Avenue. The military presence there started in World War I, when the Army built a quartermaster depot there. Known as the Port of Embarkation, it was acquired by the Navy in the 1960s to become part of the Naval Support Activity.
- The Bywater installation used to house the national headquarters for the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve.
- Navy Reserve headquarters has been moved to Norfolk, Va., and naval personnel and recruiting operations were moved to Millington, Tenn.
- Other units that had been on the Algiers campus were moved to the National Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse.
- The dry dock that was the first component of what would become the Naval Support Activity was eventually moved to Pearl Harbor. It was cradling the destroyer USS Shaw when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.
N.O. DNA: For more than a century, the Naval Support Activity played a substantial role in the local economy and in the country’s war effort. At its peak, it employed more than 4,000 people and had a $142 million annual payroll. During World War II, the Algiers base was a repair yard and a training spot for sailors who would be deployed aboard Merchant Marine vessels. Although the Naval Support Activity has been shut down and a developer to determine the site’s future hasn’t been signed yet, the tract is hardly idle. The Marine Force Reserves Headquarters is there, along with the 4th Marine Division, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing and the 4th Marine Logistics group. Also on the site are the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, a charter high school; the 4th District Headquarters of the New Orleans Police Department; fitness and child-care centers; a hotel; and housing.