Inside the Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot
on May 15, 2013
There’s a strange monolithic structure on Richmond’s shoreline just north up the highway from the San Rafael Bridge. With castle-like towers and fortifications, the red brick structure stands in high contrast to the bay, and to the trees and overgrowth that surround it. The fact that it’s locked behind a chain link fence makes it all the more mysterious.
The iconic red brick building is known as Winehaven. Before Prohibition, the warehouse building was home to the largest winery in the United States. In 1941, the U.S. Navy incorporated it as a warehouse facility into the Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot, a 413-acre military complex.
When military officials moved in to the area, they brought their families, as well. Rows and rows of houses still line the highway across from Winehaven, all boarded up and fenced off. The commander’s house overlooks the village from atop a hill. Perks of being commander included a house with stairs, carpet and a view of Mount Tamalpais and the bay.
The base was decommissioned in 1995, but remained active until 1998. When the Navy moved out, they took only what was important, leaving behind piles of old paperwork and furniture in the administration building.
The building was eventually turned over to the city of Richmond and today remains vacant and locked behind chain link fences. Now the area’s main occupants are turkeys, deer and some feral cats. Visitors can request permission to access the closed site from the city.
Inside, the squeaks of vermin echo from distant corners of the building’s vast storerooms. Walking through the cavern, there are signs that people have used the building since its decommissioning: there’s some old exercise equipment, furniture, oil drums and stacks upon stacks of wooden pallets. The Department of Homeland Security recently left behind shooting targets, a boxing ring and dummies.
From 2005 to 2011, the Guidiville Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians and Upstream Point Molate, LLC campaigned to convert Winehaven into a Vegas-style casino and resort in Richmond’s point. The casino plan was the subject of years of controversy that included a city-wide advisory vote that indicated little support for the project. The City Council finally killed the plan in 2011, but the tribe sued the city for reneging on their agreement to turn over the property.
In the mid-1900s, a portion of the property was converted to an 11-acre beach park, which closed in 2001 due to budget cuts. The city plans to reopen the park in the summer of 2013.
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A few corrections and additions might be in order here.
First, the Navy did not come in until June of 1942 when they took the property from the owners and turned it into the primary fueling depot for the entire Pacific Fleet. The court case between the owners and the Navy was finally settled in March of 1945 when the owners were finally paid for their property.
And while NFDPM was still considered “active” until it was decommissioned in 1998, there had been no activity there since the early 1990’s.
Much of the furniture and papers left behind were actually from the Navy from during the time they were remediating the environmental contamination.
The City and many City employees used the site as a storage repository for various items (belonging to the City and to City employees). There’s a large part of Building 6 (the large warehouse due south of Winehaven) that is currently being used by the City to store a wide variety of items.
The basement of the Winehaven building was used for civil defense and still has remnants left over from the days when we believed that a nuclear war could be fought, won and survived. A few years back we found papers dating from the mid ’50’s (signed by then Governor Earl Warren) to be used by housewives so they would know how to stock their kitchen shelves to be prepared for a nuclear war.
In that same area there are still 5 gallon water cans, cots and even 5 gallon cans filled with toilet paper, sanitary napkins, air deodorizer and a toilet seat to fit on top of the can.
One of the prizes is a blackboard with an organizational chart for the immediate area delineating the chain of command for when the war started.
Those pallets that were referred to were left over from the Navy days and are actually stacked in such a fashion to form the walls of an indoor squash court built by the Navy.
The tribe and the developer that the City brought on board have a still pending lawsuit against the City trying to recover the tens of millions of dollars they spent and turned over to the City before the City changed their collective minds and rejected the development plans the City had asked them to pursue. [The City will argue that they never asked for or approved of a casino but that’s something the courts will have to decide.]
The suggestion that there was “little support” for the casino development plan is misleading. When it was put to the voters, 42% of those voting supported the plan. Yes, the proposal lost but that’s far from “little support”.
Thanks for this interesting article on Pt. Molate. and Don Gosney’s comments. Don perhaps has more institutional knowledge of Pt. Molate than anyone in the City of Richmond.
Pt. Molate is a wonderful place and the responsibilities surrounding its redevelopment are vast. Certainly great care and consideration must be taken given the Winehaven District’s national and state level historic status, and given its locale on a significant headland in the Bay Area.
We invite all Richmond residents to voice their concerns, hopes, and ideas to the Pt. Molate Community Advisory Committee, which meets the third Monday of each month at 440 Civic Center Plaza. Our next meeting is May 20th. Head over to http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us>government>citycommisions to find our agenda packets.
And if you are interested in serving on the Pt. Molate Community Advisory Committee(PMCAC), fill out a commission application (same navigation as above).
Pt. Molate is a great treasure of Richmond and deserves a bright future.
Joan Garrett/Chair PMCAC
Just an FYI – the comments section turned the navigational string into a URL. Clicking on it will not take you to the PMCAC page. Apologies.
Use this link instead.