And Now You Know: Navy Park is an overlooked historical neighborhood

Published 6:52 pm Saturday, May 5, 2018

By Mike Louviere

When World War II started in 1939, it was evident to most people who knew world politics at some point the United States would be drawn into the conflict. Congressman Martin Dies, who represented Orange went to work and obtained a contract for warships to be built in Orange. Weaver and Sons had been building ships for years and had done work building ships in World War I. Samuel Levingston had started a shipyard in 1933 and was poised to enter the shipbuilding effort to come. Consolidated Shipbuilding had bought the steel fabrication plant that was located on the river in Orange and was starting an expansion into a full fledged shipyard. Orange was getting ready, all they needed were contracts. Congressman Dies made that happen. He secured a contract for Consolidated to build 12 destroyers for the U.S. Navy. The work to be done would demand workers. Orange was short of housing.

The U.S. Navy would need civilian personnel as well as naval personnel in Orange for the coming war effort. The Navy bought 100 acres and awarded a contract to Brown-Lane and Central Contracting Company to build 254 housing units to provide housing for 500 families. Those persons eligible for housing in Navy Park would have to be regular Navy personnel or civilians occupied in occupations corresponding to Naval requirements.

The unique housing complex would consist of steel framed houses on concrete slabs. The interior joists, studs, and rafters would be steel rather than wood. The exterior would be covered with the concrete-like Cellotex material. The units would have uniform floor plans, one or two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and living area. There would be gas stoves for cooking, electric refrigerators, built in cabinets, and complete bathroom fixtures.

There would be single, duplex, and triplex units. Exteriors would be painted in pastel colors, white, pale blue, light gray, and pink.

Streets running east and west were named for naval figures. Morrel was named for Ben Morrel, the officer that founded the Seabees; Schley for Winfield Scott Schley, former Secretary of the Navy; Decatur named for Stephen Decatur, an early Navy hero; Dewey for Admiral George Dewey the hero of the Battle of Manila in the Spanish-American War; Farragut was named for David G. Farragut who won the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War.

The streets that ran north and south corresponded with existing streets in the City of Orange. They were First through Eighth Streets.

At the peak of construction there were 1200 men employed on the project. There were 15,000 yards of concrete, 500 tons of steel, and 50,000 yards of fill dirt used on the project.

Commander Mueller of the United States Naval Station, Corpus Christi, made an inspection on April 4, 1941. Muller made a glowing report and stated he was highly pleased with the method of construction, the quality of materials and construction, and especially pleased that the work   was progressing ahead of schedule.

Navy Park was opened for occupancy on May 23, 1941.

On December 22, 1999, Navy Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of 3,266 in Texas and one of seven in Orange County. There are several criteria for listing on the Register. Navy Park met two of the four major requirements; it had made a major contribution to the pattern of American History, and had distinctive architecture and construction. In addition, the area had to retain at least 80 percent of its original construction features. There is also a rule about the age of the recommended area, 50 years is the desired age, though it is not hard and fast.

Some of the housing units were moved away to make room for M.B. North High School. Several of those units can be found scattered around the north Orange area. There are original housing units still occupied in the original area. Many of the units were razed to make room for newer apartment type housing. Navy Park has had multiple owners since the Navy gave up ownership. With each change in ownership, the neighborhood has deteriorated; however, it is a testament to both the planning and quality of work to see that the remaining original units are still in service after 77 years.

“And now you know”