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Hueneme', (pronounced "Y NEE MEE"), is derived from a Chumash Indian
word (Wynema) meaning "half-way" or "resting place." It
is believed that central California's original inhabitants the Canalinos Indians,
(part of the Chumash nation), used this coastal point of land (approximately
half way between today's Point Mugu and the mouth of the Santa Clara River)
as a resting place as well as from which they departed on fishing expeditions.
The point at Hueneme is the closest spot (11 miles) from which to cross the
Santa Barbara channel between the mainland and Anacapa Island a prime Chumash
The Oxnard plain where the port is located is home to some of the most fruitful
agricultural land anywhere, growing at one time or another, lima beans, sugar
beets, lemons, oranges, walnuts, and a peculiarly stubborn brand of California
farmer. The farmers never liked the truck and rail rates they had to pay to
get their produce to water. As they watched the loaded trucks and trains go
by, bound for Los Angeles, they asked, "Why should we send our stuff down
there when we've got the ocean at our front door? All we've got to do is build
The idea for building a Port at point Hueneme was the direct result of a coastal
exploration by Thomas Bard in 1867. Bard had learned of a freak submarine
valley (Hueneme Canyon over 1000 feet deep that came within 300 feet of the
proposed channel and how an underground river would keep the channel free of
silt. Growing frustrations experienced by Ventura County's early agricultural
industry in getting its expanding grain surpluses to broader markets only tended
to confirm Bard's vision of a port to serve as an entrepot for the area's vast
agricultural potential. Taking advantage of Hueneme Canyon, a 1500-foot
(Bard's) wharf was constructed in 1872 to lighter goods between the coast and
ships off shore.
the early 1920s, agriculture in Ventura County began evolving, becoming more
diversified. Lemons appearing on the rich Oxnard plain were destined to outstrip
both the lima bean and the sugar beet as the County's principal crop. The impact
of citrus would be immediate and long lasting with the construction in 1922
of two giant Sunkist lemon-packing plants. In an instant Sunkist became one
of the port village's largest employers. Within ten years, the once mighty sugar
beet declined to such an extent that the Ventura
County Railway removed much of its trackage linking the local ranches.
Agriculture's continued growth however, coupled with the decline in railway
service challenged local farmers to create a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Leading the way was one of Ventura County's most influential citizens, Richard
Bard, son of Thomas who in his later years served in the U.S. Senate. Senator
Thomas Bard though instrumental in the earlier construction of Bard's Wharf
had never given up the idea of a truly modern transportation alternative in
the form of a deep-sea commercial port.
By the early 1930s it became clear that the elder Bard's vision of a commercial
port was not an illusive dream. Continuing his father's efforts, Richard would
influence events and shepherd the area into the modern age and he, more than
anyone else would bring the vision of a seaport to Hueneme. Bard and the
area's farmers applied for a PWA loan of $1,600,000 to build Port Hueneme. They
did their best to prove the project sound --- both to government engineers and
government economists. To the engineers they cited the presence of the Channel
Islands, eighteen miles west of the mud flats where the harbor was to be located.
The islands, they said, formed a natural breakwater. They explained how Hueneme
Canyon (which alone would save $1,500,000 in dredging costs) came within 300
feet of the proposed channel and how an underground river would keep the channel
free of silt. To the economists they cited figures: within trucking distance
of Hueneme were 25% of California's sugar beets, half of its walnuts and almonds,
60 percent of its cotton, practically all its borax and potash. The Ventura
oil fields were only twelve miles away. The promoters ran a truck from Castaic
junction, dividing point for southern San Joaquin Valley traffic, first to the
Port of Los Angeles, then to Hueneme. The route to Hueneme was twenty-eight
miles shorter, had 432 fewer street crossings, and no electric railroad crossings.
But Harold Ickes, PWA head, ruled that the project did not make sense. As the
farmers' stubbornness grew, they decided to build the harbor themselves ---
On Election Day, April 29, 1937 led by Richard Bard, the tenacity of the citizens
of Oxnard, Hueneme and Ventura County was rewarded with the creation of the
Oxnard Harbor District.
The District's first three Commissioners were Eugene H. Agee, an Oxnard businessman,
Elmer O. Green a Hueneme Banker and Fred M. Aggen, a Somis rancher. Frustrated
by Washington D.C.'s inability or unwillingness to fund the port's construction
these men proposed a bond issue in the amount of $1,750,000 to fund the project.
On May 5th 1938 in less than fifteen minutes after the sale opened, the entire
bond issue was fully subscribed. For perhaps the first time in American history
a port would be constructed without a cent of federal government money. At that
time it was proposed and accepted by the City of Oxnard that the harbor property
it had previously annexed be released to the Harbor District and that it should
never be a part of any incorporated city.
On January 24, 1939 the Standard Dredging Company began operations in the channel,
although the official groundbreaking ceremonies weren't held until February
4th, with Oxnard attorney Mark Durley serving as master of ceremonies. Appropriately
enough, Richard Bard who was destined to be known as the 'Father of Port Hueneme,"
was asked to turn the first shovel. The harbor was officially completed
by July 4, 1940. The two-day dedication was held over the weekend of July 6th
& 7th 1940.
