In September 1942, the U. S. Navy began constructing the Naval Air Station Richmond as a Light-Than-Air blimp base. Sitting on approximately 2,108 acres, the base was designed to be entirely self-sufficient and included a mess hall, medical clinic, recreational areas, barracks, and a sewer and water system.
Three blimp hangars were constructed as well as mooring out sites and a helium plant. Supporting facilities included maintenance, propeller, battery, welding, plating and paint shops. To house the blimps, the hangers were more than 1,000 feet long, 175 feet high and 297 feet wide. The interior floor space was approximately seven acres or 304,920 square feet.
Not only housing the blimps, but the base also provided maintenance services and supplies to the airships in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean regions. The blimps were used to patrol the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico to protect the allied marine fleets from German U-boats. When the blimp crews identified a U-boat, they would report their findings to allied ships.
In September 1945, as they began to prepare for a hurricane, the military moved aircraft from nearby bases into the blimp hangars. It was believed that the hangars were hurricane-proof. By the time the hurricane hit, there were 300 aircraft, 150 cars and 25 blimps stored in the hangars. During the storm, the roof of Hangar 1 blew off, and shortly thereafter, a fire quickly spread to the other hangars. Within hours, all three hangars and everything in them were destroyed. Never re-building the base, it was closed in November 1945.
The wood used to construct the hangars can be found in four locations today:
2 – Moffett Field, Santa Clara County, California
2 – Tustin, California
2 – Lakehurst, NJ
1 – Tillamook, Oregon
Currently, the University of Miami, Miami-Dade County Division of Parks and Recreation, Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Coast Guard own the property.
The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers over the years has conducted several investigations and has taken remedial actions to remove structures, debris, and underground storage tanks. Petroleum products and metals have been detected in the soil and water in the former incinerator area. This is the area now owned by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
A recent Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study of the area that included collecting more than 40 soil and water samples showed the petroleum compound was found in four of the samples. The levels are below the commercial/industrial standards, and there is no unacceptable risk to the people or the environment.