Mare Island Shipyards, Vallejo, California
Mare Island is a great place to spend the day walking around. The US Navy began building the shipyards on Mare Island in 1854 making Mare Island the first US Navy base on the West coast. The first ship built at the Mare Island yards was launched in 1859. Over 500 additional ships were built at the shipyards before they closed in 1996. The Navy facility was greatly expanded over it's 142 years of operation. It eventually included thousands of units of housing, 4 dry docks, a power plant, a large hospital, warehouses, massive shop buildings, administrative and training buildings, etc. At it's peak during WWII the facility employed 41,000 people. When the Navy closed the facility they gave the land to the city of Vallejo. Vallejo's economy had depended on employment in the shipyard to that point. After the yards closed Vallejo spiraled slowly into bankruptcy. The crime rate, unemployment, foreclosures and other problems gradually overwhelmed the city and in 2007 the national and California economies collapsed. Vallejo declared bankruptcy in 2008 becoming the largest city in California to do so at that time. Vallejo's problems have made it difficult for the city to deal with the huge amount of land and vacant buildings on Mare Island. The redevelopment of the shipyards has been slow but some progress has been made.
Almost all of Mare Island is open to the public. Small portions on the Southern end of the Island are closed. There are quite a few buildings on the island that have been trashed by vandals and squatters. There are also many buildings that are in use. Small industrial and craft businesses have moved into some of the old shop buildings. Toro university has opened a branch campus in the administrative buildings near the old hospital. A few of the administrative buildings in the Toro area are still empty. Toro University has it's own security. They might follow you around if you visit the Toro campus. Otherwise the Vallejo police department patrols the rest of the island and only ask that you not go into the abandoned buildings. The historic core of the ship building area has several buildings constructed in the 1850-70 period. One of them (building 14) has been converted to a Mare Island Museum. This museum seems to keep irregular hours. The area around the museum is really interesting to walk around. The 4 dry docks, power plant, cranes and many historic shop buildings are all within a few blocks of the museum.
Parts of the South end of the island are being converted into a nature preserve and park. Mare Island Heritage Shoreline Preserve is run by a non-profit, mostly volunteer group. The preserve is only open Friday through Sunday before sunset. It's worth going to if you're around during those days. The Navy built a wide variety of housing on Mare Island. Most of the housing was inland away from the Mare Island Strait. Some of the Navy housing like the 100 or so year old barracks pictured below is in terrible condition. I can't imagine it will remain standing for much longer. (Update 4/13/2017) The wooden barracks pictured below have been demolished. There is a beautiful row of commanders mansions on Walnut street between Kansas and 10th. Some of these grand old homes are occupied and some are being used for events. Back from the commanders row are a few rehabilitated Navy duplexes that are occupied. Further back is the center of new housing development on the island. A hundred or so tastefully designed homes have been constructed so far on a street grid that could eventually accommodate hundreds more. It seems like it would be a nice place to live but for the fact that there are no stores or services on the island of any kind. I'm sure that commercial development is in the plan for Mare Island's future but as yet none has happened. A timeline of Mare Island history here.
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