Many San Francisco locals are unaware that just a few miles north of the Bay, nestled in the green hills of the Marin Headlands, is the United States’ only fully restored Nike missile site. This remainder of the Cold War creates a tense and surreal juxtaposition amongst the local flora and fauna both visually and sonically.
As part of the U.S. Army’s Project NIKE, Nike missiles were deployed all around the United States as a measure of defense against incoming threats such as the long-range bombers that Cold War era military planners thought might attack one day from Russia or China. In an attempt to protect San Francisco, 12 Nike sites were created. Nike missiles, including the Nike Hercules, which could carry either conventional or the more ominous nuclear warheads, were in operation from 1954 to 1975. These long-range missiles were created to be able to autonomously lock-in on enemy aircraft despite any evasive maneuvers made by the pilot. A team of about 135 on-site crew members determined if using nuclear missiles instead of conventional missiles would be better to deploy than letting the bombers attack. However, the result would be nuclear fallout just miles from the city of San Francisco.
Though the San Francisco site, Nike SF-88, was decommissioned by the U.S. Army long ago in 1974, one can now take a tour of the underground bunker with the National Parks Service Wednesdays through Fridays with a special day of talks on the first Saturday of each month. The loud missile bay elevator takes the tour group underground to view the missiles and 1950’s machinery. Members of the tour are then instructed to ride up the elevator system together from the underground bunker through the large bay doors with hands on the inactive Nike missile…for safety. One emerges from the ground, surrounded by an abundance of green hills and lively birdsong, and sometimes a deer with her fawns scamper about nearby.