Thursday Doors: Mare Island

Located just over the bridge from the city of Vallejo, California, Mare Island was established in 1854 as the first naval shipyard on the West Coast. During World War II the base had a population of 46,000 and played a critical role in the military’s efforts.

It was at Mare Island on Dec. 7, 1941, that an urgent transmission came reporting the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. And it was there that the guts of the atomic bombs that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima were loaded aboard the cruiser Indianapolis.

The shipyard was closed in 1996 after producing 512 ships, including 17 nuclear submarines. After years of neglect, Mare Island is currently reinventing itself as a desirable place to visit, recreate, and live.

Lucky for me and others who lust-for-rust and pray-for-decay, much of the old shipyard and many of the buildings used by the military still stand. Although the brick warehouses are being renovated into breweries, brewpubs, distilleries, and office space, the beautiful old shells – and doors – remain… at least for now.


Decay makes me happy.
Rust, broken windows, and doors… oh joy!
Rusty stairs.
What a great door for a brewpub!
I think I can see a door… but this shot really is for Dan.
Shelters built to protect shipyard workers from potential Japanese air raids.
The shelters literally line some streets.
Undated picture of children filing into the shelters.

Thursday Doors is a link-up of fellow door aficionados generously hosted by Norm Frampton. Head over to his blog to view all the amazing doors he and others have posted.


Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

71 thoughts on “Thursday Doors: Mare Island”

  1. Very interesting! I’m glad they are opening up again. It’s a shame to let buildings decay, I love it when they are made into something cool like a brewery. Thanks for sharing.

  2. So cool and so close yet I didn’t realize this. Guess I need to look around more. The kids filing in the shelters gave me pause considering the recent back and forth exchange with NK. Hate to think they would have to be used again for their original purpose! Thanks for sharing, Janis.

  3. These pieces of history just beg to be photographed. You did a brilliant job, Janis! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  4. Wonderful photos of an interesting place. Sobering to think of the history behind the shelters. The red doors stand out to me since they are my favorite but I also like the rustic look of the buildings.

  5. Thanks for this blast from the past, Janis. I visited Mare Island a few times in the late ‘60s when a dear friend was stationed there after his tour of duty in Vietnam. It was quite a bustling place, filled with Naval activity. I’d love to see it in transition today.

  6. I am jealous that you have this place to explore, but very happy that you brought us along. Thanks for snagging the cranes (I’m sure they have a door). There’s something about a place like this, when you can still imagine it humming with activity. Great photos!

    1. You would love it, Dan! I just photographed two of several cranes 🙂 I don’t live in the area (I’m down south) but fortunately, my brother (an avid photographer) and sister-in-law knew that I’d enjoy it and took me there when we were visiting around Christmas.

  7. Janis, you will find some very decorative doors in Spain, and, quite a few in need of paint and rust removal 🙂 Those bomb shelters in America are a surprise to me. By the way let me know if I can help with any road trip questions that come up.

  8. Fascinating to see. I’m kind of surprised they kept the cranes up; I would have thought it’d be a potential danger. Having said that, they add to the contrast. Great pics, Janis. Thanks for sharing. – Marty

    1. The cranes were in an area that was fenced off, but I was surprised to have as much access to the area as we did. I feel pretty lucky too… I have a feeling it won’t be as open as it was for long. As soon as someone breaks a toenail, there will be a lawsuit.

  9. I love pictures, and seeing, old places. I almost want to ask questions of the old rusty stairs. The things they saw, if only we could somehow, pull memories from inanimate objects.

    1. I imagine the shipyard was pretty busy during the various wars (including the build-ups and draw-downs) and has many stories to tell. They had a museum that would have been interesting to visit, but it wasn’t open that day.

  10. Fascinating post, Janis. I appreciate that you included the photo of the kids being escorted into the shelter. It adds another layer of reality to these old buildings.
    Also, kudos for embracing your photography passionette 🙂

    1. I thought the history was so interesting… and I just scratched the surface. Those kids heading into the shelters reminded me of the B&W pictures from my youth of students huddling under their desks (like they would protect us).

  11. Way cool photos. Such an amazing glimpse back in time. The door at the top of the rusty stairs looks like it could be the beginning of a murder mystery. 🙀

  12. I grew up in San Rafael, not far from Mare Island. I remember it full of ships and submarines. Your visit and realistic photographs of its current state of decay have inspired me to stop the next time I am in the area.

  13. Terrific photos. I am also a big fan of old warehouses AND shipyards. There is always interesting huge architecture and such a sense of time passed, as your photos show.


  14. I loved this post. Great photos and history. I lived on Alameda NAS, not far from there. Also no longer in operation (decay combined with renewal), I try to visit every year or so.

  15. This is so fascinating – thank you for writing about this. And you got to ride around the island on bikes? That’s too cool! The door to the brick building with arched windows (I think they are called Palladian windows) is stunning. So majestic and inspiring! I remember the siren drills where we all huddled under our school desks. Clearly, we were not safe, but we didn’t know any better!

    1. No bikes for us, unfortunately, but I saw a few people riding them and it seemed like a great way to get around. I’m not sure what the point was of asking us to get under our desks – maybe to give us a false sense of security. I don’t think those spindly desks would even provide much protection in an earthquake, much less from a bomb.

  16. As always, I love your door photos. I like the idea that the rust and decay make the doors more interesting. Hopefully, my wrinkles and scars make me more interesting. 🙂

  17. I noticed a caption on one of your photos says, “Decay makes me happy.” I’ve been to Mare Island, and yes, it is beautiful. I thought you might also enjoy a trip to Fort Ord, in the Monterey Bay area. It’s an old Army base that has been closed for many years. Talk about decay and some great places to photograph. It’s one of my favorite places. For whatever reason, I feel peaceful there. Anyway, I loved your photos of Mare Island.

    1. Thanks for the tip! I remember seeing Fort Ord the last time we were in Monterey but – silly us – we didn’t stop to check it out. Moss Landing is another great place for rust and run-down buildings in the area.

  18. You have really captured the feeling of the place with your photos. The rust and broken windows disrupt the symmetry and add visual interest.


      1. One of my neighbours frequently reminds me (and proudly so) about her memories of her father taking her into a shelter/bunker that he built during the second world war when bombs were going off nearby (each time she forgets she has already told me – bless her – I think she enjoys re-telling the story, and who can blame her, she’s a survivor!) 😊

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