Saturday, November 21, 2009

Alameda Naval Air Station - A WWII Landscape

One year ago PGA was invited to prepare the HALS drawings for Doyle Drive at the Presidio in San Francisco, and since then I’ve been possessed with the project. Doyle is the single largest contract PGA has had in 30 years. It is a large, complex project that required an innovative approach to observing, recording and depicting the landscape. As we are coming close to completing our work I’ve begun to fret that Doyle would prove to be the peak of my career and nothing else would measure up.

Then about a month ago PGA got a call from JRP Historical Consulting inviting us to assist them with a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) for Alameda Naval Air Station (NAS). And, with one phone call, I fell in love with a new project. Somehow, I feel like I am two-timing Doyle. How could I be “dating” NAS when I am still “engaged” with Doyle? But who would not admire those sentry-like Italian Cypress guarding the entry to Building 17? How could I not flirt with the amusing Hollywood Junipers that flank the old Post office door? And, who would not swoon at the sight of those big, strong Rusty Leaf Figs by the Bachelors Officers Quarters?

Alameda NAS is a collection of landscape types. The Administrative Core is formal with bilateral symmetry and a strong axial alignment. The entry sequence includes 3 large panels of lawn creating a mall similar to the Washington Mall. All of the buildings, roads, sidewalks, paths and much of the planting are laid out in an orthogonal pattern. NAS was the last military base to be designed as part of the whole base design system where the architect, planner and landscape architect worked collaboratively to plan and layout an efficient and functional base. These buildings were built as permanent structures and reflect the architectural style of their time – a hybrid of Art Deco and Moderne design.

The residential area is sub-divided into 4 housing types that reflect the status of different grades of military personnel. Curving streets, expanses of lawn, and an abundance of trees convey a park-like setting. The remainder of the base has a utilitarian landscape designed to facilitate its primary purpose to prepare and maintain aircraft during World War II. Spaces are massive – sometimes the size of multiple football fields laid side by side – without obstructions. Buildings and doors are monumental in scale, designed to allow an airplane to roll in the front door.

A Cultural Landscape Report is not HALS. It is another type of documentation for a historically significant landscape – in this case a site associated with our involvement with WWII, and subsequent military operations, including the Cold War. While our work at NAS is not HALS it is an important historic landscape and certainly is worthy of recordation under the HALS program.

Currently, what I am doing is recording the existing conditions for this 1750 acre site. I am mapping the locations of trees and vegetation (lawn and foundation shrubs). I am taking notes about other landscape improvements by feature type – circulation, hardscape features, buildings and structures, views and vistas, monuments, and spatial organization. And, I am photographing the features. With the existing conditions information, PGA will prepare a series of diagrams that illustrate the major components of the site, as it exists today: vegetation, circulation, and land use. PGA will contribute to the assessment and analysis; we will identify character defining features, and write Treatment Recommendations for the future use of the base. All of this is one part of an elaborate base closure process, and the transition of what this site will be in the future.

If you’ve never visited Alameda NAS I recommend it. It is a stunning landscape steeped in history. You’ll find extraordinary views of San Francisco and the Port of Oakland. You can visit the USS Hornet and the base museum. It is a great place to see a large variety of mature tree species, great architecture, and would be a perfect place to teach someone to drive, because it is flat and there are very few cars out there.

This post is dedicated to the World's Best Dog, Beauregard who died today at 17 - that is 119 in dog years. Beau was a mixed-bread dog we got from Hopalong Rescue. He was a perfect dog, who visited most of the historic sites with us. He will be missed.


  1. Chris,
    I spent many a Saturday morning at the Alameda NAS watching my kids play soccer. We did indeed visit again when learners' permits were issued. As you say, it is the perfect place to learn to drive - no other cars or pedestrians! Congratulations on your new project. I'll try not to judge now that I know you've been two-timing Doyle Drive.

  2. That naval station is so great and looks fabulous. There are other active military bases in California which are also great in ambiguous. You can lok into their website to know the details.