Chile constructed this station, known as Frei station, in 1969 on the nearly ice-free Fildes Peninsula at the island’s southwestern tip, and 10 years later it added Teniente Rodolfo Marsh Martin station less than 1km across the peninsula. Frei has since incorporated Marsh, and thus the station’s name appears as either Frei or Marsh on charts. Together with the Escudero base, Frei/Marsh is one of the Peninsula region’s largest and most complex stations.
As part of Chile’s policy of trying to incorporate its claimed Territorio Chileno Antártico into the rest of the country, the government has encouraged families to live at Frei station. The first of several children was born here in 1984. Families are housed in a group of cream-colored single-story buildings called Villa Las Estrellas (Village of the Stars), built in 1984, that are clustered at the back of the station. Today, Frei accommodates as many as 170 people, but normally only 120 live here (mostly military personnel and their dependents). Among the few civilians are air-traffic controllers and teachers for the children, who make up nearly 25% of the population. Parties of station kids sometimes greet tourists upon arrival.
When seen from afar, Frei looks like a small village, with more than 40 buildings, including 15 brightly painted chalets on the hillside. In the center, red-orange buildings include a hospital, a school, a bank, a post office and a tourist shop. The original base complex, also in the center, houses a supermarket, a canteen, a kitchen and a recreation area. Frei also has a chapel and a large gymnasium (the scene of a weekly soccer tournament played among the local stations).
The station’s Marsh section includes a 1300m compacted-gravel runway, a hangar, a garage, a hostel, a control tower and parking for Hercules C-130 aircraft, which have landed here since 1980.
The first UN secretary-general to visit Antarctica, Ban Ki-moon, was greeted at Frei on November 9, 2007, with a glass of whiskey served with 40,000-year-old ice.
Not until 1995 was a scientific annex added to Frei’s sprawl. The five blue-roofed buildings of the summer-only Professor Julio Escudero base lie along the bottom of a steep hill southeast of Frei.