The Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

As tens of thousands of drivers zip — or sometimes crawl — over the Bay Bridge every day, a forgotten mansion rests directly below them. The three-story white home, impossible to see from the bridge, was once the last residence of America’s greatest modern admiral. And, for a while, it was the historic roadblock in the way of the Bay Bridge’s new span.

Quarters 1 was built on Yerba Buena Island in 1900 as part of the only U.S. Navy training station on the West Coast. It was home to the commander of the base and crafted to be appropriately opulent. Large windows framed expansive views of the bay and the East Bay hills beyond and filled the elegant foyer with light. There were plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms, plus a study, spread over its nearly 6,000 square feet.

Some of the Navy’s highest-ranking officers came and went as residents, including one unfortunate admiral whose entire collection of dress pants went up in flames during a small house fire in 1934. “Admiral Senn dispatched the remnants of his once regal wardrobe to the cleaners, but, try as they did, they couldn’t restore the garments to ship-shape form,” the San Francisco Examiner reported. 

California Governor James Rolph Jr., Former US President Herbert Hoover, and San Francisco Mayor Angelo Joseph Rossi stand in front of the Admiral's residence on Yerba Buena Island during the San Francisco Bay Bridge ground breaking on July 9, 1933.

California Governor James Rolph Jr., Former US President Herbert Hoover, and San Francisco Mayor Angelo Joseph Rossi stand in front of the Admiral’s residence on Yerba Buena Island during the San Francisco Bay Bridge ground breaking on July 9, 1933.

OpenSFHistory / wnp14.10275

After World War II, Quarters 1’s most famous occupant moved in: Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Nimitz was appointed to take command of the Pacific fleet days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His exploits in the Pacific Theater made him a household name around the world and helped the United States triumph in what felt like an unwinnable war of attrition on the way to Japan. 

A porch ceiling droops at the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

A porch ceiling droops at the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.


Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Neatly trimmed shrubs contrast with the siding dull and black from car exhaust at the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

Neatly trimmed shrubs contrast with the siding dull and black from car exhaust at the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.


Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

The exterior of the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

The exterior of the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.


Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

A broken window is visible on one of the upper windows at the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

A broken window is visible on one of the upper windows at the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.


Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

The exterior of the Nimitz House shows signs of disrepair. (Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE)
(Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE)

In 1947, at the age of 62, Nimitz announced he was retiring as the country’s chief of naval operations. He told the press he wanted to live out his golden years as a “babysitter” for his grandchildren, but he did keep an office on Treasure Island in his capacity as a special adviser to the secretary of the Navy. Quarters 1 was also his, and its name soon became Nimitz House.

After a lifetime of war, Nimitz relished the peace and quiet of retirement. He split his time between a home in the Berkeley hills and Nimitz House. By 1963, he was living full time on Yerba Buena Island, preferring its proximity to his office and to his beloved San Francisco Symphony. He repeatedly turned down interview requests on birthdays, much to the annoyance of the local press. “Few American heroes have ever planned a quieter birthday,” the Oakland Tribune opined in February 1964. 

The interior entryway of the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

The interior entryway of the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“Admiral Nimitz has quietly but firmly turned down all requests for interviews,” the paper added, “and is expected to spend most of the day at his quarters on Yerba Buena Island.”

He did receive some very excited visitors that day, however. He’d made friends with the pupils at nearby Yerba Buena Elementary School. One Valentine’s Day, he’d sent them candy — which their teacher said made them very sticky — and the children made him valentines in return. At Christmas, they came to his door to sing carols. For his 79th birthday, 19 little students, plus their teacher Ms. MacIntyre, walked over to Nimitz’s house with a birthday surprise: a book about the San Francisco Bay and a handmade card with a poem.

Five-year-old Steven was asked by the Examiner to recite the poem the children had composed for the great war hero. He could only remember one line: “We hope you enjoy the book we sent, it will not get bent.”

“It wasn’t exactly great poetry,” Ms. MacIntyre admitted. “I let them write what they wanted to write. I guess you’d say it came from their hearts.”

The Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

The Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Two years later, Nimitz suffered a stroke. He died in the Yerba Buena mansion, surrounded by family, a few days shy of his 81st birthday. All air traffic had to be paused at SFO to allow for 70 jets to stream overhead during his funeral at Golden Gate National Cemetery. 

Decades passed, and the Navy announced it was pulling out of Treasure Island for good in the 1990s. Mayor Willie Brown’s office contemplated turning Nimitz House into the city’s “official residence” after the last rear admiral moved out.

“The mayor wouldn’t actually live there. It would be more a ceremonial residence, perhaps a sort of Camp David,” a spokesperson from Brown’s office said.

Instead, at least for a time, Nimitz House became an event venue. The city rented it out for $500 — not a bad value for one of the most historic and scenic homes in the Bay Area. But its days as a party spot were short. After the catastrophic collapse of the Bay Bridge during the Loma Prieta earthquake, everyone agreed the aging bridge needed an upgrade, although for more than a decade, no one could quite agree on how to do that.

The view from the porch of the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, is blocked by the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

The view from the porch of the Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, is blocked by the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

In 1998, the feud between the Navy, which still owned Yerba Buena Island, and Brown went public. Navy officials expressed frustration that the new eastern span would flow directly over Nimitz House and the nearby historic residences of other officers. A Navy aide called the plan “devastating.” 

“This particular parcel of property is truly valuable,” the aide told the Examiner.

Animosity over the fate of Nimitz House was so intense that, at one point, the Navy prohibited Caltrans engineers from stepping foot near the property. But in 2000, the stalemate was finally broken; the federal government transferred the parcel, including Nimitz House, to the state of California, “effectively removing the Navy’s only bargaining chip,” the Los Angeles Times reported. On Sept. 2, 2013, the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opened directly above the once-regal homes of admirals and officers. 

What the Navy feared has come to pass. The mansion’s bright white siding is turning dull and black from car exhaust. A fan flops from the porch ceiling like a dying tulip dropping its petals. Inside, the stunning receiving room still looks bright and cheery, although the loud hum of commuters has all but destroyed its potential as a wedding venue. 

Around the house, the hedges are neatly trimmed and a few determined trees shake off the last of their spring buds. Signs erected, probably by the nearby Coast Guard station, warn trespassers to stay out.

The Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, is below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

The Nimitz House, the former home of Admiral Chester Nimitz, is below the eastern span of the Bay Bridge on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco, Calif. on May 2, 2023.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Below the constant din of traffic, Nimitz House quietly fades. 

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