The harbor opened and was closed almost immediately by a labor dispute. The
new harbor commissioners, unfamiliar with the ways of the waterfront, had signed
a contract with A.F. of L. longshoremen. The C.I.O. led by Harry Bridges affiliated
International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) promptly closed the young
port. After this error was rectified and a C.I.O. contract was signed, the port
made some progress but not much. Through the rest of the first year and the
whole of the next it considered itself lucky to attract a fish cannery and a
kelp-processing plant and to see its new pier and wharf used by lumber steamers,
Hueneme, the farmers felt, still had its future before it.
They were right, although very different from what they had intended. With
the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, the government now eyed Hueneme and
on March 5, 1942, confiscated the port and made it a naval base. In the harbor
to which it had refused a $1,600,000 loan as not making sense five years earlier
now built six docks with a capacity for nine ships. It spent more than $6 million
on 5,205 lineal feet of wharfage, 550,000 yards of dredging, 1,200,000 square
feet of building, and thirty-six miles of railroad. Nearby it built an advance-base
depot, a Seabee advance base, and an amphibious-landing training school. For
its money the government got what is probably the most efficient harbor in the
world. By the end of the Pacific war Hueneme's wharves were handling 150,000
tons of cargo a month and it appeared the Navy has taken Port Hueneme for keeps.
The farmers got $2 million for their port, enough to let them meet bonds and
interest plus the satisfaction of having contributed importantly to the Pacific
war. But they were back to trucking their crops to Los Angeles.
the end of the Pacific war and the hectic demobilization that followed negotiations
began for the return to commercial operations of the Port the Farmers
Built.' After a series of fitful starts the Navy in 1947 finalized a lease agreement
with the Oxnard Harbor District for the District's original Dock #1 consisting
of sixteen acres of the original 322 acres it had been forced to give up five
years earlier. By 1960 the Oxnard Harbor District completed a feasibility study
by which the District would purchase Dock # 1 outright along with 6 additional
acres for a total of 22 acres, along with the addition of 35 acres from the
city of Port Hueneme. The newly reconstructed Wharf 1 was now 1,800 feet long
and able to accommodate up to three ships. The 1960's saw a new and significant
phase in the Port's development with the exploitation of oil deposits in the
Santa Barbara Channel. The port of Hueneme remains to this day an important
base for the off shore oil industry.
The decade of the 70's introduced what was to become the Port's unique cargo
niche. As ports across America turned their focus to containerization an opportunity
was created in the breakbulk and Ro/Ro specialties.
1977 saw the arrival of Mazda Motors of North America and the port quickly
adapted to this new niche. In fiscal year 1977/1978 a total of 17,300 autos
were handled at the port. As more auto manufacturers and Ro/Ro carriers such
as Wallenius Lines, (today Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics) recognized the ideal
conditions and location of the port more would join the port community including
BMW, Mini Cooper, Roll Royce, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo,
Saab and the Port's newest customers Hyundai and Kia. From the inauspicious
beginning with Mazda, it would take 13 years before the port would handle its
one millionth automobile during FY 1990/1991. That same year with more companies
coming aboard, the port handled 100,000 automobiles or more for the first time.
The port has established its presence as an important auto port along the West
Coast of the United States. Eight years later in FY 1999/2000 the port not only
recorded its first 200,000-auto year but simultaneously celebrated its second
Four years later in FY 2004/2005 the port handled its three millionth automobile,
as it approached the 300,000 auto mark.
The 17,300 autos handled in FY 1977/78 would be a poor performing month today.
Searching for a new home, Del Monte Fresh produce in 1979 chose the Port of
Hueneme as their west coast distribution hub and the port seized another niche
cargo opportunity. To reinforce its fresh produce niche the port built a 140,000
square-foot refrigerated facility in 1994 for Cool Carriers (later to become
NYKCool) and Sunkist Growers and in 1995 a 30,000 square foot facility for Del
Monte (which has since been expanded to 86,000 Sq. Ft.). With the arrival of
Pacific Fruit and Chiquita Fresh produce the port now records in excess of 600,000
metric tons of bananas making the Port of Hueneme one of the busiest banana
gateways in the country. In addition to bananas from Ecuador, Costa Rica and
Guatemala port customers also import pineapple, mangos, melons, cantaloupe,
avocados and even fresh-cut flowers.
Fortunately, Port expansion continued to keep pace allowing the accommodation
of new customers as well as the Ports existing customer's growth. In 1985,
the harbor district purchased 22 acres of land from the Navy to expand Wharf
# 2. The extension and reinforcement of Wharf 2 was completed by 1988 creating
a 1,450 linear-foot concrete piling wharf specially designed to support the
Port's growing auto terminal operations as well as high and heavy cargos. In
1992 the port received a long sought port-of-entry designation joining 11 other
California ports and kicking off a decade of unprecedented growth. By the 1997/98
fiscal year, the port exceeded the million ton mark in general cargo tonnage
for the first time, a mark which has steadily increased ever since.