This Bay Area island named after a legendary horse is home to decades of naval history

By Victoria Sepulveda
December 11, 2020

Vallejo’s Georgia Street slices right through the middle of downtown. On Saturdays, even in a pandemic, it is crowded with stalls and masked people for its weekly farmers market. The hubbub spills down the main thoroughfare and onto the Vallejo waterfront, where families walk and bicycle and restaurants host outdoor dining. Across the Napa River, one can see ships and old military buildings, tall, square, brick-and-glass warehouses that glint in the sun and glow pink at sunset. This is the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Crossing the bridge to Mare Island is like crossing a bridge into another world, one of stately naval mansions, a Victorian chapel, concrete bunkers and a peaceful, zen-like silence. It's a forgotten world, caked in layers of Bay Area history, where every sight hides its own story, some more than a century old.

On a sunny, brisk Saturday in late November, I drive up the Vallejo waterfront and across the Mare Island Causeway to visit St. Peter’s Chapel, the oldest naval chapel in the country. The park around the chapel is serene. Towering eucalyptus sway and chatter gently in the wind. At the north end of the little park, white, Colonial revival officers mansions reflect the sunlight. An old man walks his dog alone. The dark, wooden chapel, closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, is shaded and stately. Even from the outside, the Tiffany stained glass is visible, though I’ve read it’s breathtaking when seen from the inside, illuminated by the sunlight.

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