Beneath the Bay Area:
Battery D_____ Exploration, July 2004

Beneath the Bay Area: Battery D_____ Exploration, July 2004

Originally posted on my old site Life In A Mikeycosm on Aug. 6, 2004.

somewhere beneath the Bay Area, Aug 6 2004

Last July, my late* trubbamaking companion was trying to find a path down to the beach when he noticed a hole in a fence across the road, where someone had cut it away to allow a tree limb to grow through.Characteristically unable to resist, he climbed through it to explore, and, in a fantastic piece of luck, deep in the woods behind this fence he stumbled onto the surface entrances to Battery D_________, a sprawling underground military facility dating back to World War 2. Several weeks later he brought me there, camera in hand, to explore the corridors of this creepy subterranean relic…

*Repeat visitors to this gallery will notice the change in epithet. In summer 2005, my former intrepid trubbamaking companion was killed in a freak dating accident.

Don’t mourn for him. He knew the risks.

A humble beginning to a great adventure. This is the hole my late trubbamaking companion noticed, cut to allow a branch to grow through the fence. Only in California do they cut the fence instead of the tree.

One of my late trubbamaking companion’s most redeeming qualities —as well as one of his worst ones—was his complete inability to resist a nearby hole.

Oops, did I say that?

A few yards into the woods, here’s the first hint that the area beyond this fence is not just a normal wooded hillside.

This is a concealed lookout post, set into the ground. A soldier would hide in this lookout and peer out through a narrow slit at ground level to watch for craft approaching from the west.

The viewing slit, beneath the concrete disk, is hard to see through the foliage in this photograph—I had to aim and shoot in the dark, so as not to draw attention from cars on the nearby road.

img026After a long and difficult slog through heavy woods, we came to a large, obviously manmade pit set into the ground. A climb down a rotten tree limb brought us to the floor of the ivy-strewn pit—and to this dark maw, our first point of entry into the underground tunnels of Battery D_______.

Just inside, there are two tunnels. To the left, a yellow and white corridor with metal doors.

Straight ahead of us, a long brown and white painted hallway with ordinary paneled passage doors, like you might find in an old house.

The closest room to the entrance had this piece of ancient machinery. I can’t for the life of me guess what this thing was when it worked.

[later comments from correspondents]

This is a shower stall in a bathroom off the brown and white hallway.

We had marvelled at the lack of graffiti in this place—unusual for an abandoned site in the crowded, overrun SF Bay Area. Here we found the first evidence of previous trespassers… note the sneakers on the bench at lower left, which were there when we arrived.

Whenever I find something like this on one of these expeditions, I always wonder: who came here and left without their shoes?

The toilets look as if they have been used since the complex was abandoned.

The layout of the rooms off the brown and white corridor was strange—rooms behind rooms behind rooms. Every single room along this hallway also opened into at least one other adjoining room. It was almost as if the designers of this place wanted to make it impossible to corner someone in this section.

Leaving one of the rooms I walked right into the pipe running down the left side of the hallway, about 4′ above the floor, and the sound reverberated up and down the corridors throughout the complex. If anyone had been within earshot, the racket would have given us away.

These ceiling tiles were littered all over this section. Asbestos?

To be safe, we sat on towels in the car on the ride home, and I took off my shoes before entering the house and washed all my clothes as soon as I was inside.

By the light of our flashlights, the missing tiles gave the ceiling a sort of an art deco look. By the bright light of a camera flash, they just look crappy.

At the end of the brown and white hallway was a staircase leading up to rooms on the surface level. The rooms off the landing at the top of these stairs looked almost like a residence or front office. The exterior windows and doors were boarded up from the outside. No pictures in there—wouldn’t want someone outside to see a camera flash going off inside a boarded-up house!

More evidence of previous infiltrations. In this bare room was a solitary brass bowl and some festive-looking panties. Must’ve been some interesting date.

This room also contained one of the only pieces of graffiti in the entire complex. Obviously not many people have found this place.

I don’t know which was odder: the fact that there was a solitary piece of graffiti all by its lonesome, or the fact that someone had obviously gone to great pains to spraypaint over whatever it had previously said. Perhaps whoever left the panties had second thoughts.

