2 min read

Requiem for Naval Air Station Alameda

Looking around a closed naval base

Naval Air Station Alameda, now known as Alameda Point, sits quietly across the bay from San Francisco with stellar views of the Bay Bridge and downtown. It’s fascinated me for years.

I grew up on military bases with their spartan approach to construction. The long fences that run along the borders of these bases and the guards with automatic weapons make you feel like you’ve managed something really important when you pass through the gate. The storied old second and third generation jets mounted on pylons are a common sight. A nod to the service of previous generations and a reminder of this country’s boundless innovative capacity. There’s also the quintessential officer’s club, the commissary, and the minimalist base housing. On Alameda, so many of the decaying structures around this place, including the A-4 Skyhawk past the old main entrance, seem familiar to me and it’s very strange to see these buildings all boarded up and falling apart. The road just outside the  main gate is chock full of people camping out in tents and RVs.

The base closed in 1997 after 57 years of operation. Another casualty of the Base Realignment and Closures act, which killed off over 350 installations in the wake of the Cold War over five rounds of closures between 1988 and 2005. They don’t let you on the runways these days because that part of the island is home to an endangered bird called the California Least Tern. There are tire marks all over the place from people drifting their cars around on the acres and acres of concrete. Breweries, wineries and distilleries have moved into the old hangars overlooking the flight line. The old control tower still stands watch over the ramp.

In its heyday, NAS Alameda was home to many fleet carriers, including the USS Enterprise, the Midway, the Coral Sea, and even the USS Carl Vinson (which is a Nimitz-class carrier still in active service and currently homeported in San Diego). These days, only the USS Hornet sits in port as a museum ship and the ferries run out of terminal in the old seaplane lagoon, carrying tech workers and financiers to their jobs in the city.

Since the early 2000s, the city of Alameda has been slowly converting the former base into new housing projects and moved private companies into the historic structures, but the whole place still feels really empty and unfrequented. I’m not certain this part of the island will ever really get over the ghost of its former function.