Patton’s Needles Cabin Used During 1942 Desert Warfare Training Spared

The Needles City Council this week temporarily suspended its solicitation of proposals to remove a salt cedar tree and demolish an adjacent structure on private land after it was learned the structure had historical significance.
The demolition of the cabin that had had been used by General George S. Patton during desert fighting training maneuvers in 1942 was incidental to the removal of the tree, which city official said was interfering with erection of a privacy chain link fence around the city yard.
The limbs from the salt cedar have damaged city equipment, city officials maintained, and the trees extensive root mass was problematic as well. The privacy fencing is intended to obscure the “eyesore” the city yard represents. And some considered the cabin a visual blemish upon the community visible to those entering the community from the east end. Others do not share this view, and some refer to it as “quaint.” Upon the discovery of its historical association, some members of the community have said they would like the cabin to be rehabilitated and used as a point of interest to attract tourism.
In 1942, while he was First Battalion Commander preparing troops in the California desert for the WWII, Patton took up quarters in Needles because he was obliged to oversee the influx of tanks and other military equipment at the Needles train depot. He chose Needles for that reason and because of the presence of the nearby Needles airstrip, which Patton is said to have been responsible for lengthening to handle the B-17 bomber he used to fly between landing fields in the maneuvering areas out in the East Mojave and from which he sometimes monitored the maneuvers.
Having honed the First Armored Corps into a mobile and well coordinated fighting machine through intensified training in the Mojave between April to August 1942, Patton then departed with his troops toward the various staging areas on the other side of the Atlantic before launching Operation Torch with the invasion of North Africa in November 1942.
Upon Patton’s success in Africa, the Army decided to continue to train troops and use Needles as a cantonment in conjunction with other facilities in the California Army Maneuvering Area, more widely known as the Desert Training Center, until 1944.
Last week, archeologist Ruth Musser-Lopez, authored an account of Patton’s five–month presence in Needles in the early stages of the Second World War. This week Musser delivered a ten-minute Powerpoint presentation to the city council detailing the various places, facilities, houses, buildings and other structures conscripted, including the Needles airport and the cabin. Councilwoman Louise Evans asked Musser-Lopez how the city should deal with the tree that is in the way of the fence. Musser-Lopez suggested that a professional tree trimming service be contracted instead of a demolition expert and that if the property owner did not have the money to pay for the service that the city negotiate with her to provide that the cost of trimming the tree go toward purchasing the cabin which the city could then use for future tourism and interpretive purposes. She said that the vacant lot could either be added to the city yard or used as public parking and that an important historic Route 66 sign, the lighting for which is not currently maintained, could be located in the same lot and become public domain through the purchase of the property. “It’s not right that the taxpayers are paying to cut down a tree on private property. Work out a deal with the property owner to use the costs born by the city against the price of the property,” Musser-Lopez said.
In a related matter that city manager Rick Daniels had placed on the agenda, the council was asked to approve payment in the amount of $54,910 to Rutt Fence company for the “Public Works Yard Fencing” and to issue a “notice of completion to send to San Beranrdino County for recording.” Daniels was questioned by the council as to how it had come to be determined that the fence was complete when he previously said the salt cedar tree and cabin were in the way. The prior week the council had been positioned to approve $19,500 for the tree removal and cabin demotion. Addressing the question, Daniels said the tree provided a barrier and visual obstruction in that particular location. He said he negotiated with Rutt to exchange the cost of labor that would have been expended to erect the fence in that particular location for a large gate and that the entire property is now enclosed. Also, the fencing that would have been used in the area of the tree was left with the city for use in other locations.
The cabin and the tree appear to have been saved by three elements, the first being a delay in awarding the tree removal and demotion contract because a local company, Philips Construction, which had made a $19,500 bid on the work, requested a do-over when an out-of town contractor bid $16,000 on the job. The delay while a second set of bids were solicited gave time for the newspaper column about Patton’s experience in Needles and his residency at the cabin to be disseminated. That was followed with correspondence Musser-Lopez sent to the State Historic Preservation Office requesting an inquiry into the matter of historic properties on private land including Patton’s cabin being demolished without an environmental review.

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