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Inside the Icon: Naval Medical Center

What began with a tent pitched in Balboa Park has evolved into a state-of-the-art facility whose history spans both World Wars


Photo by Austin Novy

See the Icon

34800 Bob Wilson Drive, Balboa Park

Tent City

The idea for a military hospital sprouted in 1914, when a tent dispensary was established in Balboa Park to support the 4th Marine Regiment. Three years later, the camp expanded with increased medical capabilities.


Doctor in the House

In August 1922, the Naval Hospital officially debuted at Balboa Park’s Inspiration Point with 204 beds in a building once used by the city’s Park and Recreation Department.


War Stories

More than 172,000 patients received treatment at the hospital during World War II. At the war’s peak, 5,000 patients were admitted each month.


Extreme Makeover

Thanks to lobbying by late Congressman Bob Wilson, the hospital debuted a $293 million expansion in 1988. The center is sometimes called Bob Wilson Naval Hospital, and the road leading up to it from Florida Drive has also been named after him.


By the Numbers

The multi-specialty center offers care for active duty service members, their families, and retirees, and is equipped with 272 beds, 11 community clinics, and a staff of more than 6,400 military and civilian professionals.


A Walk in the Park

“Our design criteria stemmed from the Navy’s strong desire for a non-institutional character and its sensitivity to the environmental setting of Balboa Park,” principal co-designer Louis Naidorf told the Los Angeles Times in 1988 about the center’s makeover. That meant low-rise buildings, courtyards, and landscaping that virtually hides the hospital from street view via foliage and trees.


Doctor's Orders

On a typical day, doctors deliver nine babies, dole out 625 immunizations, and fill 6,800 prescriptions.


CTs for Cetaceans

Outside of patient care hours, doctors routinely perform CT scans on dolphins, who are a part of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. The conservation-minded organization’s dolphins use sonar detection to locate sea mines for removal.


Supporting Our Troops

A $4.5-million rehabilitation and prosthetics center—called C5, the Comprehensive Combat and Complex Casualty Care facility—opened in 2007, serving injured troops. With the war now drawn down and wounded warriors population significantly lower, the center is adapting to include other complex-injury patients.

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