Mill Valley Site Description - Cantonment Area

The Mill Valley Air Force Station is comprised of over fifty buildings with functions ranging from living spaces to work places. Up to 300 airmen were stationed on the 106 acre base at any one time.

Today, the buildings of the cantonment area (an encampment, barracks area or temporary quarters for troops) have been severely altered by weather and vandalism. Several of the buildings at the station have been demolished. Those that remain are heavily laden with asbestos and have been declared unsafe. The buildings in the operations area have either been transferred to the FAA or have been demolished or moved.

The cantonment area is the larger of the two parts of the base, but is the least conspicuous from a distance. This portion of the MVAFS consists of facilities originally built for housing, administration, dining, heating, recreation, and property maintenance.

The buildings and features of the cantonment area are placed singly and in groups on various terraces at various elevations along the curvilinear road. At some terraces, the arrangement of buildings and other features is strictly functional; at others it is formal. At the center of the cantonment area, the arrangement of buildings and features is formal and is on three different terrace levels. This section of the station includes five barracks, the administration building, and the mess hall, all of which are oriented in a northeast-southwest alignment, in parallel rows in a regular grid-like plan.

Although built at different levels on the hill, the group is visually unified by the plan. In fact, the different levels produce a dramatic yet orderly composition of parts, which would not exist on a flat site. This is the largest group of buildings in the cantonment area and it is the most publicly visible part of the area, easily viewed from Ridgecrest Road. Unlike other parts of the cantonment area, which are primarily oriented to automobile use, the buildings of this group are oriented to pedestrians. The buildings are linked by a grid of sidewalks with steps and railings.

Other clusters of facilities in the cantonment area are Buildings 222 and 223 around a parking lot southwest of the mess hall; Buildings 101-105 around a parking lot west of Building 223; Buildings 600-608 southeast of the main barracks-administration group; and the swimming pool group at the east end of the cantonment area. Among these, the largest and most prominent is the group of nine single-family houses for married airmen along a branch road with a cul-de-sac. These houses are situated on the slope below the central part of the cantonment area. The planning of this group is similar to non-military suburban housing developments of the period throughout California. These groups and the remaining individual features of the cantonment area are strung together by the road and by the system of exterior overhead steam pipes which originate in the heating plant (Building 102). Altogether, the various facilities and groups of facilities of the cantonment area are a string of separate elements related more by the constraints of topography than by any formal planning ideas.

Most of the buildings and facilities of the cantonment area are of wood-frame construction, four are of reinforced concrete or concrete block, and two are of metal. Not only in number, but in the size of individual buildings and in prominence, the area is characterized architecturally by its wood buildings. Most of the buildings were built either when MVAFS was established in 1950-1951, or when 9 units of married housing were built in 1960-1961. In the earlier group, most were two-story wood-frame buildings with hipped roofs, broad overhanging eaves, and long pent roofs that functioned as sunshades over ground floor windows. These buildings were clad in transite panels probably painted a light green color. (Similar buildings were so painted at Klamath Air Force Base, which was designed to the same Standard plans.) Windows were regularly spaced, and entrances in many cases were set in vestibules which projected beyond the main wall of the building. All of the wood-frame buildings were treated consistently and formed a visually unified complex. The light green color of the transite panels would have harmonized with the exposed dark green serpentine rock on the site.

In 1977, as part of a project to improve these buildings by placing insulating material in the walls, the transite panels were removed and replaced by new exterior redwood siding. Close inspection reveals that the new siding was carefully designed. The redwood planks are set flush against each other, instead of overlapping. The edges of the planks are beveled, so that where the planks meet they form a v-shaped notch. The same planking material was used to create frames for the windows and doorways, and it appears the original proportions of the windows and doors were preserved when the siding was altered. The overall effect, then, is simultaneously rustic and modern: a complex of closely grouped buildings with shallow-pitched, overhanging, hipped roofs; with consistently proportioned, regularly spaced windows; and all buildings covered with horizontal, beveled wood siding.

Although this change was executed with care, producing buildings which not only receded more unobtrusively into the landscape, but also took on the familiar appearance of the Bay Region modernist architecture of William Wurster and others, there is no documentary evidence that this was intentional.

The majority of the foundations of the larger buildings consist of reinforced concrete perimeters, with reinforced concrete footings within the perimeters. A heavy wooden beam rests on the concrete footings, and floor joists, in turn, rest on the foundation perimeter and the wooden beam. (The smaller buildings rest on concrete slabs.)

The roofs are covered with a green composition roofing material, and the eaves are covered with light-colored plywood with sheet metal fascia. Nearly all of the original windows were replaced with modem aluminum sash in 1967-1968. Original windows were either casement windows of unknown material, or double hung windows, in some cases of industrial steel sash.

Most entrances consisted of a sort of wood-frame vestibule which projected beyond the main wall of the building. Over the years, most of these vestibules were replaced with projecting entries of concrete blocks. Such original entrances as survived into the 1970s were covered in redwood when the original transite siding was removed. Most of the doors are latched metal doors of uncertain vintage. There are concrete stoops, and concrete steps with steel edges.

Both the interior walls and the ceilings are made of plaster or gypsum wall board material. The ceiling boards are nailed directly to the ceiling joists. Most flooring is linoleum squares, although red carpeting was applied in some places, probably at a later date. The interior doors have simple wood frames. The interiors of most of the wood-frame buildings are in a extremely dilapidated state.

The principal alterations to the cantonment area are the replacement of transite panels by redwood siding on the central wood buildings of the group, and the demolition of several structures. The demolition of several buildings, notably , the exchange (206), and the multipurpose building (216), occurred after MVAFS had closed and after the period of significance. The theater (203) has been partially demolished. The loss of these buildings compromises but does not destroy the integrity of design, workmanship, materials, and association of the group.