Mare Island is located on the western
edge of the City of Vallejo in southwestern Solano County in
Northern California. It is approximately 30 miles northeast of
San Francisco in the North Bay subregion of the San Francisco
Bay Area, and approximately 60 miles from Sacramento, California's
state capital. Mare Island is approximately 3.5 miles long and
one mile wide. Mare Island Naval Activities property consists
of more than 2,500 acres. The complex had four separate functions:
shipyard, ammunition depot, hospital (building later converted
for training facilities) and Marine barracks.
The oldest naval base on the west coast,
Mare Island was founded in 1853. The shipyard was established
by the Navy in 1854 and was known as Naval Magazine, NSY Mare
Island. The shipyard's primary missions were to maintain, overhaul,
and refuel ships, including nuclear-powered ships; provide logistical
support for ships and service craft; and provide services and
materials for other Navy functions.
Mare Island built 512 ships and repaired
hundreds more. Those ships, both great and obscure, fought in
every conflict since. Mare Island's first ship, the paddle-wheeled
gunboat Saginaw, was launched before the Civil War, in 1859,
and its last ship, the nuclear submarine US S. Drum, was launched
in 1970 when the country was divided over the Vietnam war. These
vessels also included the small ferryboat Pinafore, which chugged
between Mare Island and Vallejo for 30 years starting in the
1890's, and the battleship US S. California, the only battleship
built on the west coast.
During World War II the shipyard quickly
set a record that was never broken, building the destroyer USS
Ward, in 17 1/2 days. During World War II, it repaired 1,227
ships and built 391 new ships. In addition to the Ward, Mare
Island built 17 submarines, 4 subtenders, 31 destroyer escorts,
33 small craft, and more than 300 landing craft.
In 1948, it was designated as a major
overhaul and repair facility for submarines. In the 1960's the
decision was made to build nuclear submarines at Mare Island.
The USS Sargo was the first, with 16 more following, ending with
the launch of the USS Drum in 1970.
In 1965, Mare Island and San Francisco
Naval Shipyard were merged and renamed San Francisco Bay Naval
Shipyard. With sites at Mare Island and Hunters Point, it was
the largest Naval Shipyard in the world. The San Francisco Bay
Naval Shipyard was disestablished in February 1970. Hunters Point'
was closed in 1973. Mare Island was (in 1996) scheduled to close.
The 4,351 acre facility included shipyard
and hospital areas which in the mid 1950s employed 13,000 civilian
workers, down from Mare Island's high point in World War II,
when the shipyard population reached 46,000. Drydocks, cranes,
waste-handling facilities, and offices were located at the shipyard.
Activities supporting nuclear power propulsion systems were performed
in accordance with the requirements and authority of the Naval
Nuclear Propulsion Program, a joint DOE and US Department of
Navy program responsible for all activities relating to naval
There are 996 buildings with 10.5 million
square feet of space, 4 dry docks, 20 ship berths, 2 shipbuilding
ways, 3 finger piers, 21 large industrial sites, a school, 2
day care centers, medical clinic, 3 fire stations, a golf course,
2 athletic fields, 3 swimming pools, 9 tennis courts, riding
stables, and 416 housing units.
In 1993, the Department of Defense (DoD)
Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommended the
closure of Mare Island NSY in the "third round" (BRAC
3) of military closures. The operational closure of Mare Island
NSY was completed in April 1996.
Over 140 years of operations, various
activities at Mare Island NSY generated hazardous wastes including:
metal plating; lead acid battery repair; oil handling and reclamation;
abrasive blasting; discharge of contaminated waste water to Mare
Island Strait; landfill disposal of solvents, polychlorinated
biphenyl (PCB) contaminated fluids, asbestos, and other hazardous
wastes; disposal of contraband and miscellaneous ordnance, and
murcuric substances; the detonation of projectiles, war-heads,
and high explosives; and overhauling nuclear powered submarines.
In 1854 Commodore David G. Farragut was
sent to California to establish and to take charge as first commandant
of Mare Island. During World War I, Mare Island grew into a major
ship construction and repair facility employing 41,000 persons
at its peak. Mare Island held the record for speed in construction
of naval vessels, having earned the distinction in 1917, when
the destroyer USS Ward was only seventeen days from keel-laying
to launching. At the outbreak of the Second World War pproximately
6,000 men were employed at Mare Island in the construction and
repair of ships. By December 1995, employment was down to 1,500
and by closure in April 1996 all employment ceased.
