Backwards Glance: How Benicia’s Army Arsenal Became A Thriving Business Park
Breaking Ground for the Benicia Industrial Park
Photo courtesy Benicia Historical Museum
In 1961, the U.S. Army notified the Benicia Arsenal that it was to be closed on March 30, 1964, as a result of a nation-wide military restructuring and modernization program. City officials petitioned to keep the base open even as equipment and personnel were being removed. When the property was transferred to the General Services Administration, city officials began to orchestrate the transition of the Arsenal into an industrial park (Benicia Industries).
The U.S. Government sold the city most of the Arsenal for $4.5 million. The sale required two acts of the California Legislature, the formation of the Surplus Property Agency, and the intervention of President Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Senator Claire Engle, Senator Luther Gibson and Governor Pat Brown. It also required the efforts of City Attorney John Bohn, Mayor James Lemos and City Council member Michael Fitzgerald, one lawsuit, and the scripting of a master lease with three subordinate subleases.
The army kept the military cemetery. Another parcel was later transferred to the State of California for use as an armory, now occupied by our local National Guard unit, the Benicia 749th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. The Arsenal’s arc of history begins with the sword and ends with a plowshare, so to speak. The Industrial Park now generates the largest portion of tax revenue in the City and is home to 300 businesses, artist studios, and the Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns, which is housed in the original 1850s military buildings where this remarkable story first began.