Modern Military Ruins of San Francisco
June 12, 2007 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I think most of them are undergoing redevelopment. They've started construction on homes at Hunters Point. Treasure Island is well underway. Novato (Hamilton) seems to be moving along. I guess the Nike site stays put and of course, the Presidio is a done deal.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2007

Most awesome post. I was stationed at Alameda NAS and also did some school at Mare Island. Wow. I knew they'd close down but had never seen pictures like that. Next time I'm out there I'll have to stop by and take a long look.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2007

Where do they keep the nuclear wessels?

Man, that's two today!

Which of these does Mythbusters frequent? Alameda sounds familiar, but probably only because of the movie I apparently have memorized.
posted by DU at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2007

Oh right, the Alameda Point redevelopment, forgot that one. They seem to be spinning their wheels a bit.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:13 PM on June 12, 2007

Cool! I lived on Hamilton AFB when I was in high school. (My dad was a Coast Guard Officer. At that time, it had ceased to operate as an airfield, but was still used by the various branches of the military for housing, administration, etc.)
posted by trip and a half at 12:15 PM on June 12, 2007

Oh, hell yes. Nice post.
posted by brundlefly at 12:16 PM on June 12, 2007

Thanks for posting this. I used to live on Hamilton Field AFB in the early 90's, and had a blast exploring that base.

A year into living there, they started decommissioning the housing, so when neighbors moved out, the place would remain vacant. Made even the residential areas a little creepy. Watching your neighborhood rapidly turn into a ghost town is definitely an eerie experience.
posted by action man bow-tie at 12:19 PM on June 12, 2007

i think Mythbusters has been out at Alameda a bit. They also built a section of freeway out there to film The Matrix Reloaded.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:19 PM on June 12, 2007

Mythbusters also used the hangar at Moffett Field once or twice.
posted by sellout at 12:30 PM on June 12, 2007

The last time I was in the city I stumbled accidentally on an array of concrete bunkers and tunnels that apparently were old WW-II gun battery sites; apparently built to ward off the expected Japanese invasion. They were up in the hills above the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
posted by rocket88 at 12:31 PM on June 12, 2007

Ah yes...this is the place.
posted by rocket88 at 12:32 PM on June 12, 2007

Damn! I popped in just to ask about the Nuclear Wessels!
posted by sourwookie at 12:41 PM on June 12, 2007

Man, I used to love to hike up and around the Nike site and especially Fort Barry. Those bunkers long ago filled up with creepy-ass teenage Mansonista-manque weirdness, gothick altars and whatnot: all part of the charm. Thanks for bringing it all back home.
posted by adamgreenfield at 12:43 PM on June 12, 2007

There's a very old complex out on the Marin Headlands. I wasn't old enough to drive at the time, so I don't know exactly where that is, just somewhere around the circumference of the Bay.

We were out doing some sort of Scout outing, and we noticed that a single bar of one of the giant metal gratings across the entrance to an underground defense facility had been neatly removed. So we thought about it a bit, and then our leaders took us inside to poke around. That was SO cool, even though it was all just empty tunnels. Very, very very dark in there, but being Scouts, we were bristling with flashlights.

There was one tube-shaped room we found that took us a little while to figure out. It was very long, and ended up looking out on the Bay. We eventually realized out that it must be a recoil tube for a cannon bigger than anything we'd ever imagined. I was shorter then, but I think the tube must have been about 8 feet in diameter. (From the image in memory, I'd guess 10 feet, and I'm trying to correct for being smaller back then.) And it was at least a hundred feet long. A recoil tube was the only thing that made sense, but ye GODS that was a lot of recoil room. (or else an IMMENSELY long gun.)

There were also huge circular pits in a few floors, always next to huge grated openings; we eventually realized that those must be AA/flak emplacements. Each pit had a metal ring going around the inside, which we thought must have been the mount and swivel point for the flak gun.

All the rooms had overhead rails; it looked there was a system for moving ammo around quickly. I got the impression that it must have been man-powered. The rail would make moving heavy loads around pretty easy, but I was pretty sure guys would have to be pushing, it wouldn't be motorized. I can't tell you why I thought that anymore, but I was morally certain that they were push rails. There was quite a complex distribution system set up, with multiple redundant access points to the different weapons; you had an outer circle of guns, and then an inner circule supplying them via multiple possible routes.

It was incredibly well-built; even in the ... hmm, I think this must have been in the late 70s ... despite all the mildew and damp, the place was extremely solid. I could see it lasting another couple hundred years easy.

In retrospect, it just shows how incredibly wealthy we were as a nation at the time; we thought nothing of digging out this gigantic complex and filling it with expensive weaponry just on the off chance that the Japanese might invade.

And jesus the concrete was thick. I most emphatically do NOT want to see the weapons that could neutralize that fortress. I can't even imagine the kind of punishment that construction could take. I imagine it was built to fight the battleships of the era. I have no idea whether or not it would be proof against those monstrous shells, but I really, really wouldn't want to find out.
posted by Malor at 12:55 PM on June 12, 2007


Out on Angel Island you could camp on the ruins of the batteries. At least, you could when I was in high school in the 90s. It had that same weird feel that you describe in the Marin complex.

