This Dock For Blimps Was One Of The West Side’s Tallest Structures Ever

The 13-story senior housing building going up on Wakea St. now dominates the Central Kapolei skyline. But in 1925, the U.S. Navy built another west side high-rise: A 100-foot-tall dock for blimps.

The ʻEwa Mooring Mast was among the few features of the west side skyline for its short life — though no blimp ever got within 2,500 miles of it.

The Navy Builds the ʻEwa Mooring Mast

The Navy built four airships in the 1920s and 30s. These were massive aircraft. At more than 600 feet long, they were three times longer than a present-day Boeing 787 jumbo jet.

The blimps were meant to be reconnaissance ships — the Germans had used their Zeppelins to spy during World War I.

Reconnaissance over the Pacific would be valuable too, so the Navy leased 150 acres of land from the Campbell Estate to build the ʻEwa Mooring Mast.

The 100-foot mast was completed in July 1925.

ʻEwa mooring mast

The ʻEwa mooring mast as seen from above (but not from a blimp).

Ginormous Military Blimps Turn Out To Be Not Such A Great Idea

Unfortunately, a few months after the ʻEwa Mooring Mast went up, the Navy blimp program suffered a huge setback. The Navy’s first airship, the USS Shenandoah, was flying between state fairs in the Midwest when it met a thunderstorm above Ohio. The storm tore the Shenandoah apart. Of the 43 crewmen, 29 survived the crash — but the ship’s commander and 13 crewmen died.

The only other Navy airship, the USS Los Angeles, had a few minor mishaps, but continued to fly.

Uss_los_angeles_airship_over_Manhattan

The 658-foot long USS Los Angeles floats over Manhattan in 1930.

The Navy built two more airships in the 1930s, but those crashed too, also because of storms — one into the Atlantic Ocean, off New Jersey, the other into the Pacific Ocean, off California.

With 3 out of 4 airships having crashed, the program did too. The USS Los Angeles, the only survivor, was disassembled in 1939.

The ʻEwa Mooring Mast never got a single customer.

From Unused Blimp Dock to Navigation Aid

Instead, the mast served as a default navigational landmark for Navy fliers flying from Pearl Harbor, and commercial flights from the mainland. Along with the smokestacks of the ʻEwa Plantation Company, the mast was one of the most prominent features on the west side.

ʻEwa mooring mast with ʻEwa Plantation in the background

The arrow points to the ʻEwa mooring mast — ʻEwa Plantation in the background.

The mast was pretty lonely. The only visitors were planes that would sometimes touch down on a small emergency landing strip that had been smoothed out nearby.

Then, in 1940, the Navy bought 3,500 acres surrounding the ʻEwa Mast. In February 1941, the newly-named Marine Corps Air Station at ʻEwa officially opened. The Navy thought the west side of Oʻahu would be a calm, peacetime base for training new pilots — half-a-world away from the conflict in Europe.

The mast, outfitted with a small crow’s nest, became the air control tower.

ewa mooring mast as control tower

The ʻEwa Mooring Mast, repurposed as a control tower.

The Navy was in such a hurry to start training pilots they forgot about where the pilots would sleep.

The ʻEwa Field barracks weren’t built when the base opened in Feb. 1941, so the Marines stayed in tents.

Officers didn’t move into their barracks until November 1941. They had no inkling of what the next month would bring.

Destroyed SB2U Vindicator aircraft at Ewa Field, Oahu, US Territory of Hawaii, Dec 1941 ww2dbase

Destroyed SB2U Vindicator aircraft at ʻEwa Field, Dec. 1941

With the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the airfield and adjacent Barbers’ Point Naval Air Station were rapidly expanded. The mast was dismantled in May of 1942 after a proper control tower was built. ʻEwa Field closed in 1952.

We don’t know exactly where the ʻEwa Mooring Mast was — recent archaeological investigations have failed to locate it. There’s a local movement to turn the area into a battlefield park, and if that happens, perhaps the weird history of the ʻEwa mast will be included.

All photos via World War II Database