"Vallejo - Navy Town and Former State Capital" Vallejo by WulfstanTraveller

Vallejo Travel Guide: 27 reviews and 88 photos

Vallejo is a city of close to 120,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area's North Bay, at the mouth of the Napa River on San Pablo Bay. It is in the far SW corner of Solano County right next to the borders with Sonoma County and Napa County. It is the county's largest and second oldest city (although the county seat is newer Fairfield, inland on the edge of the Sacramento Valley).


Vallejo was first proposed as a new city to be the California state capital in 1850 and it was founded in 1851. Named after its major proponent, the former Mexican Californio administrator turned state politician Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo (who actually lived in nearby Sonoma with a ranch house in Petaluma), it was chosen because of its strategic, central location at the mouth of the Napa River where the San Francisco-San Pablo Bay system narrows to the Carquinez Strait which connects far inland to the great Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers that are at the heart of California's Central Valley. The location includes a promontory jutting into the water and has views of San Francisco.

However, its role as state capital was exceedingly brief. In 1852, the legislature met in Vallejo but found that there was no capitol building so moved to Sacramento before returning to Vallehjo in 1853 only to decide to move the capital to the neighbouring city of Benicia, which had a ready-made building to use.

Naval Town

Soon after the capital was moved to Benicia, in 1854 the US government established Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, which has dominated the city's history and development ever since. The shipyard was the first permanent US naval base on the west coast, its first commander was Commodore David Farragut, who later became famous in the Civil War, and it was the primary navy shipyard and ship-building installation on the west coast until it closed in 1996. It built, among others, the 1870s turret "ironclad" USS Monadnock and the dreadnaught battleship USS California, sunk temporarily at Pearl Harbor. In part because of the important military industry here, and in part because of its general commercial and industrial importance, Vallejo grew to be the largest city in the North Bay area and remianed so until well after WWII.

It also was to some degree an early bedroom community for people working elsehwere in the Bay Area, with residents as early as the 1920s taking ferries to work in San Francisco.

Current Situation

However, the city eventually stagnated and declined after WWII, with the decline of the shipbuilding industry. The final major blow was the closure of Mare Island in 1996. Depressed economically, with a reputation for many social problems, the city is still trying to refind its indentity.

In part, it has grown as a bedroom community for the Bay Area region. This aspect of the city, long present, has grown more important with the decline of local industry and jobs, but it has, as with other places, seen low-density suburban sprawl on the edges.

On the other hand, this has created essentially two different characters. The sprawling newer housing areas, mostly on the edges and many on heights around the city, are largely cut off from, and different in character from, the old core of the city with its large downtown. Much of the old part of the city, despite attaractive old houses, tree-lined streets, etc., has suffered significant decline for decades. Recently there has been some effort to revitalize the downtown area and surrounding neighbourhoods, taking advantage of the intrinsic benefits - history, interesting architecture, character, proximity to the water - but this area has been so blighted and, even more importantly, received such a reputation for being bad and crime-ridden (not entirely deserved), that it is a real struggle to rekindle this area.

  • Intro Updated Jul 1, 2009
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Reviews (5)

Comments (1)

  • ranger49's Profile Photo
    Jan 24, 2010 at 5:20 AM

    Thank you for a very interesting, concise history of a place I expect to be passing by ere long . . So sad the changes in fortune suffered by places as well as people.

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