View Full Version : Mare Island access?

austin granger
24-Sep-2004, 14:29
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? :-)

David Karp
24-Sep-2004, 14:34

Check out this thread:


Look for John Kasaian's response.

24-Sep-2004, 16:09
You might take a look at this site, www.mareislandhpf.org/ (http://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 (http://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!"

John Kasaian
24-Sep-2004, 16:22

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!

David Karp
24-Sep-2004, 18:04

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?

John Kasaian
24-Sep-2004, 20:07

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!

24-Sep-2004, 22:02
"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?


John Kasaian
25-Sep-2004, 08:54

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!

25-Sep-2004, 11:57

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.


Merg Ross
25-Sep-2004, 12:13
Hi John,

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

John Kasaian
25-Sep-2004, 13:21
Merg, Will,

I'll call them up and see what they say. BTW they do open up the wetland side to the public once or twice a year, kind of a field day thing. I'll try to find out when the next time is scheduled.

Any preferrence for shooting in the morning or the evening? Or both? I'm a Fresno boy and not familiar with the lighting conditions in the bay area in the wintertime.


25-Sep-2004, 13:41

I'm an east-coast boy who just lives here, so I don't really know, either. I think we should just take what we can get. If it can be organized in time for this fall, that's fine. Much will depend on the response you get from them. Whether morning or evening, I would just opt for something other than midday. Also Sunday may be better if fewer people. What are the chances they'll say it has to be Monday to Friday? Definitely worth asking anyway.


Merg Ross
25-Sep-2004, 15:39

No preference as to time of day but bearing in mind that as we approach late autumn the daylight hours shorten considerably. For landscapes, certainly early or late light adds drama; however, with the abundance of subject matter, any time would probably be satisfactory.

David Karp
25-Sep-2004, 17:24

Thanks for the additional information.

And yes, it would be great to do an outing, if we can solve the logistical problems (the kids, work, travel arrangements, finances, etc.). We for sure won't be available until late October. I will have to talk to my wife about this. It sounds like one of my dream places to photograph.

austin granger
25-Sep-2004, 22:34
Hello all,

Little did I know when I posted the initial question on this thread that I would receive back such a bounty! Wonderful!

I would very much like to participate in a Mare Island outing with you guys. Weekends are pretty much open, though at this point not until November or December. I live up in Santa Rosa; I'd say about an hour and a half (?) from Mare island. Though as you can probably see from my first question, I've never visited there, I'd say it sounds like my kind of place too.

austin granger
25-Sep-2004, 22:43
I forgot to add that if it would help our cause any, I would be happy to donate copies of any of my successful prints that came from the trip to the historical society.

Kerik Kouklis
27-Sep-2004, 07:29
I'd be interested in getting in on this, too...

John Kasaian
27-Sep-2004, 08:26
Kerik, Will, Merg, Austin & Dave & anyone else thats interested:

How does the second week end in November sound as a tentative date? Is a Saturday or Sunday prefered or should I just take what I can get?

Does anyone else want to join us? If this grows into a huge group, it might be better to arrange for two docents to "man" more than one area at a time (to keep us out of each others way)

I'll have to see if they've finished remodeling the cafe at the golf course---it might be an interesting place for lunch and give us a chance to explore that side of the island.

FWIW, there is a book "Sidewheelers to Nuclear Power" by Sue Lemmon and E.D. Wichels about Mare Island's 123 year history. Great background information. old photographs, list of historic buildings, and a map with the building numbers. It should be available through most public libraries, and is a good way to acquaint yourself with the kinds of structures you'll be seeing, as well as the "layout" of the area so if theres something special that you're interested in you'll at least know where to look for it.

Keep your suggestions coming!

I'll keep you all posted as I get more info!

Steve Nieslony
27-Sep-2004, 11:47

Please count me in as well - I have a conflict on the 14th (Sunday) though :-(

I am open to any part of the day or all day - Lunch at the Golf Club sounds fine to me as well.


austin granger
27-Sep-2004, 14:16

The second weekend in November should work for me; either Saturday or Sunday would be fine. If you or anyone else interested in this trip would like to contact me more directly to try and sort out details, please feel free to e-mail me (austin@austingranger.com) or else you can find my phone number on my website (www.austingranger.com).

John Kasaian
27-Sep-2004, 14:54

Just a progress report---I'm waiting for confirmation from the Mare Island Historical Society and Park for the second week end in Novmber, preferably Saturday. I don't think we'll have a problem since they'll have plenty of time to find a docent for us.

There is an annual San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival in January where they'll open up Mare Island to the public though it'll no doubt be crowded(none the less it'll be an opportunity if you can't join us in November!) Check out the site for the 2004 Flyway Festival at http://www.sfbayflywayfestival.com/mareis.html

FWIW, there is an art exhibition thats part of the Flyway Festival-------hmmmm? I'll keep you all posted on what I find out.


Merg Ross
27-Sep-2004, 15:39
Hi again, John

Thanks for the update. The second weekend works fine for me; I have it penciled in.

