Air Force Bases

Nike Missile Site LA-04 Mt Gleason CA

The Mt. Gleason facility is significant for several reasons. It was the first Nike unit planned and constructed in the Angeles National Forest, and it operated for the longest period of time amongst the Angeles National Forest System (1955 to 1974). As the first unit under Nike construction, it set the precedent for future Forest Service action involving all Nike units. The barracks, administrative area, and underground storage units are all in excellent condition. Mt. Gleason is the highest Nike installation in the United States.

From 1955 to 1956, Mt. Gleason was manned by Battery B of the 551st AAA Missile Battalion. In 1957, control of the site was transferred to Battery C of the 933rd Missile Battalion and in 1958 the site was operated by Battery D. On 20 January 1959, the battalion was reorganized as the 1st Missile Battalion, 56th Artillery. Battery D, 1st Missile Battalion, 56th Artillery, served at the site from 1958 to 1969. In 1970, the Mt. Gleason facility was transferred to Battery A of the 4th Missile Battalion, 65th Artillery. In 1972, the site was manned by Battery A of the 2nd Missile Battalion, 65th Artillery, which served at the site until its closure in 1974.

Mt. Gleason was the first NIKE site built in the Angeles National Forest; as such, it set a precedent for subsequent NIKE site building programs. The base was active throughout most of the NIKE period, 1955-1974. It experienced the full range of NIKE development including conversion from the Ajax to the nuclear-capable Hercules missile. The site retains an excellent degree of integrity.

This site, and all other Angeles Forest sites, was selected largely because the Army had determined it would be necessary to relocate several previously selected installations slated for NIKE battery and launch control construction in more populated areas such as Palos Verdes Hills and Playa del Rey.

Examined documents do not directiy address the delay in construction at Mt. Gleason. It may be assumed that the Forest Service was becoming increasingly aware of the magnitude ot the Nike building program. By this time, the Forest Service had received and approved applications for sites located at Barley Flats/Mt. Disappointment, Los Pinetos, and Magic Mountain/Lang. It is likely, therefore, that the Forest Service planned to apply restrictions on all new permit applications. A review of access road permits related to each of the Angeles Forest sites substantiates this observation.


The Los Angeles County Fire Department has maintained a set of as-built construction plans detailing various modifications to the Mt. Gleason NIKE site. An examination of these plans along with station lists, permits, and the excess property report provides excellent evidence of the construction and occupation history at Mt. Gleason, Construction proceeded rapidly at the site. Some work must have taken place prior to the signing of the original permit, for station lists show that the site was occupied by the Army in June 1955. At this time, construction at the site clearly was not completed. Final installation of sewer lines and water lines had not taken place, and conditions at the base must have, at best, been rather primitive. It is probable that during this early period, water was provided by the private lease of the Last Chance and Eagle mining claims. All construction necessary to open and operate the base was completed prior to the granting of the special use permit (1956) for water and sewer lines. Permits for final completion of access roads were not issued until February 1957. Construction plans were drawn up for the paving of roads in September 1957.

Several major points regarding the early construction history of Mt. Gleason should be emphasized. First, the Army placed a high priority on opening and manning the base as soon as possible once clearance was obtained from the Forest Service. The base itself was operational prior to the construction of several important amenities. Second, these actions illustrate the construction problems associated with the development of a remote installation. Finally, these policies and procedures indicate the increasing resolve of the Forest Service to carefully guard the resources of the Angeles National Forest.

Following completion of the access roads in 1957, no new major construction took place at Mt Gleason until the site was converted from an AJAX to a HERCULES installation. Construction plans indicate that this conversion began late in 1959 and continued throughout 1960, placing Mt. Gleason among the first NIKE sites converted to nuclear capability. Installation of the HERCULES missile required tighter security measures. As a result, sentry dogs were generally assigned to HERCULES sites.

This involved both the construction of kennels and additional security fencing. The first trained dogs arrived in Los Angeles in the winter of 1958 and were subsequently assigned to each HERCULES site. Additional support facilities, including radar and maintenance buildings were also added at this time,

The Department of the Army deactivated Mt. Gleason in 1974. The site went unused until 1981 when the California Department of Corrections (CDC) and the Los Angeles County Fire Department leased the land from the U.S. Forest Service. Since 1981, the site has been used as a correctional facility and houses approximately 105 men. CDC and the Mt. Gleason Fire Station occupy the old NIKE administrative headquarters, the bachelor officers' and enlisted men s barracks, the dining hall, and various maintenance and storage sheds. Much of the usable material from the vacant NIKE facility, particularly from the launch area, has been stripped and sold including copper components and steel fencing.

Site Description

Mt. Gleason is one of five NIKE installations located within the boundaries of the Angeles National Forest. The other sites are Barley Flats (LA-09), Los Pinetos (LA-94), Magic Mountain (LA-98-C), and Lang (98-L) (see Figure 7), These sites were built in a variety of configurations, designed in differing utilitarian architectural styles, and vary widely in condition and integrity. The sites overall were constructed during the period extending from 1954-1957, Deactivation of the sites began in 1961 and continued through 1974.

The typical NIKE missile battery site was divided into two major areas: battery control and launching facilities. These were most often located on two separate parcels of land. A third parcel, providing housing, was generally found only at remote area NIKE sites. The battery control area contained the fire control platoon equipment including the central radar and communications facility. The launching area contained all launching platoon equipment and a missile assembly and service area. These facilities tested, fueled, and stored the missiles.

