The museum concept first began when the BLM enacted a small triangular rock monument with an American flag with information about the DTC/CAMA and General Young for whom the Camp was named.Prior to the construction of the triangular memorial, there had been an article in the LA Times about the DTC and this article had generated such a huge interest that the idea of a permanent monument in an area that was close to the headquarters of General Patton should be erected and easy access for the public was a bonus.
At this time there was a lot of enthusiasm and a real sense of renewed patriotism again in America so the idea to build a facility, museum that would house the history and information of the Desert Training Center and would also serve as a repository for the artifacts that people had gathered over the years from the desert lands. This happened in 1985 and a small committee consisting of BLM representative Leslie Cone and Margit F. Chiriaco Rusche put a team together that would evolve into the General Patton Memorial Museum, a non-profit in association with the Bureau of Land Management.
The name General Patton was selected because he had actually handpicked the site and was the first commander of the DTC with Camp Young as the headquarters for the Desert Training Center, eventually training over a million men to go into the WWII effort. This became the world’s largest military installation both in size and population stretching from Arizona to Nevada to California. Leslie continues to work for the BLM and resides now in Colorado, and Margit lives at Chiriaco Summit and continues to serve as an active supporter of the museum.
The first year was spent organizing and trying to find locations to house and process the artifacts that began to come to the address. The BLM had a mobile home that became the first office and repository for information and artifacts. Senator Presley helped the museum to obtain the old Coachella DMV office which was moved to the site at Chiriaco Summit. The land was donated by Joseph L. Chiriaco and Ruth E. Chiriaco, pioneers of the area. In 1986 five more modules were purchased creating a 7000 square foot area to serve as the museum building. Construction began in earnest in 1987 with a solid team of retirees from SCE headed by Jerry Rusche. This group of men worked long and hard creating the interior spaces of the museum, cleaning up and modifying the spaces, installing new electrical, refrigeration, heating and everything else that went into the interior space, as well as overseeing the exterior plastering of the building. The rock was donated by the Whitewater Rock and the Sea Bees were the volunteers, who installed the rock one summer.
The foundations were constructed and donated by Modern Alloy. The engineering for the facility was donated by the firm of Krieger and Stewart, and the legal work was done by Joe Aklufi. Corky Larson, Riverside County Supervisor also played an important role in the project. The first really professional exhibit was the MWD topographical map – the map shows the vast regions of Southern California where the massive aqueduct was installed bringing the much needed water to Los Angeles.
The availability of water to the DTC is the main reason that Patton selected the area for the DTC and placed the camps accordingly. This is aside from the fact that this desert area so mimicked the areas of North Africa and he could train the men in these harsh conditions preparing them for their eventual service in the war.
During the building process, personalized engraved bricks were sold to finance parts of the project that just could not be donated. Today there is a large wall area covered with bricks, both large and small which are still being sold and installed. Over time, the museum was beginning to look like a large building and with fervent prayers and many hours of volunteer service, and the museum was ready to open on November 11,1988 at 11 in the morning, coincidentally Patton’s one hundredth birthday.
A crowd of over 5000 attended the opening, the outdoor concrete area barely dry, and the rest is history…