Then, after marveling at the general lack of graffiti in the complex, two consecutive rooms deep past the far end of the brown and white hallway, my flashlight fell on this.

It creeped me out to find this sudden excrescence of human personality, this vitality, deep within the far rooms of this desiccated, decrepit place.

Of course, the floodlight of the camera flash has a way of banishing the mystery. Try to imagine these scenes by flashlight.

img014Look at some of these messages. There are names which are unlike the sorts of tags you usually see, as well as some more… creative… inscriptions.”Christian Francis Huff 5.25.90″
“Sgt. Kevin Fairchild 28 Aug 94”
“Wendell G 10.10.2000” (Who names their kid “Wendell”?)
“6th Coast Artillery Regiment”
“Beware the beast cometh”
“You may not realize it, but I am standing behind you” [chalked on wall below blackboard, visible in previous picture]

img003We returned to our entry point and headed down the more institutional-looking corridors to the left. Despite being directly adjoined to the brown and white section, it looked as if it had been designed by a completely different architect. The construction and layout bore absolutely no resemblance to the first passage.

img017Look at this door. It’s iron, with a 1/2″ metal bolt on the inside, and a metal grate in the center with a speaking hole through it.

I can only imagine the awful possibility the builders of this place were envisioning when they made this door… perhaps a final recourse against an enemy who had overcome the battery defenses, breached this subterranean complex and brung the war to this very hallway.

img018First thing past the fortified door? A decaying bathroom, of course.

img020Down a short hallway from the fortified door was a room with a workbench, electrical panels and many banks of what look like telephone switches.

Maybe the purpose of the fortified door was to defend not people, but the core systems of the complex, from attack.

later comments

img019Until we got the facts later, the ancient jug of water sitting on this fuse panel was our only clue as to the name of this place. “SWBD BATTERY WATER” I assume the initials mean “Southwest Battery D_____” My quick-witted late trubbamaking companion joked that “SWBD Battery Water” was a popular brand of mineral water in the ’50s.

later comments  1 2

img023On the other side of the electrical room was another metal door, leading to a verticle shaft with a ladder up to the surface.



img025My late trubbamaking companion said it had a hatch on top which appeared to be unlocked, but was probably within sight of nearby occupied buildings so he didn’t open it.

img021Across the entry hall from the electrical room was this small white chamber, covered with acoustical tiling. This room seems to bear more evidence of previous infiltrators since this complex’s decommissioning, judging from the legend scrawled on the far wall: “SHIT HERE”. I assume this was not a military designation.

img022What could “POST CHEMICAL” mean? We didn’t see it anywhere else, and there’s nothing nearby it could refer to, except maybe for that 1/2″ pipe up the wall… but that doesn’t really seem likely, as if it had been important enough to call attention to they probably wouldn’t have painted it to blend in with the wall. Who knows?

img032Having thoroughly explored the passages beyond our initial entry point, we backtracked out to the below-ground area we had first climbed down into. Approaching it from within the complex, we realized this was an overgrown vehicle bay—a large gate at the far end obviously opened to allow vehicles to be parked here, open to the sky but concealed below the level of the forest floor.

After a moment of nosing around, we found this small (3-4′) passage in an adjacent wall.

img027At the end of the passage, under a sheet of plywood, another shaft and ladder down to an underground chamber.

img028At the time, my late trubbamaking companion was a dashing adventurer—but for some reason, when I look at him nowadays, all I see is a blotch.

Down the hatch!

img034The chamber at the bottom of the ladder turnd out to be a smokehouse, judging by the shape and the bed of ancient charred remnants on the floor. My late trubbamaking companion snapped this photo of me from the bottom of the hatch. For those of you who haven’t seen me in a while, this may be the only chance you have to see me with a cheezy moustache.

img030Below the ladder, this horizontal passage choked with debris branched off from the smokehouse chamber.

