The Island: THE BIG STORY: History fades at Alameda Point, April 28, 2011


Dick Rutter expertly guides his Jeep Grand Cherokee through the gray maze of streets on Alameda Point, and each turn yields fresh details that bring the silent, moldering buildings that line those streets back to life.

Here are the Bachelor Officers Quarters, where Rutter lived for three years in the early 1970s when he was a Navy navigator; further along the route is the control tower where he worked 24-hour watches, and enjoyed sunrises and sunsets. Another turn yields the base’s old church.

“I went to too many funerals in this building,” Rutter intones, as he pushes the aging Cherokee against a thick wind on a blustery February day.

For the last decade, the architect and preservationist has been on a final mission at the former Naval Air Station: He’s trying to save dozens of Alameda Point’s historic buildings from the wrecking ball, including some that Rutter said offer examples of Navy buildings that were once prevalent across the globe but are now only still standing on the former base. But Rutter’s efforts to save and reuse the base’s historic Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings have been complicated by the city’s ongoing inability to develop the Point, or even to come up with a generally accepted plan for moving forward.

Federal money to pay for upgrades at the Point, including the 87 buildings that the federal government has deemed historic is long gone, according to one policymaker who has been active in efforts to reuse them. And along with deteriorating conditions, efforts to lease the buildings to companies that could help finance repair efforts and put eyes on the base – something preservationists have been pushing the city to do – have faced challenges from developers and the Navy cleanup process.

Some of the buildings are still in good shape, Rutter says. But he’s not sure how much longer others he’s trying to save can hold out against the ravages of vandals, squatters, copper thieves – or time.

“This stuff all looks so sad compared to when the Navy was here,” Rutter says after detailing the damage vandals and thieves have done to the BOQ, his onetime home. “I think we’re on the edge at this point.”