It’s been 20 years since the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division left Fort Ord for the last time. And there’s been a generation of Monterey County locals who have known Fort Ord not as one of the largest and most illustrious military bases in America, but as a decaying ghost town adjacent to the campus of CSU Monterey Bay.
Artist Enid Baxter Ryce lives on what used to be Fort Ord. As a faculty member in CSUMB’s Cinematic Arts & Technology Department, she and her husband share a home in repurposed Fort Ord dwellings.
She is therefore in perfect position to produce a work of art like “Planet Ord,” an ambitious exhibition that opens Friday at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz.
“Planet Ord” has been an ongoing project for Ryce for several years. It is an artist’s-eye view of Fort Ord’s eerie abandoned buildings and houses, many of which have been largely untouched since the Clinton administration decommissioned the base in 1994. But it is also a tribute to those who served there and an effort to revive the ghosts of the past.
The project started as a photographic documentation of the many murals and wall paintings done by military personnel in the barracks and buildings over the years. “Yes, I went into the abandoned buildings, which no one should do because it’s totally illegal and you could get hurt,” she said.
But the effort grew into an ambitious web-based archive (planetord.com) that is collecting stories and memories from people who lived on the base. The photographs, short films, maps and anecdotes will be combined at the museum in Santa Cruz to present a picture of what Fort Ord used to be and what it is today.
“This is not a traditional photographic exhibit,” said Ryce. Indeed, the museum built a false wall and then created a hole in that wall to evoke the sense of ruin that is prevalent at the former base.
Ryce points to the practice of “ording,” exploring the grounds of the former base, some of which is part of the campus of CSUMB, some of which is Fort Ord Dunes State Park and some of which is Fort Ord National Monument. She said “Planet Ord” is her effort to create a sense of the ecology of a place that is both a nationally protected area and a Superfund site.
Ryce grew up in Washington Crossing, Pa., the site of a regular Revolutionary War re-enactment. (As the name implies, it is where George Washington crossed the Delaware River.) But, she said, it was also a strip-mining town, which gave her a sense of the contradictory nature of certain sites.
There is still a small military presence at Fort Ord, and Ryce said she has gotten nothing but support from the military in her project.
“Fort Ord was where people came for basic training when they were conscripted during World War II, and later when they were drafted for Vietnam,” she said. “It was an important time in their lives and a really important place for people. So I’ve been working to collect stories, email former soldiers and relatives and make connections for people who once spent a significant part of their lives here.”
Ryce will be available for an artist talk on Friday at the museum, as part of First Friday Santa Cruz. On April 11, there will be a film screening and discussion of the film “Extraordinary Ord.” On April 12, the museum will sponsor a Fort Ord walking tour. On May 9, it will show a series of films by CSUMB students on Fort Ord.