“The question,” asked my late trubbamaking companion, pointing his flashlight down it, “is, how dirty do you want to get tonight?”

img031Fortunately, with my late trubbamaking companion, the answer was never truly in doubt.

img033Unfortunately, the tunnel from the smoker was completely choked off with dirt a few meters in. We climbed back up and prowled the sunken vehicle bay for other passages, soon finding this identical one hidden by the overgrowth on a facing wall. (Incidentally, this photo can give you an idea how overgrown the whole complex is—this first vehicle bay is the *least* overgrown of all we saw that night.)

img035This second passage’s hatch led down to this strange vaulted chamber. There were no charred remnants, and there was a channel cut into the floor all the way around it at the base of the walls, and though you can’t see it in this photo, the room sloped downwards from the entrance. Weird.

Beneath the entry ladder was a round tunnel just like the one in the smoker. I imagine at one point both tunnels met up, beneath the floor of the vehicle bay.This photo is taken from the far end of the room, towards the tunnel and entry ladder bottom. If you look closely you can see my late trubbamaking companion’s foot as he ascends the ladder.

At this point, we climbed back out of the first vehicle bay and prowled the woods until we found a second larger and more overgrown one. We were able to climb down into this second one directly on the thick ivy, and began to make our way through the vegetation looking for more passage entrances.

img036The foliage was *dense*.

img037We climbed through the ivy until we found a clearing with this huge, wooden door. Imagine our surprise when we found it was completely unlocked.

Behind this door wasn’t much, just two long, nondescript concrete hallways which didn’t lead anywhere. But we had a real horror-movie moment when we emerged back out to the clearing, and found ourselves surrounded by identical high walls and with identical wooden doors, with no clue as to which direction we had come from. We picked another door and entered another set of concrete passages.

img039Just inside the second door was the single piece of conventional graffiti we saw in the entire complex. Nice one, too.

img038The answer is 42.

img040In the middle of the concrete corridors, we came upon this unmarked wooden passage door. My late trubbamaking companion, not having been raised on a steady diet of horror movies like I was, didn’t know that when you find a door like this, you NEVER EVER open it, because THE KILLER IS HIDING RIGHT BEHIND IT! aaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHcc

On the other side was a room containing highway signs, construction blockades and other standard non-lethal traffic equipment. I assume this part of the tunnel complex is accessible and being used as storage by the Muni yard next door. This explains the graffiti in this section, as well. At this point, I didn’t want to go any further into this section, as I try to avoid live sites until I have a better understanding of where the line lies between trespassing and burglary. My late trubbamaking companion, however, just had to see what was in the next chamber before we turned around.

We stuck our heads through the door, and it was a long hallway with three tractors parked in it.

img042Retreating once more into the concrete corridors, we snuck down a down a narrow side passage which ended in a strange lattice of 2×8’s (seismic support?) followed by a corner around which we found this small, white, featureless cement room.

Someone had written “THE VAULT” on the wall, and it was apt. What could this out-of-the-way room have been designed for?

After a moment in this room, we suddenly heard indistinct sounds like someone approaching… we put out our flashlights and crouched motionless in the darkness of The Vault for about 20 minutes.

img045The funny thing is you never really encounter real darkness in the surface world. I kept waiting for my eyes to adjust and start to discern details, like they would in an ordinary darkened building, but they never did. It was still pitch black after 20 minutes. Meanwhile, we kept still and listened to sounds from the outside.

Despite being underground and surrounded by concrete, a fair bit of outside sound managed to seep in. After maybe 10 minutes we began to whisper to each other. What I heard as a tree limb creaking, my late trubbamaking companion thought was a woman’s voice echoing through the cement complex. It sounded like soft speech at first, then gentle moaning. The constant creaking of tree limbs from from above had already suffused our whole evening with tension, but the thought of a couple of Muni employees sneaking into the tunnels behind the storeroom to have sex didn’t seem too farfetched. Meanwhile I kept imagining I heard single, deliberate footsteps, just on the edge of audibility, somewhere out in the passageways. After 20 minutes we got tired of waiting and cautiously found our way back out of the complex, through the dense walls of ivy again, and climbed the tangled vines back up to ground level. As a final added scare, just as I reached the surface, the tree branch that we had heard “moaning” from so far below let out a sudden loud creak at my elbow, and I nearly lost it.

img044bWe found our way back out of the woods, and when we got back to the car we looked at a map—and were delighted to discover that despite being abandoned, almost unmolested, hidden underground, and fenced off, the place was not only still marked on the map, but had a name!