I had to go to the Alameda Naval Air Station (more landfill!) for work yesterday, so I brought my camera and used the opportunity to bike around taking some photos before I left the base:


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Stardust and Serenade

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Watch your step

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Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

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If you lived here, you'd be home now

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Door 12

Many more are available at my Flickr set. There was a lot that I didn’t get a chance to photograph, so I’ll probably take some more shot next time I’m over at Alameda Point.

16 Responses to “Decommissioned”

  1. eric says:

    I love those photos–amazing colors and interesting, pleasing shapes, all kind of muted and elegant–very beautiful.

  2. ng says:

    Yes, a wonderful collection.
    Are these buildings available to rent or buy? (How does that bike shop get the space? etc.)

  3. dc says:

    eric: Thanks! I hope to take some even better pictures next time around. It’s very conducive to photography (duh!).

    ng: Some of them are available for rent, but a lot of them are just waiting to be torn down or renovated. There are various oddball businesses scattered in warehouses and hangars around the base. For instance, the owner of the Grand Lake movie theater in Oakland also runs antique and fine art auctions out of the old navy base theater, and a monthly flea market on one of the tarmacs. One of the hangars now houses a boutique distillery that makes various spirits, including the first absinthe to be manufactured in the United States since the ban on absinthe was lifted a couple of years ago. Another hangar houses an athletic club, and yet another one seems to contain a mechanic shop where they fix public transit and airport shuttle buses from the surrounding cities. The American Red Cross has its local offices in a building on the base.

    That bike shop in the photos is only open a few afternoons a week, and is managed by a non-profit (APC = Alameda Point Collaborative) which also runs transitional housing for homeless families in some of the old navy residences (I think the bike shop mainly serves the children who live on the base, and as far as I could tell those kids also mind the store). Oh, and the navy still leases space on some docks where they park several ships, including an aircraft carrier which is now a museum open to the public. I would guess that about half of the buildings are being used in some way, and about half of them are either falling apart or just sitting empty.

    Ever since the base closed in 1997, there have been plans in the works to redevelop it for mixed residential/commercial use, but it’s been a complicated and ill-fated saga that I only know in outline. One developer was chosen, but fizzled after 5 or 6 years of planning, so a few years ago another developer was chosen. Now with the economy falling apart, no one seems to have any confidence that the new developer will be able to do much anytime soon. The result is that you have all these old buildings sitting empty, and few businesses can reasonably rent them (without any guarantee that an old building won’t be razed 2 or 3 years from now, it doesn’t make much sense to invest any capital renovating and moving into one). So the only tenants who will rent space on the base are those (such as the distillery or the auction house) who have already been deeply embedded there for many years, or those who can deal with short-term leasing of space that hasn’t been renovated since World War II.

    I could have some of these details wrong, but that’s my understanding from the time when I used to work on the base full time, and from what I see in the papers. Maybe someday if I feel inspired, I’ll do some actual research and write up a short history of the place with accompanying photos. Some of the buildings are very impressive — the hangar that contains “Door 12” and “Door 13” above is rumored to have footprint of a million square feet. That’s probably a slight exaggeration, but it’s in the ballpark. (It could practically house a ballpark, come to think of it.)

  4. jabel says:

    How tall are those big buildings.Somewhere at work if it didn’t get tossed in our move is an old pre airforce manual of Seaplane Landing sites and Airship sites in the Bay Area.I can’t recall if Alameda was around during the Airship heydays.

  5. dc says:

    jabel: I’m bad at judging heights, but the hangars are probably 50-60 feet tall. There’s a rectangular harbor near the big ships, with ramps leading out of the water to some hangars that are separate from the main hangars near the runways, and that harbor is still referred to as the “Seaplane Lagoon,” so I assume that there was a lot of seaplane activity there. The base was created just before WWII, and was at its peak activity during the war, so I guess that would have been the right era? You probably know a lot more about military history than I do. Let me know if you come across that old manual.

    ng et al: Out of curiosity, I googled the bike shop, and as I thought, it’s as much a youth/community center as it is a store, and most of the “staff” are young kids. More power to them:

  6. ng says:

    The bike shop-plus sounds great, and it sounds like there should be potential for all sorts of similar projects if someone could come in and work on the site. Do you have any idea whether the people in APC are truly transitional or stay for years?

  7. jabel says:

    A quick search on Google seems to show Moffett Field in Silicon Valley mainly because the weather was better as the Dirigble and Blimp base.The seaplanes at Oakland Alameda were mostly the PBY flying boats.Wikipedia has interesting articles on each base including the huge blimp hangar at Moffett.Intersting note that the Alameda Terminal of the first Trans-Con RR is on the Oakland-Alameda NAS grounds.

  8. dc says:

    ng: I don’t know how successful the APC is. I guess even if people stay forever, that’s better than being homeless, so it depends how you define success. I used to walk the dog past that housing at lunchtime, when I worked a block away, but otherwise I know very little about that non-profit.

    jabel: Interesting. I’ll have to google “PBY flying boats” now, because that’s a new term to me.

    About 6 months ago, a company started giving airship (solid-frame blimps) sightseeing tours leaving from Moffett Field and cruising over the bay area. It costs a small fortune for an hour or two of sightseeing, and last fall was probably a bad time to start a business that requires people to spend a lot of disposable income, but there are still a lot of rich software people around SF and San Jose, so maybe luxury businesses like that do okay in this kind of economy.

  9. jabel says:

    Pby’s are also known as Catalina’s.Jimmy Buffet has or had one and there is a company in Miami that flys them to Bimini and some other Bahama Islands.We flew one to Bimini years ago and it was pretty cool.

  10. jabel says:

    I stand corrected Jimmy had a Grumman Albatross.The airline in Miami that had PBY’s was Chalks which switched to Grummans sometime after we flew them in the mid 80’s.

  11. jabel says:

    Once more .I called my friend in Melbourne ,Fl and he said the PBY we flew to Bimini was not owned by Chalks but used their Seaplane base.He said as far as he knows Chalks always flew Grumman Mallards and isn’t even sure they still fly after a fatal crash on the way to Bimini several years ago.

  12. dc says:

    I’m glad we got that all settled — now I’ll be able to sleep well tonight.

  13. jabel says:

    Me Three!

  14. wordnerd says:

    You should submit to National Geographic:

  15. Chip says:

    These are great photos, along with your usual assortment. You have one of my favorite Oakland blogs now. Keep up the good work.

  16. dc says:

    Chip: Thanks! It’s great to get feedback — especially, of course, when it’s positive feedback.

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