I had a elementary school teacher whose father had served his WWII duty out in Marin. He was an over-the-hill Reservist, so he spent the war looking out over the coast, for an invasion that never came.
posted by wuwei at 1:00 PM on June 12, 2007

The facility we poked through was kind of like a big version of the one that rocket88 links. The circular emplacements look very familiar, although I don't think we realized they were so deep... the ones we saw were about that diameter, but were filled with water, so perhaps they did go down that far. I also think there was a metal ring instead of just the bars sticking up, but I could be wrong.

We didn't really touch or poke anything; we were, after all, Scouts, and bending the rules a long way just by being there without permission. :)
posted by Malor at 1:01 PM on June 12, 2007

I used to work at Moffett Field, too - now that was a hoot. Those hangars are of course magnificent, plus there's the fun of watching the comings and goings of NASA's humpty-ass Antonov transport and sundry other oddball craft.

I had to do a 10K run around the outer perimeter fence with a full load on every six months, which was always fun, but the best was the time I did it while four or five Black Hawks loitered overhead for most of it. Never did figure out why. It was dramatic, I can tell you that much.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:06 PM on June 12, 2007

Sheesh, I should preview more.

wuwei: yeah, we saw the batteries on Angel Island -- we went there frequently -- but they were very small in comparison. I think they were just single pits, kinda, weren't they? It's been many many years since I've been there, and my memory isn't very clear. I do remember being Not Impressed, as I'd seen something far better. :)

I've never seen anything like the installation in the Headlands. Dunno if it's even still there, but if it is, and as poorly protected as it once was, it'd be a fun place to poke around in for an hour or two. :) But, of course, I'm not suggesting that you trespass on unused government property. :)
posted by Malor at 1:06 PM on June 12, 2007

Could it have been Battery 129? There's a virtual tour here - it's sits under what's known as Hawk Hill today, and it's completely open to the public (as are the other batteries in the Healdlands), and yes, it's enormous. More random images (via google) here.
posted by rtha at 1:24 PM on June 12, 2007

" I did it while four or five Black Hawks loitered overhead for most of it. Never did figure out why"

It's the California Air National Guard. The 129th Air Rescue Wing most likely.

When i worked out at the NASA Ames Research Center, I'd see them working with the Blackhawks on a regular basis. Some rope rescue drills and other neat stuff.

Sitting out there now is the Kuiper Airborne Observatory and you will occasionally see SOFIA (a 747SP, which are always neat to see) there as well.
posted by drstein at 1:26 PM on June 12, 2007

geez, I should preview more, too.
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on June 12, 2007

Outstanding post.
posted by Gamblor at 1:49 PM on June 12, 2007

Just west of the Presidio are several old (pre-WW2) gun batteries that are still around and easily accessible. They were associated with Fort Scott.

I worked out at Alameda Point over the last five years doing environmental work. The redevelopment is slow becuase the place is contaminated with various nasties in the soil and very shallow groundwater. I have been inside many of the old buildings, and they are pretty cleaned out.

Mythbusters uses the runway frequently to do vehicle based stunts and when launching projectiles etc. I ran into Jamie when they were filming the Snow Plow episode. I've seen them do other stunts out there too. The Alameda Police and CHP use it to practice the Pit Manuever too.

Lots of movies have been filmed there, The Matrix highway scene and the cavern dance scene are notable. The cavern was filmed inside a huge hanger where they used to build and house nukes. Several special effects companies lease properties out there too.
posted by Big_B at 1:50 PM on June 12, 2007

Not to nit-pick -- Fuck it, I'm nit-picking. Alameda NAS, Mare Island NS and Hamilton AFB aren't technically in San Francisco. The "San Francisco Bay Area" perhaps. This is just ol' Telestar's errata forwarded here, but still...

In addition to the Presedio and awsomely weird bunkers along the coast there (they're actually former shore artillery points if I recall), perhaps the coolest old-mil thing in the area is Fort Point. Some Nike-era missle ruins sit within a quite loverly regional park in the East Bay wedged between Lafayette, San Ramon and Danville. Good hiking with some history.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:28 PM on June 12, 2007

Fuck it, I'm nit-picking.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

And actually, if you REALLY want to get nit-picky, part of Alameda NAS is in San Francisco County.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:37 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fort Point is cool indeed, and famous for being the place where Madeleine jumps into the Bay in Hitchcock's Vertigo.
posted by trip and a half at 3:58 PM on June 12, 2007

My friends and I used to go mudding (or 4-wheeling, take your pick) around Hamilton Air Force Base's Runway. When we bored of that, we would take small go-karts up and down the runways, but the whole runway wasn't accessible because the Army Corps (or some such group) had piled mounds of dirt every 400 feet or so, so planes could no longer land on the runway.

My first real brush with the law was inside on of the barracks -- we were lighting of fire crackers, and causing general mayhem inside those creepy old places, which of course, some new homeowner didn't entirely cotton to. The police came, called our parents, escorted us home, and we were out there the next night.

There are also quite a few old hangars and things sinking into the bay mud out there....
posted by Jeff_Larson at 5:49 PM on June 12, 2007

If you walk down tennesee valley towards the little tiny beach cove there, on top if one of the cliffs surrounding the beach there are a couple bunkers looking out onto the ocean. I don't know how old they are or anything about them, but if anyone does feel free to comment.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 5:51 PM on June 12, 2007

Troy Pavia of Lost America also has a nice flickr set of long exposures at Hunters Point. Very nice post!
posted by phirleh at 7:38 PM on June 12, 2007

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