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Thread: Mare Island access?

  1. #1
    austin granger's Avatar
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    Mare Island access?

    Hello. I was wondering if anyone from the S. F. bay area knows anything about the old mare island shipyard. Specifically, can an average civilian now explore the base? And if so, how do you think "they" ("they" being those in charge) would respond to a person setting up a large view camera?

    Would it help my cause if I told them that I myself spent four years onboard an aircraft carrier? Or that my intentions in photographing decaying ships are noble? :-)

  2. #2
    Dave Karp
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    Mare Island access?

    Austin,

    Check out this thread:

    http://largeformatphotography.info/lfforum/topic/499358.html

    Look for John Kasaian's response.

  3. #3
    wfwhitaker
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    Mare Island access?

    You might take a look at this site, www.mareislandhpf.org/. A search will yield other possibly informative sites. Mare Island seems to be becoming more and more accessible as evidenced by commercial establishments and some artists' studios now in place. Everyday on the way to work I pass a billboard advertising Mare Island and the web site www.discovermareisland.com. It looks like Lennar is trying to establish a residential community there.



    Mare is a truly fascinating place and must have been even more so during its heyday. Since I live only about seven miles away, I've been tempted to go over there myself to photograph. But I don't think the sight of some guy with an 8x10 is what they want to see. Maybe I should look into one of those artist studio rentals. Then if challenged I could say, "But I work here!"

  4. #4

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    Mare Island access?

    Austin,

    Check with the Mare Island Historical Association(or is it Society?). They have a tour and can even arrainge for a private guide if you want, and thats not a bad idea because a lot of the really cool places like the historic cemetary and St. Peter's Chapel (with the largest collection of Tiffany Windows in the Western U.S.) are behind lock and key. Its pretty cheap entertainment by SF standards(around $20)

    It is possible get past "checkpoint charlie" to visit the place on you're own if you have a specific destination like the golf course, the medical college, or the artist's studios (located in the coaling sheds,) but there are patrols that will be watching for you and if you're caught where you shouldn't be---(gulp!) The reason for the patrols is because of vandalism and theft----there is a LOT of cool stuff just laying around and lots of neat old open air shop buildings especially by drydock #1(made out of granite, which is pretty neat in itself.) There are also several old buildings made with unreinforced brick that are quite hazardous("...we built this City on rock and roll" as in Earthquake).

    I'd recommend taking the tour just to get the feel of the place and scheduling a "shoot" day with the Historical Society. Get some friends together to go in for the guide service and it won't cost much---actually it won't cost very much if you're the only client. Just let them know you want to take your time in advance since the docents will need to take that into consideration (and you won't feel rushed like you would if you were on a tour along with the San Mateo Ladies Club and Boy Scout Troop 007)

    My guide (docent) told me they've done these kind of shoots before---she even showed me locations where several photographers found interesting shots..

    There are ships tied up at mare island, a helicopter carrier and an old APL cruise liner with a really funky kind of paint job( the USS United States? The Lurline?? I forgot---sorry!) from the Hawaii route but they are privately owned by some millionaire. If you contact the Mare Island Historical people they might have a POC if you're interested in getting permission to come aboard. BTW, the some of the cool stuff thats laying around Mare Island include the conning tower from the nuke submarine USS M.G. Vallejo as well as a WW2 German "marder" manned torpedo are on display which you can feel free to photograph.

    A very worthwhihle location to go shooting. I'm not sure why the DOD handed it over to the City of Vallejo since it is really National Park material given the historical nature of the place(Captain "Damn the Torpedos. Full steram ahead" Farregut was the first commandant of the place) See it before they start selling homes in the development thats going on on the island. Once they make it easy for the thieves to do thier business I'm afraid a lot of it is going to be lost.

    The Mare Island Historical Society really gets jerked around by the Vallejo City fathers. Keeping up and restoring these old points of interest are expensive enough but the City keeps goughing them for services like fire protection etc... for what is actually City property and considering some of then industial areas have been leased out to large corporations and are generating income for the City of Vallejo---it just seems unfair.

    BTW, You'll no doubt see/hear the squeaky-est diesel switch engine on earth shuttling railroad cars loaded with plywood around the island!

    Enjoy it!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  5. #5
    Dave Karp
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    Mare Island access?

    John,

    I have been thinking about making this trip since your prior post. It just sounds great. I envision old brick buildings, rusted metal objects, old ships, machinery, etc. How much of this sort of thing is actually accessible with a guide? Are details possible, or do we have to keep our distance?

    I am entertaining the illusion that my wife (a former Vallejo school teacher and a great photographer) and I might leave the (very) young kids with my parents and spend a weekend in SF, with one day at Mare Island. With the imminent development, the attraction of making the trip sooner than later is increasing. Won't it be ironic to take photos of a rapidly disappearing area with my Ilford manufactured film?

