monday, september 10, 2007
Doug and I spent most of Labor Day exploring the Marin Headlands (aerial picture). I visited Rodeo Beach a long time ago and adored it because its sand consists of tiny colorful stones, but this time I skipped the beach and we headed to the military ruins.
One of the informative plaques said:
Construction of Battery O’Rorke was begun in 1902 and completed in 1905. The fortification was named for Patrick Henry O’Rorke, who had become a colonel at the age of 27. He was killed in action at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
During both World Wars, this battery housed 4 guns with 3″ diameter rifled barrels. Each weapon could fire shells weighing 15 pounds a distance of almost 5 miles. These small guns were important because they could be loaded and fired more rapidly than larger weapons. They were located here to prevent enemy landings on Rodeo Beach.
Battery O’Rorke was abandoned and its guns scrapped in 1946.
There are a bunch of these concrete-and-iron fortifications hiding in the hills (including some neat bits like base end stations), which watched the quiet bay until they became obsolete. You can wander around most of these bunkers and peek inside the rusting doors and crumbling tunnels — plenty of adventure while knowing that anything actually dangerous has been fenced off, repaved, or sold for scrap metal. I like seeing how the iron is rusting and how the dusty old designers planned for the future.
There are also a ton of old wooden fort buildings, beautiful and mostly empty. Some are being restored and retrofitted, some hold art centers and museums, and some are decaying and closed. I love the empty ones; they make me wonder why they were built, what they used to hold, who used to hang out there, and what I could use them for in some post-apocalyptic scenario where I am in charge of the world. Some of the structures have neat graffiti, too.
Update October 18, 2007: BLDGBLOG reminds me that The Rings of Saturn, one of my favorite books, expresses those thoughts much better than I could:
These abandoned weapons testing ranges, complete with odd concrete structures, Sebald writes, looked like “the tumuli in which the mighty and powerful were buried in prehistoric times with all their tools and utensils, silver and gold…the closer I came to these ruins, the more any notion of a mysterious isle of the dead receded, and the more I imagined myself amidst the remains of our own civilization after its extinction in some future catastrophe.”
For Sebald, “wandering about among heaps of scrap metal and defunct machinery, the beings who had once lived and worked here were an enigma, as was the purpose of the primitive contraptions and fittings inside these bunkers, the iron rails under the ceilings, the hooks on the still partially tiled walls, the showerheads the size of plates, the ramps and the soakaways.”