John Kasaian
27-Sep-2004, 22:44
austin, I have to apologise for pirating your post! I'll have to start another thread----once again my apologies. I just get a bit carried away sometimes--- A week ago Sunday was "International Talk Like A Pirate Day"

Glad to have you aboard, Steve!

FWIW, Private vehicles aren't a problem. When I told the fellow at the Foundation that we'd be bringing big honkin' cameras he agreed private vehicles would be the way to go. I guess if anyone is planning on showing up via the ferry we can figure out who'll have extra space and pick you up at the terminal. Also I specified that this was to be a photo shoot, so it should be pretty much a docent leading our caravan to various locations and sticking around to answer questions, unlock gates and fend off the security patrols rather than the stock "tour."

They're going to check on the cafe at the golf course to see if has reopened yet.

I'll post whatever I find out in the meantime until I get a confirmation.

Sadly, the last time I was there I think the "elephant train" had already been scrapped. The elephant train was a tram with the cars shaped like elephants connected trunk to tail, left over from the International Exposition and found it's way to Mare Island where it was used to transport the workers around the place. Apparently all the elephant's trunks had broken off due to wear and tear over time anyway---a bit of Mare Island trivia.

One thing I'd like to know though is if there is any interest in interior shots of the Commandant's House. They charge a few bucks extra for opening it up on the stock "tour" if it is available(both the Commandant's House and St. Peter's Chapel are sometimes used for marryin' and buryin' and other special events.) I have no idea if either of them are booked on our week end yet, but I can find out---I just don't want anyone to be disappointed if you have a specific interest in it.

BTW, what is the protocol in case of rain? Cancel? Press on regardless? Let the docent call the shots? What should I tell the Mare Island people? Thanks for any and all advice.

Any more "takers?"

Mark Howell
28-Sep-2004, 13:10
Hi, all. I was directed to this discussion by Steve Nieslony (thanks, Steve!).

I'd like to join the Mare Island trip.

austin granger
28-Sep-2004, 17:48

Actually, thanks much for 'pirating' the post; it worked out better than I could have hoped for. I thought it was going to be the case that I went down to Mare Island by myself and sort of snuck around, wondering how many seconds I had after I pulled out my camera before 'The Man' swooped down on me! Anyway, that Saturday is great for me. I'll have some room in my car if anyone needs a ride from the ferry. I'll be driving down from Santa Rosa.

As far as rain goes, I'd still be up for it, even if the camera doesn't get uncovered. Nothing wrong with a 'scouting' mission.

John Kasaian
28-Sep-2004, 18:43

My Bride just informed me that my niece's wedding is on Nov. 13th and my daughter is the flower girl and my son the ring bearer(meaning: I'd better be there!)

I've already approached the folks at Mare Island and I'm just waiting to hear back for a confirmation.

Rather than changing dates(unfortunately I've got a job in Sacramento Nov.6) is there anyone who would care to take over the reins on this project? All thats left to do is basically posting the confirmed time & date to everyone who wants to be involved. meeting everyone at an old building across from the causeway to Mare Island and making sure everyone antes up for the docent. I'll hand over in information on our POC as soon as I get the details confirmed rather than confusing the good folks at Mare Island. IF there is a concensus about changing the date to Nov 6, we can encourage Will to take over since he lives nearby and has an "in."

What say Ye?

28-Sep-2004, 21:43
If folks would be interested in November 6th or 20th, I could help out with this. I cannot make it on November 13th since I have to work that day. I'd like to hear from those interested if a date change is in order. I'm still under the assumption that Saturday is preferable to Sunday, at least for the majority.

The danger inherent in undertaking something like this is that you can't please everyone. But the sooner we have the information, the better off we'll be.


David Karp
29-Sep-2004, 08:57
My wife and I are still trying to work this out, so a date change will not impact us. We will try to make it on the date everyone else agrees on.

Merg Ross
29-Sep-2004, 11:09
Hello potential Mare Island group. The 6th, 13th or 20th of November work for me as do either a Saturday or Sunday. However, as Will cannot make it on the 13th and the 6th and 13th are out for John, how about the 20th?

austin granger
29-Sep-2004, 12:39
November's pretty open for me at this point; any weekend day would be fine.

29-Sep-2004, 13:14
OK, folks. It looks at this point like I'll be able to get off from work on November 13th. That may be the simplest solution. But I'd like to poll all interested as to which dates are possible.

Please send me an email and indicate for each date (Nov 6, Nov 13, Nov 20) whether you would be able to attend or not. Then indicate a preference. My goal, of course, is to accommodate as many people as possible.

I will tally and respond here or possibly on a new thread since this one is becoming quite long.


Myrna Hayes, Festival Coordinator on Mare Island
6-Jan-2005, 00:10
Hello to all shutterbugs, I think you are called. I was looking up something on the net, and rand across your lengthy chat about Mare Island access. I refer you to my website concerning our annual wildlife festival to be held this year on Mare Island, January 21-23, 2005. I list activities-nearly all free, descriptions of each guided outing, directions, art and photography exhibition applications, places to stay, etc. You are welcomed.

Visit www.sfbayflywayfestival.com


Myrna Hayes
Festival Coordinator