Tracing its origins to the early 1900s, the Naval School of Music evolved from intermittent attempts to establish a permanent site to train Navy Musicians. In June of 1935, the Naval School of Music opened in Washington, D.C., operating in conjunction with the United States Navy Band until becoming an independent activity in 1942. Students enrolled at the school during this era graduated as complete ensembles--transferring as a unit to serve aboard ships in the U.S. Fleet. Unit Band #22, for example, was deployed to the USS Arizona--ultimately to be counted among the first casualties during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After more than a decade as a Navy-specific institution, the school received a quota of 15 enlisted Marines, and following negotiations between the secretary of the Army and the chief of naval personnel, Army students began enrollment in January of 1951. With the school now providing training for Soldiers, Sailors and Marines, in a facility that was originally designed to be a temporary structure, it was clear the Naval School of Music had outgrown its home and a new facility was sorely needed.
Of the numerous sites evaluated, the Naval School of Music's present home, Building 3602 aboard Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia proved best suited for instrumental and academic training. Built in 1955 as an 80,000 square foot barracks, Building 3602 was stripped to bare cinder blocks and reconstructed with the unique needs of professional military musicians in mind. In April 2005, Building 3602 was renamed McDonald Hall after Capt. John D. McDonald, the Naval School of Music's first commanding officer.
From 1964 to 2014, Building 3602 remained for the most part unchanged. In 2014, the Navy invested over $12 million in a total building renovation. The newly renovation building includes multiple "Green Initiative" systems to improve energy efficiency while providing a state of the art facility. The building houses 104 Wenger modules for individual practice and instrumental instruction; eight rehearsal areas for small to medium sized ensembles; a music library with over 18,000 musical compositions and thousands of additional books, music recordings and reference materials; and a repair facility to service nearly 3,000 musical instruments. In 2015, the Naval School of Music acquired an additional building for use as a rehearsal space. After a $3.5 million renovation project, in January of 2016, Building 3503 became the Naval School of Music's new Rehearsal Annex that houses two large wind ensemble rehearsal rooms, two small ensemble rehearsal rooms, and a sound technician classroom.