Day 10 – Bunker Archaeology

The Headlands is truly a remarkable place. On one of my exploratory meanderings last week I found myself up on the headlands above Fort Barry exploring the abandoned bunkers and gun emplacements. It’s amazing how much energy (and $’s) went into (and, of course, still goes into) defending the US from threats and attacks that never materialize. I am grateful that so much of the Bayarea that was dedicated to military purposes was never bought into action and was kept (or un-kept) in a more or less ‘natural’ state. So now that the military has finally abandoned their previous outposts, we can have some amazing parks and refuges that otherwise would have been turned into suburbia. And we have the picturesque, patinaed, remnants of the military establishment perched overlooking the peaceful Pacific.The aWay station is of course located in the former military barracks of Fort Barry. But all along the coast is a series of gun emplacements, observation posts, bunkers and barracks that were built from the Civil War onwards. Mostly the emplacements were rendered redundant before they were even completed and none were ever actually used in direct defense of the coast. During WW2 there were some massive 16″ guns installed – weighing 1,000,000 lbs each, capable of launching a 2,100 lb shell accurately to 27miles offshore. They were cut up for scrap in 1948, without ever being fired.

It’s haunting and provocative to wander the abandoned emplacements now.

Look out!

Knock! Knock!

Gun emplacement

Seeing the almost archaeological remnants reminded me of a book I read years ago – Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology.

Virilio explored, documented and theorized about the German built emplacements along the Atlantic Coast – the Atlantikwall.

Virilio comments – “The immensity of this project is what defies common sense; total war was here revealed in its mythic dimension”

And asked – “Why this analogy between the funeral archetype and military architecture? Why this insane situation looking out over the ocean? This waiting before the infinite oceanic expanse? Until this era, fortifications had always been oriented towards a specific staked-out objective: the defense of a passageway, a pass, steps, valleys or ports. Whereas here, walking daily along kilometer after kilometer of beach, I would happen upon these concrete markers at the summit of dunes, cliffs, across beaches, open, transparent, with the sky playing between the embrasure and the entrance, as if each casemate were an empty ark or a little temple minus the cult.”

And later still – ” These concrete blocks were in fact the final throw-offs of the history of frontiers, from Roman limes  to the Great Wall of China; the bunkers, as ultimate military surface architecture, had shipwrecked at lands’ limits, at the precise moment of the sky’s arrival in war; they marked off the horizontal littoral, the continental limit. History had changed course one final time before jumping off into the immensity of aerial space.”

Here are some of Virilio’s images –

Channel Island observation post

Observation post revealed by the erosion of the dunes

'Barbara' firing control tower in the Landes

One Comment

  1. Gabriel Russo Clothing August 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Donald,
    It was great to explore those bunkers the other day with you. I had the eerie feeling of revisiting the normandy coast where my uncle was lost to us during WW2

    Reply

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