Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Naval Net Depot, Tiburon
(Naval Coaling Station, California City; Floating Drydock Training Center Annex, Tiburon)
A gantry crane, seen here, once used to handle coal was used to build and load nets at Tiburon. It ran on rails on top of the no longer used coal bins (NARA)


Undated US Army Corps of Engineers History
Sacramento District, US Army Corps of Engineers

In 1904 the U.S. Navy acquired the property to use as a coaling station. Coal for the Navy’s ships was shipped from the East Coast in colliers (like tankers today) and stored here to be loaded into the bunkers of the Pacific Fleet. A very elaborate system of storage bunkers and gantry cranes was constructed on a wharf-trestle. In 1908 Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, consisting of sixteen battleships plus support vessels, stopped by to refuel before continuing on its famous round the world cruise.

The first academic use of the cove came in 1931. Oil had replaced coal as a fuel for Navy ships and the coaling station closed. The Navy loaned the property to the State of California to establish its first nautical training school for Merchant Marine officers. The Nautical School (renamed the California Maritime Academy) relocated to Vallejo in 1940 as World War II loomed and the Navy took back the base.

Also during the 1930s the John A Roebling’s Sons Company used the base to spin the suspender cables for the Golden Gate Bridge. These are the vertical cables which hold up the roadway on the bridge. The steel wire was shipped from the East Coast to Tiburon, wound and reeled, then barged to the bridge to be hoisted up to the roadway.

Local people still often call it “The Net Depot” much to the discomfort of the current owners. San Francisco Bay was one big Navy base as World War II loomed closer. It would have been wide open to Japanese submarines except for an anti-submarine net constructed at the Tiburon base and stretched across the Golden Gate. This seven mile long net was in place on December 7, 1941. The personnel of the Net Depot not only constructed over 100,000 tons of anti-submarine netting during the war but trained the sailors in the installation and handling of these nets which protected the harbors up and down the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and across the Pacific as well. The huge gantries left over from the coaling station were perfect for handling the giant nets.

After the war the nets were recovered and returned to Tiburon for storage in case of future need. Eventually, they were salvaged, the nets went to scrap dealers, the massive concrete anchors became bulkheads for shoreline protection at the depot and what is now Paradise Park, and many of the huge floats became beehives around California. The gantries were removed, leaving only the tracks on which they ran and a concrete trestle down the center of the base.

Since 1961 the property has supported a number of marine oriented state and federal research facilities, often two or more at the same time. Among these were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Marine Minerals Technology Center, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), NMFS Southwest Fisheries Center, National Marine Fisheries Service Environmental Assessment Branch (EAB), and since 1978, San Francisco State University’s Center for Environmental Studies (TCES). It was established by the late Paul F. Romberg, then President of SFSU, and later named in his memory.


Anti submarine net being prepared for deployment
Tiburon Naval Net Depot History
by Justin M. Ruhge, Goleta Valley Historical Society

The Naval Net Depot began in 1904 when the Navy purchased the east side of the Tiburon (Spanish for Shark) Peninsula from the owners of the Union Fish Company, William C. Lynde and Howard M. Hough. These two purchased the land from the earlier Spanish land grant descendents in 1877. On it they developed one of the largest Pacific Coast Cod-fisheries during the next quarter of a century. In 1904 the firm was merged with the Union Fish Company, and the plant abandoned its operations at Tiburon and moved to Sausalito.

This site along the eastern shore of the Tiburon Peninsula attracted the attention of the Navy because it had water deep enough to wharf battleships. It was a site further protected from attack via the Pacific Ocean by the massive landforms and hills of Marin County, was on a bay large enough to hold all the navies of the world, and was only seventeen miles by water fromMare Island Navy Yard. The Navy purchased the property on June 30,1904 for $80,000. By 1909, the Navy had developed the area as a coaling station, large U-shaped piers, three movable platforms with coal chutes, and supporting buildings. The Great White Fleet coaled there in that same year. During the 1914 crisis with Mexico, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the station on a tour of the West Coast.

Following the Five Power Naval Disarmament Treaty signed in Washington in 1922; the Navy either converted its older battleships from coal to oil or, after 1931, struck them from the Navy List, or used them as target ships. Oil phased out coal throughout the Navy. The Hoover Administration closed the Navy Coaling Station, Tiburon, during the depression year of 1931.

The coaling station facilities were converted to the California Nautical School in 1931. The school graduated its first class of cadets in 1933 as officers in the Merchant Marine and continued operations until 1940 when a new war in Europe returned the site to active service and forced it to move to Vallejo where it became the California Maritime Academy.
The new installation was named the Tiburon Naval Net Depot and commissioned on August 1, 1940. Not only were nets and booms made there but also thousands of men were trained to handle and maintain them for the Pacific war. The largest single project was a six-thousandton, seven-mile long net made and installed across the entrance to San Francisco Bay. It stretched from Sausalito to the San Francisco Marina by December 7, 1941.

In 1942, the adjacent nine acres of land was added to the Depot with the purchase of the John Roebling's Sons Company land, builders of the Golden Gate Bridge. With all this activity, housing had to be built for personnel and trainees. Expansion continued in 1942 on an additional nineteen-acre site at Paradise Cove. This was the new Floating Drydock Training Center Annex, Tiburon, which was begun on November 19, 1942 and used to train thousands of officers and men for overseas ship repair in the far Pacific.
After World War II the Depot was closed but recommissioned for the Korean War when it served as the net supply and repair depot for the entire Pacific. It was closed again in March 1958 and remained in caretaker status until 1964.

The site became part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce on October 4, 1970. From the late 1950s to 1962 the Naval Reserve Electronics Facility was located at the site and Mare Island Shipyard maintained its electronics facility on the south wharf. Other sections of the site became surplus property and are now sites for two county parks. The former Floating Dry Dock Training Center Annex is now Paradise Beach County Park and that part of the base west of Paradise Drive became Tiburon Upland Nature Reserve. All that is left of the Navy's presence is a thee-acre site used for instrument testing.


Tiburon Net Depot, 28 February 1946 (NARA)


Additional Online Histories
Extract, United States Navy and Marine Corps Installations, Domestic (1985)
NOAA'S Fishery Research Laboratory at Tiburon: History of the Site and Present Activities
The net laying ship, USS Aloe (YN-1, later AN-6) docked at Tiburon Net Depot's former coal bins. Circa 1941. (NARA)




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Updated 8 February 2016