A year ago, the historic mast in Alden Park on Mare Island was taken down for safety reasons. City officials said at the time that the mast would be restored or, if necessary, replaced – and they appear to be keeping their promise.
A 60-foot-tall mast has stood in the same central location on the old Mare Island shipyard since the yard was established just north of San Francisco in 1854. When the mast fell last November, some concerned locals of history have wondered. if the restoration project was really going to take place.
Earlier this year, the city asked for proposals to determine whether the mast, badly rotting at its base, could be salvaged, and set March 31 as the deadline for expert plans. This was followed by a contractual agreement on July 5 with Brooklyn, NY-based EverGreene Architectural Arts.
Under the terms of the $40,000 contract, EverGreene produces a full mast appraisal and restoration plan. EverGreene’s website says the company is the largest specialty contractor in the United States, focused on preserving historic buildings, artifacts and works of art.
Joseph Sembrat, who oversees EverGreene’s West Coast projects, says the report is nearing completion and that architectural specialists who analyzed the historic mast, apparently once a ship’s mast with a distinctive crow’s nest, think it can be restored.
“They’re confident that the mast can fly a flag again, although the flag may not be very tall,” adds Sembrat, who has a long list of restoration credits, including work on salvaged artifacts. at the site of the wreck of the RMS Titanic.
Sembrat also worked on the restoration of two historic Saturn V rockets; conservation of sculpture collections for the city of Dallas and the University of California; and overseeing the restoration of Union Station in Los Angeles.
The EverGreene report will go to Dan Seguiera, who inherited the mast project when he hired a few months ago as the city engineer of Vallejo. Once the report is in hand, the next step for the City will be to decide to complete the restoration work and find the necessary funds. In the meantime, the mast will remain stored in a building of the city’s public works department on the island of Mare.
Vallejo, just across the strait from Mare Island, now controls much of the island, including Alden Park. The city’s planning, public works and legal departments, as well as the Architectural Heritage and Monuments Commission, have all been involved in discussions about the mast’s future. Any restoration plan that emerges from City Hall would likely be reviewed by the AHLC.
The mast is considered the most important feature of Alden Park, on the south side of the main dockyard administration building. A mast was put in place shortly after Naval Commander David Farragut took charge of Mare Island Dockyard on September 16, 1854.
Two days later, Farragut began construction of the mast, hiring a few men to build a foundation. The mast was raised on October 2, and the American flag was hoisted the next day, in a brief ceremony attended by the entire shipyard force of a dozen workers. The USS Warren, which on September 18 became the first Navy ship to arrive on Mare Island, fired a 13-gun salute.
In A Long Line of Ships, Arnold Lott’s book detailing the history of Mare Island, Lott wrote that the arrival of the Warren had “imparted a military atmosphere to the scene”. But Lott wrote that Farragut, who ran away from several squatters the day he took office, wanted the Stars and Stripes to wave from a flagpole as soon as possible to “clearly indicate ownership of the island by the government”.
The pole has become what is described in a 2014 report on Alden Park as “the central organizing element” for the park as well as neighboring buildings. When the Commandant’s Residence was built near the park in 1855, its front door was deliberately aligned with the mast. When a permanent administration building was constructed in 1870, its entrance was also aligned with the flagpole. A similar alignment occurred when the bandstand was built in 1895 on the south side of the post, and when other park features were added over the years.
The Alden Park report also states that the flagpole is a character-defining feature of the park and that, according to the Federal Home Secretary’s standards, it should not be removed. Any damaged item “shall be repaired rather than replaced,” these standards state. And if the damage is irreparable, its replacement must be as close as possible, “in terms of design, color, texture and, if possible, materials”.
— Vallejo and other Solano County communities are treasures of early California history. My column Solano Chronicles, which airs every other Sunday, highlights various aspects of this story. If you have any local stories or photos to share, message me on Facebook.