Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Streets of Naval Station Norfolk: Admiral Taussig Boulevard

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Many people, both Sailor and civilian, drive on Admiral Taussig Boulevard every day as the road forms the main route onto Naval Station Norfolk. It runs several miles from Little Creek Road at Wards Corner and ends several miles later on the naval base, terminating between piers 5 & 6. But like many street names, it is doubtful that more than a handful know about the man whose name is honored by the road.

Vice Admiral Joseph K. Taussig was born into a Navy family in 1877, the son of Rear Admiral Edward D. Taussig.  He attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis and in 1898, while a midshipman aboard USS New York, he participated in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba.  In 1900, Taussig also was part of one of the relief expeditions during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Most famously, as a commander in World War I, Taussig was in command of Destroyer Division 8 which comprised the first Navy ships to arrive in Europe to fight against the Germans.  This event is portrayed in Bernard Gribble's notable painting, Return of the Mayflower.  When asked by a British admiral when the destroyers would be ready to join the fight, Taussig replied, "We are ready now, sir."
USS Wadsworth (DD-60), flagship of Taussig's Destroyer Division 8. This ship is in the foreground of Bernard Gribble's painting. 
Taussig was promoted to captain in September 1918. The chevrons on his left sleeve are service chevrons for being in combat zones. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for attacking a German U-boat. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Due to frequent spats with Franklin D. Roosevelt, both when he was assistant secretary of the Navy and as president, Taussig's promotions were delayed.  In 1938, his seventh year as a rear admiral, Taussig was put in charge of the Norfolk Navy Yard and the Fifth Naval District, which included Naval Operating Base Norfolk. This would prove beneficial to both Hampton Roads and the Navy.

As the Navy prepared for war in the early 1940s, Norfolk's infrastructure was stretched, with a housing shortage being a prominent problem. This of course was due to the "boomtown" nature of the area during this time, much as the city had expanded rapidly during World War I.  Admrial Taussig coordinated with Norfolk city officials to explore options to better the situation. He had the Navy build a housing development near the naval base, while Norfolk also built a neighborhood (Merrimack Park) near Chambers Field, just east of the base. Just as importantly, Taussig worked with city and federal officials to improve the roads connecting the city with the base, which led Norfolk to name the improved thoroughfare after the admiral.

Admiral Taussig Boulevard was built during the 1940s (maps and aerial photos from 1944 show it in some form) by lengthening Kersloe Road (built by 1921) which ran parallel with the Virginian Railroad line towards the base. The Kersloe road ended just south of where the main runway of today's Chambers Field is located. This stretch was extended up to connect with what was then called 99th Street, which connected Ocean View with the 99th Street Pier (near Pier 6 on the naval base today).  To the west of the this new intersection was included as part of Taussig Boulevard, while to the east, 99th Street was eventually named Bellinger Boulevard.
1939 map showing Kersloe Road ending at the rail line in the middle of the picture, and the eventual route of Admiral Taussig Boulevard in red (Map from Norfolk, Virginia: Evolution of a City in Maps by Irwin M. Berent)
The boulevard quickly became the main artery into the naval base. The intersection of Admiral Taussig and Granby Street (at Wards Corner) was a bustling intersection, and for over a decade was adorned with the famous airplane, the "Turtle," which had set the world distance flight record in 1946.
The Turtle near the beginning of Admiral Taussig Blvd at Wards Corner (from Norfolk, Virginia: Evolution of a City in Maps)
The Turtle at Wards Corner. The cars in the foreground are on Granby Street, with traffic barely visible on Admiral Taussig Boulevard to the left of the plane.  (photo courtesy of HRNM docent Ira R. Hanna)
The plane was removed in preparation for the 1970s expansion of most of Admiral Taussig Boulevard into the now three mile-long interstate classified as I-564 (although it retained its original name as well). This was a much needed renovation as during the 50s and 60s, the stretch of road to the naval base was known for its frequent accidents and fatalities. It did not help that there were no street lights illuminating the boulevard. The project was a success and greatly improved the base commute.
Near the ramp onto I-564 at Wards Corner today (Google streetview)
However with its heavy use and increased traffic volume, the route is now in need of further expansion.  The Virginia Department of Transportation is currently conducting a project to further expand Admiral Taussig Boulevard as part of a major traffic overhaul around the naval base.  While Sailors might not appreciate traffic delays stemming from this project, they should definitely be grateful for the work Admiral Taussig put forth in improving the lives of both past, current, and future Sailors.

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