Tag Archives: chollas heights naval radio transmitting facility

Bald eagle at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

My exciting Veterans Day historical find

Out & About

Halls of History

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Since today is Veterans Day, and my dad was a veteran of the United States Air Force in the Korean War, I decided to see if I could find a place or event that was connected to the military but to which I had never been before. I succeeded.

I thought I would find it downtown on the waterfront since the USS Midway is there, the 32nd Street Naval Base is there, the North Island Naval Base is across the bay, and so many Veterans Day events take place there.

Before heading downtown — and I never made it — I went to find Chollas Lake Park. I’ve searched for it many times and have never found it. The address is listed as 6350 College Grove Way but there is no such address. College Grove Way goes up to 6303 and that’s it. Since I was in the neighborhood, I just decided to to a little exploring.

Although I eventually found Chollas Lake Park — I’ll have a post on that sometime in the future — I found a large military housing complex. Within every block of homes were children’s playgrounds. Here’s the most interesting playground I found:

Chollas Heights playground

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

According to that placard at the bottom center, that orange structure originally was 600 feet high on the top of a radio transmitter tower, Tower 33. There were three of these towers, and suspended in the middle of them was a 200 kilowatt Poulsen-arc transmitter. Poulsen-arc transmitters could broadcast at specific frequencies, which improved the range and reliability of communications.

Known as the Chollas Heights Naval Radio Transmitting Facility, the transmitter was completed in 1917 and was the largest and most powerful transmitter in North America. It broadcast at 30.6 kilocycles and had an unprecedented range of 12,000 miles. That’s about half way around the Earth. The Chollas Heights facility played a vital role in communications during the latter half of World War I.

During World War II, the Chollas Heights facility provided the only direct and reliable communication between Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the Navy’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The radio link broadcast the first report of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941:

Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor. This is not, repeat not, a drill.

The three towers were visible for 50 miles on a clear day, and the transmitter was in service until it was decommissioned in 1991. The transmitter and towers were dismantled in 1995 but the three concrete bases still remain in a fenced nature preserve. Here is one of the tower bases, taken outside the fence with a 300mm lens:

Base of radio tower at Chollas Heights, San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Of course, I had to dig around to see if I could find some historic pictures of the towers, and I did. The first picture shows the beginning of construction in 1915, and the second picture was taken in 1917 after construction was complete.

Construction of the Chollas Heights radio transmission towers, San Diego, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Chollas Heights radio transmission towers in San Diego, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I could find no mention of these towers and this facility in any of my San Diego books. Puzzling…. and making this one of my most exciting finds in my 18½ years in San Diego.


Chollas Heights, San Diego, California

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Bald eagle at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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