The lost bunker of Crystal Cove

(Brendan Montes/Orange Appeal)

Hidden deep inside the trails of the Crystal Cove State Park lies a piece of history that is so out of sight, that thousands hike past it on a monthly basis. The history that sits inside the hills of Crystal Cove State Park holds the answer to the protection of the Orange County coastline during the Second World War.

Crystal Cove, located between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, is a state-protected park with over 2,400 acres that consists of beaches, hiking trails, and even an extensive offshore underwater park to go exploring in. 

The park was originally a section of The Irvine Company, of which a large portion was leased to the local Japanese farming community, when the United States entered the war in 1941. But, due to the high threat of the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Military felt it was crucial to protect the California coastline from the possibility of another attack. The U.S. Military requisitioned 4,000 acres from the Irvine ranch to ensure that a coastal defense system was built. 

Along with the land of the Irvine Ranch, the military also took 770 acres of land in Bolsa Chica located in Huntington Beach. Here they built an artillery installment, where they were planning on installing two rotational gun emplacements. In the plans were also two batteries to fire rockets. But, due to a lack of materials in such a short amount of time, only one was built.

With the artillery being built at such a fast rate, the military needed to build a fire station to direct and ensure the munitions would not miss their target.

Crystal Cove was the perfect spot not only because they were already using the land for training purposes, but because it had a view that stretched from Dana Point all the way to Long Beach.

The military began to build the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery Fire Control Station in the hills of Crystal Cove. The fire control center was built into a bunker to ensure that no airplanes or submarines would be able to spot the station from a distance. 

According to military documents, the fire station as well as the Bolsa Chica artillery was only used for practice and was decommissioned at the end of the war.

Since 1945, the fire control bunker has been sitting in the State Park, untouched in the exact same state it was in at the end of the war. “This area is not on the trail nor accessible to the public,” stated park historian Winter Bonnin. “Although we do have hopes, one day, to create an interpretive experience for people to peer into the underground bunker, we don’t have anything planned for the near future.”

Plans are in the making to preserve and restore the fire control station to its original state. When asked about the restoration process and when it is hoped to be completed, Winter Bonnin stated, “It’s a complex process involving multiple agencies and we aren’t certain when or if this restoration will happen.”