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Subroc missile in Alden Park.
Subroc missile in Alden Park.

Mare Island Naval Missile Park

Field review by the editors.

Vallejo, California

The sprawling Navy shipyard on Mare Island, decommissioned in the 1990s and partly demolished, still provides worthy war sights, including preserved dry docks, a WWII Mighty Midget ship, and a large history museum.

Spend a few minutes checking out Alden Park, across from the museum. The public park displays several weapons and missiles that were part of warships built at the facility (since the 1850s). They're arranged around a wood 1895 bandstand. A 28-ft. tall Polaris missile (sub-fired with nuclear warhead) pokes up. Mare Island was a vital facility for building and outfitting submarines. Nearby is a Civil War era Spar Torpedo -- "Secured to the end of a spar and exploded on contact," according to its plaque. The park also features a 55 mm Hotchkiss cannon, and a Subroc missile.

Polaris missile.
Polaris missile.

There's a rare Nazi Marder midget sub, an advanced "human torpedo" design used in 1944 that offered its fanatical pilot a slim escape option after targeting the side of an enemy ship. It's not a product of Mare Island, but a nice example of what failing enemies resort to in the face of America's shipbuilding prowess.

The Alden Park flag pole dates from 1854. Commodore James Alden was the Mare Island commander in 1868-69. His park name honors are due in part to his novel program to plant trees on the formerly treeless island -- exotic non-native specimens brought back on Navy excursions around the world.

A granite obelisk -- "Pillar of the Future by the Pillars of the Past" -- lists Mare Island milestones, such as its start under Commander David Farragut in 1854, construction of the first floating Naval flight deck (USS Pennsylvania) in 1911, and launch of the submarine USS Nautilus in 1930.

The strangest thing about this already odd park is its location in the bosom of dozens of concrete structures. Flat-roofed, one-story cubes are arranged along the road and in a grid. They were created after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack as refuges from explosions in case of an enemy bombing run on Mare Island. Called "Personnel Safety Shelters," the island's 33 remaining structures are windowless and thick-walled. As a safety precaution, the entrance doorways are sealed over. Since it's a park, the grass is regularly mowed and trees are tended. The now purposeless cubes are recontextualized as a work of environmental concretism.

Personnel Safety Shelters.
Personnel Safety Shelters.

Most of the buildings and officer homes on the surrounding streets are unoccupied. The park is a quiet retreat for visitors or dog walkers from parts of the island that have undergone residential development.

Mare Island Naval Missile Park

Alden Park

8th St,, Vallejo, CA
8th St. between Railroad Ave. and Walnut Ave.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Mare Island EagleMare Island Eagle, Vallejo, CA - < 1 mi.
The Alibi ClockThe Alibi Clock, Vallejo, CA - < 1 mi.
Crockett History: Sugar, Sturgeon, SwitchboardCrockett History: Sugar, Sturgeon, Switchboard, Crockett, CA - 4 mi.
In the region:
USS Pampanito Submarine Museum, San Francisco, CA - 21 mi.

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