The Navy completed a final Basewide Environmental
Baseline Survey Report which documented the environmental condition
of the property. This document and additional information were
used to support future lease and transfer opportunities. The
City of Vallejo's Final Reuse Plan was published in July 1994.
"Sphere," adapted from Michael
Crichton's book, was filmed by Warner Brothers using four buildings
at the base. An agreement was reached in June 1996, with filming
beginning in December and continuing for six months. Originally,
the dry-dock was to be used to film underwater footage. Due to
escalating costs and the complexity associated with under-water
photography and dry-dock set construction, the film studio turned
to the use of a smaller tank erected at the shipyard. Warner
Brothers both sub-leased and sub-licensed sites from the City
of Vallejo, which in turn leased or licensed the sites from the
Navy. Disney filmed parts of "Flubber" at Mare Island.
"Jack" starring Robin Williams and Bill Cosby was filmed
in Building 523 from November 27-December 11, 1995. As many as
300 people were employed at one time. "Metro" with
Eddie Murphy was filmed at a number of locations in the summer
A Navy Yard
by CW4 (CA) Mark J. Denger, Military Historian,
California Military Heritage Command
Gold was discovered in California in 1849
and the great stampede from the eastern shores reached across
the broad American continent. This sudden migration westward
made it immediately imperative for the United States Navy to
establish a base on the West Coast from which ships of the Pacific
Squadron could operate and at which they could be repaired.
In 1850, Commodore John Drake Sloat was ordered to lead a survey
party in quest of a logical site for the nation's first Pacific
naval installation. Sloat, who had claimed California for the
United States four years earlier at Monterey, recommended the
island across the Napa River from the little settlement of Vallejo
--Mare Island: It being "free from ocean gales and from
floods and freshets.".
In 1775, Don Perez Ayala, a Spanish explorer, was the first white
man to set foot on Mare Island, which he dubbed Isla de la Plana.
This long, low segment of land called Isla de la Plana was carried
on by the first settlers of the region. Legend, well founded
in fact, has it that the island's name was changed in 1835 when
a crude ferry, transporting men and livestock between land on
either side of the Carquinez Straits, was caught in a small squall
which caused several of the animals to panic, kicking the ferry
apart. Some of the animals swam to shore. Most of them, however,
were drowned. One prized white mare belonging to General Mariano
Vallejo, Mexican Commandante for Northern California, was found
several days later on Isla de la Plana. Vallejo renamed the "Isla
de la Yegua," meaning "Island of the Mare" or
It was in 1850, too, that the first California legislature accepted
General Vallejo's offer to locate the state capital at the new
city of Vallejo. The General was then serving as State Senator
from the region. Thus, the Charts prepared by Navy cartographers
in Sloat's surveying party bear the inscription "Site of
Vallejo, Seat of Government of California" opposite Mare
Island. However, California's government was seated there for
only a brief time, moving on to Benicia in 1853, and then on
to Sacramento a short time later. But the U.S. Navy remained
there for over 140 years.
In 1850, according to Land Records, the island was granted to
Victor Castro, who soon sold it for $7,000 to Vallejo's son-in-law,
John. B. Frisbee, and his partner, B. Simmons. In 1851, the partners
sold it to A.W. Aspinwall and G. W. P. Bissell for $17,500. Navy
Department officials acted favorably on Commodore Sloat's recommendations
and Mare Island was purchased in 1852 for $83,410.
That year, construction of the dry dock began in New York; it
being built in sections so that it could be dismantled and the
sections shipped around Cape Horn. By the fall of 1853, a basin
to hold the dry dock was completed and the dock was in place.
Until the Navy could take over, the crews were allowed to work
on private contracts. The first vessel to enter the dry dock
was the commercial steamer Pacific.
In 1854, Commander David Glasgow Farragut was ordered to assume
command of the Navy yard at Mare Island. Commander David Glasgow
Farragut arrived September 16, 1854, aboard the ship USS WARREN
and immediately took command of Mare Island and commenced the
creation of a naval base that would become the largest of its
kind in the nation.
Within days, the WARREN was towed from Sausalito to Mare Island
and was the first Navy ship to dock at Mare Island Navy Yard.
The boat was outfitted with living quarters and became home to
the Farraguts, Col. Daniel Turner and his family, and a few others.
A flagpole was erected and on October 3, 1854, the first hoisting
of the American flag took place with a 13-gun salute.
In 1855, the commandant's house, a large brick building, was
completed as living quarters for the Farragut family. Commander
Farragut departed Mare Island in 1858 to gain immortal fame at
Mobil Bay. His cry of "Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead"
shall always remain among the most cherished of American naval