Martinez has the county courthouse. Currently, this includes an attractive 1930s courthouse with a new building across the street. However, the previous courthouse, built about 1901, still exists next door but has been converted to the county financial building.
Along the waterfront two pleasant parks can be found in Martinez. They are the Martinez Waterfront Park and the adjacent Martinez Regional Shoreline Park. Both are located near the Martinez Marina. They are popular places for kite flyers, who fill the sky with some interesting shapes. They are also a nice place to enjoy the waterfront and take a stroll.
If you are curious about the Mothball Fleet that can be observed from the Benicia Bridge on Highway 680, a bay tour of the fleet is available. The tour departs from the Martinez Marina, cruises under the Benicia Bridge, and travels to Suisun Bay where it explores the Mothball Fleet under the narration of knowledgeable guides.
The Mothball Fleet is officially known as The National Defense Reserve Fleet. It consists of retired ships in varying states of readiness that could be reactivated in times of a national emergency. However it contains some historic gems.
Most of the ships in the fleet are support vessels like cargo ships. However some specialty ships are among the collection like a submarine recovery ship, refuelers, a Coast Guard ice breaker, amphibious invasion landing ships, and ships that deploy large floating containers.
The flagship of the Mothball Fleet is the U.S.S. Iowa. This battleship was commissioned in 1943 during World War Two and served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Theaters. Its main armament is nine 16 inch guns. The Iowa carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Tehran Conference to meet with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. It is the only U.S. Navy Ship to be equipped with a bathtub. The bathtub was in order to accommodate the president who had a disability.
The ship was present for the Japanese surrender and played a role as a communications center during that event. After WWII the battleship was briefly retired, but was soon reactivated for the Korean War. It was again reactivated in the 1980s. Unfortunately an accidental explosion in turret 2 killed 47 crewmembers in 1989. It was finally deactivated in 1990.
The Iowa is the center piece of the tour. The tour is run by an organization that will eventually turn the ship into a museum. Their goal is to move the ship to the Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square in nearby Vallejo. A portion of the proceeds of the tour go to the foundation. They face some immense costs in restoring the Iowa and getting her ready for to be boarded by the public. For instance, the Iowa has 48,000 square feet of teak decking that has warped over time and is in need of replacement. It would be virtually imposable to acquire enough teak to replace decking, and even if they could get the material the cost would be prohibitive. However, to replace the teak with a substitute decking still would require about $1,000,000.
Other challenges are faced by this organization. Local governments want the Iowa to serve as a communications center in case of an emergency such as an earthquake. It is hoped that the ship would easily survive such an event and its communications systems could be vital in rescue and recovery efforts. However, this extra requirement places a burden on the group trying to restore the “Big Stick” as a Museum.
The Mothball Fleet contains several World War II Victory Ships. Some of these pieces of history are virtually rusting away. These were rapidly mass produced cargo ships that were the next generation after the Liberty Ships. Considered expendable, if they delivered one load of cargo before being lost they were deemed worth the expense.
Among the notable ships in the Mothball Fleet is the U.S.S. Hoga. The Hoga is an ocean going tug boat used in rescue efforts after the attack at Pearl Harbor. It later served the City of Oakland as a fire boat.
Another interesting ship in the fleet is the Hughes Mining Barge HMB-1. The HMB-1 was used in a Cold War scheme involving the CIA and millionaire Howard Hughes in a covert attempt to raise a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in order to recover intelligence on its design and components.
The tour is only available on the last Saturday and Sunday of the month. It cost $29 ($25 for seniors and children). It tends to fill up so reservations are recommended.
John Muir was the first president of the Sierra Club and was involved in the establishment of the national park system. He lived in this 14 room mansion from 1890 to 1914. The furnishings reflect this time period.
If you want to learn more about the history of the city, this small museum will give you a lot of information.