July 14, 2011

Mare Island: Buildings and Roads

Walnut Street and Building 253

A couple of years ago, my parents moved to Mare Island--a long, thin island at the mouth of the Napa River (where it merges with the Sacramento River and the northern-most tip of the San Francisco Bay). The island is mostly flat--with one peak at its foot, and marshlands taking over the western and northern half of the island. We live on the very last street before the marshes, and, from the second story, have a lovely view of Mt. Tamalpais, to the west, across the bay and wetlands.

Mare Island used to be a naval base, where they built nuclear submarines.  Now much of the base is gone, and the warehouses and dry docks have been transformed into a wide range of industrial projects: stripping the mothball fleet, retrofitting and restoring old locomotives, storing PODS, etc. etc.  There is still a Veteran's Hospital, as well as medical university, and a big gymnasium.  And there are new housing developments, built over the land where there used to be army barracks.

The oddest thing about the island, though, is the simultaneous feeling of beauty and eeriness.  I took a two hour walk around the island (and took these photos), and you'll see for yourself.  One block has a creepy old bunker, the next a gorgeous Jacaranda next to a Victorian mansion. Some areas seems like pure wilderness, others well developed but quiet little streets.  The quietness, I think, lends to the eeriness.

But all the same, it is a very beautiful island.  Its best assets are its light and its flora (next week, I'll have one more Mare Island post, about the flora on the island). The light is strong almost all day long, because the mountains on the horizon are so far away.  It is "golden" for at least three hours in the afternoon, and the wild grasses glisten in the sunlight, and the leaves rustle with the sea breeze and drop dappled shadows on the sidewalk, and you could fool yourself into thinking you're in Paradise.

I realize now, as I look at these photos all grouped together, that I sort of failed to capture the paradise aspects of the place.  Well, we'll try for that next time.  Read more about Mare Island here.

The drawbridge over the River has fun blue railings.

Palm trees greet us. (They always remind me of fireworks.)

Mare Island Public Works Department

There are some tracks that go...

...And others that just end.

One of the old warehouses (looking East to the river)

Who knows what Building 253 is for?

Sometimes I felt like I was in a post-apocalyptic waste land.

But with stately Victorian Manors (and lots of flourishing flora).

There are wide expanses where all you see are a few small buildings and lots of trees. 

 This means that the island is windy and filled with lovely light.

Abunker (which is, oddly enough right behind a beautiful old officer's house).

The new houses are at peace with their wetland backyards.

You can make out Mt. Tam ever so faintly between the trees.

Another view of Building 253.


  1. Erik Keilholtz11:54 AM

    Your Mare Island photos are outstanding. I love that place, and could spend hours looking across the Napa River at all those great old military buildings (we live on Virginia St. in Vallejo). Your photography here, as well as on the flora, is fantastic.

  2. Aw! Thanks, Erik! It means a lot since you are so familiar with the island. (My favorite thing to so, of course, is sit on the hill looking west to Mt. Tam, but barring that, the military buildings are really quite fascinating.)

  3. Erik Keilholtz4:48 PM

    Oh, yeah, the view west is terrific, especially around sunset, when the reflections on the water catch the magnificent colors in the sky!

    Thinking of those views makes me want to go on a big canoe/hike exploration of all those mudflats.