Mt. Gleason was the first NIKE site planned, built, and put into operation in the Angeles National Forest. It was built in a very short period of time, due to its priority status. The site was in operation as a NIKE base before the installation of water and sewer lines. For these reasons, Mt. Gleason strongly reflects the broader needs and goals of the American military establishment in relation to air defense during the mid-1950s. The rushed construction of Mt. Gleason symbolizes the nationwide American effort to counteract the potential "Red Scare" of enemy intervention.

Mt. Gleason is located approximately 18 miles from Palmdale, California. Access to the Mt. Gleason facility is gained along a narrow two-lane road 6 miles from the Angeles Forest Highway summit. The site itself is composed of three primary areas: the radar (control) site, the launch site, and the administrative and living quarters. Like all Nike installations, the radar control facility was located in an area removed from the launch area. At Mt. Gleason, the radar site is approximately 1.5 miles west of the launch site. In addition, because of its remote location in the Angeles National Forest, administrative facilities, living quarters, and various other support structures were constructed at uie Mt. Gleason site.


Mt. Gleason was the last site to be activated within the Angeles Forest. Deactivation of the Mt. Gleason site by the Army was completed on 1 July 1974. At this time the Forest Service was granted an immediate right-of-entry to protect the property from vandalism until the special use permits were terminated by mutual agreement. The site's closure was the subject of extensive negotiation between the Forest Service and the Los Angeles District Corps of Engineers following the public announcement of the closure in February 1974. John Houston, Chief Real Estate Division, Los Angeles District, summarized the threefold problem:

Regional Forest Service officials (Angeles National Forest) initially demanded completed site restoration as provided for in the permits. The Forest Supervisor claimed this posture was dictated by the costly experience gained over several years in restoring forest lands relinquished at the time LADA NIKE sites 09, 94, and 98 were closed.

Responsibility for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 has been accepted by the District Ranger and no statement has been prepared by this District to assess environmental impacts attributable to our proposed disposal plan. However, it is to be noted that potential beneficial impacts that may accrue to the said disposal plan will include enhanced aesthetics over the present conditions, the ability of the area to provide more recreational facilities, and the ever present factors of health and safety for the very young people who may make use of these resources. Commitment of the Firing Control land area to any use other than that of the existing Forest Service development plan will require commitment of the resources which may exist within that land to possible detrimental uses. If properly mitigated, the adverse effects will be reduced, if not eliminated; and to some extent the contextual relationships of the Firing Control Area to the Administrative- Launcher Areas would be greatly enhanced.

The cited permits provide that the Army shall remove the improvements from the forest lands, provided that funds for such purpose are available. Preliminary estimates and our past experience indicate that removal costs shall be in excess of $150,000 over the salvage values (COE: Houston, August 16,1974).

The Forest Service believed that their experience with the closure of Barley Flats/Mt. Disappointment, Magic Mountain, and Los Pinetos had been a financial burden to them. Moreover, the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act seriously complicated the closure of the site from the Army's standpoint as it gave the Forest Service considerable legal leverage. Also, the Army and the Army Corps were in the position of not having adequate funds for the removal of all improvements; negotiations proceeded slowly. Six months later, a 7 February 1975 letter to the Forest Service by W.E. Franklin, Acting Chief, Real Estate Division of the Los Angeles District redefined the Army Corps' position:

Pursuant to authorities contained in the Federal Property and Administrarive Service Act of 1949, 63 Slat. 377. as amended, specifically paragraph (c) of Section 203, the delegarion of authority to the Secretary of Defense from the Administrator of General Services, 41 SFR-101-47.601, and the redelegation of such authority from the Secretary of Defense to the Military Departments, the improvements, but not necessarily limited to only those improvements as shown on the attached "Exhibit A," Transfer and Acceptance of Military Real Property. DD Form 1354, are hereby transferred to the Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, without reimbursement, effective as of 8 August 1974.

The land lease cited in paragraph d. above, as listed on "Exhibit A," is included in the properties being transferred. The Forest Service assumes responsibility for all obligations and commitments accruing to the Government by reason of that said land lease.

It is requested that the transfer be acknowledged on three copies of this letter of transfer and on three copies of "Exhibit A," and that all these copies be returned to the District Engineer for our continuance of action. The original and one copy may be retained for your record purposes.

It is expressly agreed that the Forest Service waives all demands for the removal of the improvements and restoration of the said permitted lands to a condition as good as that which existed at the time the Army took possession.

The Army took the position that it would replicate the same procedures undertaken at the closure of the other Angeles National Forest Nike installations. In a March 1975 response. Acting Forest Supervisor J.D. MacWilliams disagreed with several points raised by W.E. Franklin.

Ultimately, the Army complied with the majority of the Forest Service's requests. Contractors were hired to complete restoration work. On 29 June 1976, Forest Supervisor William T. Dresser notified the Army Corps that it would terminate the permits following completion of satisfactory work. The special use permits were subsequently terminated on 31 August 1976.

Photos - Overall Viewt
Photos - Launch Area
Photos - Administrative Area
Photos - Missile Assembly Area
Photos - Silos Alpha and Bravo
Photos - Silo Catfish Exterior
Photos - Silo Catfish Interior
Photos - Radar Area
Photos - Site Plans
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