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Beauty in Decay – My Mother’s Day

Beauty in Decay – My Mother’s Day

When my kids asked me what I wanted to do on this sunny Mother’s Day, it was easy: Family Photowalk! I didn’t want flowers or candy, I wanted to go out and shoot.  I took advantage of the fact that this is one of the few days of the year when I can make them do what I want and had everyone grab their iPods and cameras.  Despite a few groans, we hopped in the car and headed to Mare Island. I’ve been there a few times before and wanted to come back and try my new Oggl by Hipstamatic. I was fortunate enough to be a beta tester of this app and I’m in love. I am already a hipsta-addict, and the ability to switch lenses and films post-shoot is great. I’ve learned so much about what combos work in what situations, and more about what doesn’t.

So, a little bit about our destination:  Mare Island is an abandoned Naval shipyard in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It isn’t really an island, it’s a 23-mile-wide peninsula in the San Pablo Bay.  In 1850 President Fillmore reserved Mare Island for government use.  Construction began in 1872 and was completed in 1941.  At one time Mare Island employed 18,500 workers and had a hospital, a chapel, several dry docks, a train station, classrooms and accomodations for employees and Navy men.  In 1995, Mare Island Naval Base was deactivated as part of the cycle of U.S. Base closures.  There has been talk of revitalization, repurposing, rebuilding, but for now it sits and rots, a graveyard of huge buildings, cranes, and barracks, now occupied by hundreds of homeless people.

I am impressed by the immensity of the abandoned buildings from a distance.  They are imposing and beautiful. I find it hard to capture their grandiosity with a camera.  They look a bit surreal and cartoonish.

Being with my kids in this place was the best day I can remember in a long time. They loved it too. Here are some of my favorite of the over 200 pictures I took last Sunday.  For me, as with most things, the beauty is in the details.



  1. I love your images from there – from the huge to the minute. From the neglected and abandoned to the sweet love of your children. Really good work.

  2. I remember Mare island fondly. My father, a Captain in the Navy, was in charge of nuclear submarine operations there from 1961 to about 1965. We lived in beautiful officer’s quarters across from the chapel. The grounds of the island were peppered with trees brought back from foreign ports by ships returning for repairs. It was thought of as almost an arboretum. We adored the location near wine country, SanFrancisco, the coast, and natural wonders like Muir Woods. Wikipedia states that there has been residential development and protection of wetlands there. Is the whole island merely derelict buildings? Loved your story.

    • How interesting to hear how it was then. I love the location as well. The officer’s quarters are gorgeous. It looks like some of them are being rented as private residences. There are some newer homes on the island, away from the shipyard areas. I don’t know about the wetlands. It would be nice to see the beautiful old buildings maintained, especially those grand houses. Thank you for reading! :)

  3. Lol…only a creative would opt to take the family for an outing to an abandoned space. Glad your family were so flexible . Some solid shots here.

  4. Cool shots, Jen. You’ve given me an idea for next Mother’s Day ;)

  5. Looks like an awesome day. Great shots!