Sunday, September 12, 2004

Volunteers hurry for M.I. museum opening

By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

After years of planning a museum about Mare Island's naval history, it's come down to a race against the clock.

Volunteers still need to paint floors, assemble display cases and finish labeling hundreds of exhibit items dating back to the 1800s in time for Thursday's grand opening a banquet celebrating Mare Island's 150th anniversary.

"It's going to be pretty tight," Roger Lambert of Vallejo said Friday, taking a break from unpacking artifacts.

Since August, the retiree's been spending many of his free days at Mare Island's Building No. 46, home of the museum. He expects he'll have to put in even more hours as the deadline approaches.

But once the celebration is over, volunteers' work may likely go unseen but for tours and occasional visits. It won't be until December that the museum opens full-time at least that's the hope of Ken Zadwick, president of the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation, the group behind the museum.

Many of the museum volunteers also pull duty giving tours of the former military base. The foundation will need to find even more people willing to give up their free time to manage the museum, Zadwick said.

For now, volunteers are concentrating on getting ready for the Thursday opening.

Workers have prepared exhibits including photographs and models of submarines and ships built at Mare Island and the champagne bottles used to christen them. The items range from a diving suit from the turn of the 20th century to a computer rack from 1987.

"We're not even at 1 percent of the collection," Zadwick said.

The exhibit covers Mare Island's history from when it was established in 1854 to when it closed nearly a decade ago.

Probably the oldest item on display and among the larger pieces was the prow, or decorative piece of the bow, of the USS Independence, a ship launched in 1814 before Mare Island was established.

The ship served as a receiving station, housing sailors and Marines based at the shipyard, said volunteer Peggy O'Drain of Richmond.

The end of the Navy's presence on Mare Island is represented by a U.S. flag, encased in glass, used in Mare Island's closing ceremony March 31, 1996.

"This is just a hint of what's going to be displayed in the future," O'Drain said.

The museum building itself is historic, she said. The brick structure was built in 1855, a year after the shipyard was established, and first housed a blacksmith shop, later a pipe shop and today a museum. In 2001, its walls were buttressed by steel ribs to strengthen them against earthquakes.

Two years ago, the building was crowded with furniture and supplies. Today, much of the floor space has been cleared, the junk moved upstairs.

On Friday, display tables were stacked as many as three high on one side of the warehouse. The museum smelled of Pine-Sol cleaner, the floors of paint.

O'Drain helped Midge Lund of Vallejo comb through a list of items in the museum, matching the descriptions to the pieces to label them for display.

"It's a monumental job," O'Drain said.

After taking time out to give a tour of the museum, she soon had to get back to work. The clock is ticking.

E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.

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