The over 100-year-old hospital at Fort McDowell (aka East Garrison) on Angel Island is in decay. Its crumbling concrete walls convey a sense of history that spanned both World Wars and the Cold War. Military prisoners from the Army Prison on Alcatraz were used as labor to build the hospital in 1911.
During World War I, soldiers returning from overseas combat were treated in this hospital. About 4,000 men per month passed through Fort McDowell during this period, since the post was serving as a Recruit Depot for men entering the army as well to enlisted men returning from Hawaii and the Philippines. The medical facility expanded seven years later and started caring for men with lingering illnesses.
During World War II more than 300,000 soldiers were shipped to the Pacific Ocean theater. The busiest period was at the end of the war, when over 23,000 returning soldiers were processed in December 1945 alone. After treating the troops and no longer needed with the war over, the hospital closed its doors in 1946.
The building was converted to a Nike Missile command post in 1954. The military hanged a wooden sign with a crossed cannon artillery symbol over the hospital’s caduceus medicine emblem at its two decorative front-facing gables. Nearly 100 men were housed in the barracks. The battery left Angel Island in 1962, when the missiles were obsolete.
I walked down the light-flooded empty corridors in the morning calm, searching for interesting nooks and crannies. There is not much left: just some power boxes, pipes and vents, a heater, remains of a sink and toilets. Stairwells and unstable structural elements of the crumbling ruin have been removed for safety. There are some pretty funny, thoughtful and creative graffiti designs that make you forget where you are. The building has a comforting atmosphere in the warm winter sun, even though I am sure tragic stories have happened behind these walls. In the west wing of the hospital is a black-painted room without windows. It is very dark inside. Some visitors experience it as creepy or unpleasant. It might have been used for processing light-sensitive materials, such as photographic or x-ray films, or for sensory deprivation purposes. Residents and visitors have passed down ghost stories around the hospital and military base for generations.
Isolated from the mainland, the island surrounded by cold thick fog banks and the reflected water surface adds to the mysterious atmosphere in the afternoon. According to the most recent census, the island has a population of 57 people and there is not much infrastructure. In summer, it is a popular tourist destination, because of its rich history and scenic location. But the winter season can be lonely out there. You see San Francisco from a distance. It is really quiet – just the sound of waves, birds and deer walking around.