Mare Island: Rethinking Abandoned Military Bases

In the 1990′s military bases across the US were shutdown leaving thousands of government workers unemployed and hundreds of cities with large budget deficits that most have not been able to remedy. Mare Island in Vallejo California was home to a ship building Naval base that served as a major hub of San Francisco Bay Area employment during World War II and the Cold war by building submarines and other naval vessels. It’s three massive dry docks have been vacant for nearly twenty years and its series of military structures have not been easy to adapt to current US economic needs. In the end, Vallejo has entered its own micro-depression forcing the city council to file for bankruptcy in 2009.

Drawing on the successes of other large scale post-industrial transformation strategies happening around the US, the Mare Island proposal include awakening latent ecologies. In the case of Mare Island the large abandoned structures and undeveloped land could be better utilized by looking at trends in ecological remediation, renewable energy cultivation, and a renewed interest in urban living. Despite these solutions, an abandoned military base still lies at the center of Mare Islands transformation that will not easily be converted without a large scale investment. Ultimately the base will be the catalyst for transformation and a single occupant could provide the stimulus needed in the form of an urban campus arrangement of buildings.

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art has made plans to expand their existing building located in downtown San Francisco to the tune of four million dollars. This strategy could be redirected to Vallejo; taking advantage of ample open space and readily adaptive buildings. It’s large sculptural ship building machinery still occupying space on the Vallejo waterfront present an intriguing backdrop for large scale artistic structures arranged into a sculpture park for sfMOMA.

The new art campus would be a public good and attract housing and business investment near the campus as has happened in North Adams Massachusetts with the MassMOCA campus. In an economically depressed city such as Vallejo, decisive and progressive changes must be made to revitalize the declining housing stock and downtown district. The campus will provide a cultural heart for the city that its citizens can rally around.

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