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July 24, 2021

Late-night​ blaze razes World War II-era building near Watsonville

LA SELVA BEACH—Fire ripped through an historic building on the Monterey Bay Academy campus Saturday night.

By Sunday morning all that remained of the former auditorium on the coastal outskirts of Watsonville were a few remnants of framework that protruded through a bed of ash.

Firefighters responded to a report of the blaze at 10:52pm, Capt. Steve Wilburn said. It was confined to an old movie theater on the private school’s campus on the 700 block of San Andreas Road.

Wilburn said that when firefighters arrived the building was fully engulfed. Firefighters went into a defensive mode, concentrating their efforts on protecting surrounding buildings and the environment. 

No injuries were reported.

Wilburn said the fire is still under investigation.

Watsonville Fire, Aptos/La Selva Fire and Central Fire joined Cal Fire in combating the flames.

The campus was formerly called Camp McQuaide, a 664-acre facility that was created in 1941 and featured a 100-bed hospital, and a prison that held nearly 2,000 military prisoners during World War II. It also served as a training camp for the 250th Coast Artillery, 64th Signal Corps, 76th Cavalry, 154th Medics and the U.S. Naval Radar Unit, according to “Watsonville; Memories That Linger, Vol. 2,” a book by Watsonville historian Betty Lewis.

The prisoners were eventually transferred out of the camp in 1947 and shortly after Camp McQuaide as a military base was terminated.

The Pajaronian, in 1948, wrote: “Camp McQuade probably will become a school under the auspices of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The government will make a virtual gift of the camp site to the Central California Conference of the Seventh Day Adventists,” which became Monterey Bay Academy.

Saturday’s fire is not the first such major blaze to sweep through the campus. In 2000 a massive fire tore through what was once a gymnasium built in the early 1970s.

The campus still houses the remnants of an airtsrip, with a windsock standing at its edge. 

It was completed in 1968 and was equipped with lights by 1969.


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