Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Mare Island Naval Shipyard
(Naval Ammunition Depot, Marine Barracks, Naval Observatory, Naval Hospital, Naval Prison, Naval Radio Station, Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, Coast Guard Station Annex)
Mare Island Naval Shipyard (2011)
by GlobalSecurity.org
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 nuclear propulsion.
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 1996.
A Navy Yard is Born
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 Mare Island.

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 traditions.
Other Online Histories
Mare Island Museum
Mare Island Historic Park Foundation
National Park Service
The Early Submarines of Mare Island
Extract, US Navy and Marine Corps Installations - Domestic (1985) includes
Naval Ammunition Depot
Marine Barracks
Naval Observatory
Naval Hospital
Naval Prison
Naval Radio Station
Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility
Coast Guard Station Annex
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Updated 8 February 2016