Update on Mare Island Museum Operations
February 1, 2022
The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation is at a critical and pivotal moment in its 25+ year history. We wanted to share with you some of the challenges we are facing, our status, but most importantly, the path we are on to continue our mission to “…collect, preserve, and interpret the history of Mare Island Naval Shipyard.”
The recent years have presented significant challenges for the Foundation. Of course, Covid has been awful. Restrictions have kept visitors away from the museum, and mandates on gatherings completely shut down our private events (the main funding source for our operations). Moreover, our tireless volunteer base skews older, and we’ve had a responsibility to protect them in ways that made it difficult to perform event “behind the scenes” work. Like similar organizations worldwide, Covid has been an unprecedented, existential threat.
We are also facing significant infrastructure challenges at our facilities. Our footprint is large and spans four buildings and their grounds: St. Peter’s Chapel, the Admiral’s Mansion, the Captains Quarters, and our marquise location: “Building 46”, the oldest building on the Island, constructed in 1854, 50,000 square feet, and the home of our museum. Historical buildings of this age require tremendous maintenance and repair, particularly as earthquakes roll through California every few decades. During Covid, as we took advantage of the “quiet time” to review our facilities, many major structural issues became evident. Concurrently the City of Vallejo, our landlord and partner, increased their scrutiny of the facilities, and it was determined that to keep the public safe, some of our facilities could not be re-opened to the public without significant and unsurmountable costs for seismic, infrastructure, and Americans with Disabilities Act work.
So, where does that leave us? Bad news first: currently we have no path to re-opening the museum at Building 46. This has been an extremely difficult pill to swallow, but the price of restoration is simply too high at this time; moreover, the seismic and infrastructure retrofitting of the building would have to be integrated into the contiguous buildings in the historic core, which are all part of the master developer’s responsibility, which has an unknown timeline. We are also suspending any activities at the less-used Captain's Mansion, which has similar seismic and ADA issues, to conserve resources.
As frustrating and devastating as the closure of the majority of facilities has been, we have shifted our focus to St. Peter’s Chapel and the Admiral’s Mansion, two of the most historically significant buildings on the Island. The Chapel is good to go, magnificent as always, open for renting and tours, and our restoration efforts continue there. We see the Admiral’s Mansion now as a worthy “home base” for our operations; the exterior grounds have been maintained throughout Covid and remain ideal for private events, particularly weddings. We are working with the City of Vallejo on the requirements for public re-entry to the first floor of the Mansion. We are hard at work designing a “historic welcome center” and experience on the first floor, so that the Admiral’s Mansion can be a first stop on your historic discovery of Mare Island.
Our focus is also shifting to alternative ways to fulfill our mission. While we have lost use of some key, beloved historic facilities, the reality is that the broader Island itself offers numerous opportunities to experience 142 years of shipyard history. The entire Island is a historical experience, and we will showcase that through walking and biking tours, talks, and events. We continue to maintain and improve the Sail Memorial of the Mare Island built USS Vallejo, a monument erected on the waterfront in the same location that workers swarmed to build this nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine at the height of the Cold War (visit anytime!). We are looking at outreach programs where we bring our stories, collection and history to the community. We also are focusing our efforts on digitizing our collection, in particular our photographs, for research and discovery online, as well as protecting, cataloging, and storing our extensive artifact collection (the largest Navy artifact collection in the country, outside of the Navy itself), with the expectation of someday re-opening a full-fledged museum, either at a restored Building 46 or elsewhere on the Island.
In short, we remain steadfast in our commitment to the rich history of Mare Island. We persevere, we innovate, and just like the thousands of Mare Island military and workers have done throughout a Civil, a Cold, and two World Wars we embrace the challenges we face and focus on the path to victory.
That is the update, but before we go, we would like to answer your obvious question of “how can I help?” You can help by becoming a member, by donating. Your funds will help us restore the Chapel to even greater splendor, will allow us to finish the maintenance work on the Admiral’s Mansion, and will beautify the grounds for events. Your funds will help us continue to preserve the history of Mare Island and deliver that message to future generations. You can also volunteer; we’d love to have you.
We thank you for your support, past, present and future.
Kent Fortner, President, on behalf of The Mare Island Historic Park Foundation Board of Directors.