  6. #6

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    Mare Island access?

    Dave,

    If you have a guide most everything is pretty accesssible if its not being used by either the medical school or the tenant industries. Thats probably why vandalism and theft is such a problem. By the dry docks there are some old buildings you can enter, theres a wonderful old iron superstructure they used for building a battleship---it supported cranes for moving the steel plating into position.

    Some of the buildings are condemned, but many aren't, including the very picturesque officer's housing "row." You can even rent them for special functions. FWIW the Historical Society keeps up the gardens and they do an outstanding job.

    The old powder magazines are fenced off but you can probably access them if you let them know in advance so you they can fix you up with a braver than usual guide. My docent told me they are loaded with rats.

    The old cemetary with the graves of russian sailors killed while assisting in the rescue efforts during the big earthquake is really cool.

    When I was there Dry Dock #1 had a temporary cyclone fence around it, I suppose to keep the vandals from falling in and getting hurt.

    The Admin building is condemned(unreinforced masonry) but the square in front is loaded with artifacts and the 1950s air raid shelters are really cool, overgrown with huge vines it looks like lost city being swallowed by a jungle. My guide supplied a flash light, but I'd consider bringing my own(its dark inside those things!)

    One nice thing about the restricted access is that you'll have the place pretty much to yourself---no one is likely to park in front of one of the warehouses to spoil your shot and the docents are friendly if they know what you'll expect time-wise (so you won't be saddled with a docent who has to babysit her grandkids at 11:00) Except for that old switch engine the place is sort of like a ghost town. The docents I met had at one time lived and/or worked on the island and are extremely proud of it's history.

    Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I get the sinking feeling that the City of Vallejo would like to turn it into a yuppy shopping center or something and is doing everything it can to foil the historic preservationists. The idea of a Starbucks at the bottom of Dry Dock #1 is a bit much for even my overactive imagination!

    FWIW there is a ferry that will take you from Fisherman's Wharf to Vallejo and the causeway to Mare Island and the building where you'll be met by your guide is an easy walk from the ferry terminus(unless you're lugging an 8x10 kit!) The guides have mini vans, but if you prefer I'm sure they'll allow your POV on the island. You can drive right up to everything at Mare Island unless of course you're after birds out on the marsh land.

    I really don't know why some big name photographer hasn't offered workshops there!

    Enjoy it!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  7. #7
    wfwhitaker
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    Mare Island access?

    "I really don't know why some big name photographer hasn't offered workshops there!"



    Well, John, we're waiting! ;-)



    John, Dave, Austin, et al, maybe we should organize a self-led workshop. A day's outing, as it were, with the blessings of the MIHS. There's probably a lot greater perceived credibility if a group of individuals were to seek permission and the blessings of the powers that be than for one lone individual. If a group of us were to organize a docent-led outing I think our chances of avoiding interference would be much greater. Then again, I may just be idealistic.



    Your thoughts?



    -Will

  8. #8

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    Mare Island access?

    Will,

    Interesting idea!

    How many of us would be interested in an outing to Mare Island? I'll assume a weekend would be the most convenient time, right? With Winter coming upon us, the weather in San Francisco Bay can be expected to be very nice. Any suggestions as to what month we should plan for( October I'm getting whittled on at the hospital, so thats out for me)

    Spouses who balk at the thought might be interested in doing some holiday shopping across the bay---just a thought.

    Give me some ideas and I'll run them by the Mare Island Historical Society---perhaps they might even sponsor an exhibition if it will help raise interest in the preservation of the place(not that I know anything for certain, but it could be a possibility I'll mention to them)

    If you're interested in participating, what are your ideas?

    FWIW, I'm curious as to what the industial lighting is like for possible night photography.

    If you live in the bay area(I don't) I suggest taking the tour to scout out the terrain and situation.

    There are three main areas of historical interest:

    The Admin buildings, dry docks, waterfront & shops are grouped together. Officer's Row & St. Peters, aren't very far away while the powder magazines and the cemetary are a short drive.

    Give me some ideas and I'll see what I can come up with!
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  9. #9
    wfwhitaker
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    Mare Island access?

    John,

    Just a few quick loose thoughts. It may take some time to get it set up. Fall may be too soon. October's out for me, anyway. Nov/Dec would be fine if we can deal with permissions by then. Winter may be an interesting time weather-wise. If we need a docent or other person to accompany us, night is probably out. The wetland areas on the west side looking toward Mt. Tam are interesting, too, although not from an industrial sense.

    -Will

  10. #10

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    Mare Island access?

    Hi John,

    Sounds like my kind of place! Please count me as interested in accompanying a small group.

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