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Technology, History, and Place

The Nike missiles of Cold-War San Francisco

From the 1950s to the 1970s, San Francisco—along with many other American cities and strategic areas—was protected by batteries of Nike missiles against a possible attack by Soviet bombers. One of those missile sites, SF-88, has been restored by the National Park Service and is now open for tours.

This video presents a history of the Nike missiles as a whole, followed by a tour of the SF-88 site. I shot the video on a visit to the site in May of this year. I did a fair bit of reading before writing the narration. Secondary sources about the Nike missiles are surprisingly sparse. One commonly-cited book, Rings of Supersonic Steel (see bibliography below) was written for enthusiasts, and I didn’t find it very useful. Another book, The Last Missile Site, was much more useful for me, because it provided both the broader context of the missiles and detailed information about the site. I based the second half of the narration heavily on information from this book.

Nike-Hercules in underground magazine

A Nike-Hercules missile in its underground magazine at SF-88, awaiting launch.

Nike-Hercules in launch position

A missile erected in launch position.

Integrated Fire Control trailers

Trailers from Integrated Fire Control, originally on top of Wolf Ridge (background), but now down at the launch area for easy access. The trailer in front is the Director Station Trailer; the one in the back is the Tracking Station Trailer.

MTR and LOPAR antennas

Two radar antennas, also originally on top of Wolf Ridge. The ball-shaped antenna in the foreground is a Missile Tracking Radar (the Target Tracking Radar and Target Ranging Radar looked identical to this); the rectangular antenna in the background is the Low-Power Acquisition Radar.

Hercules upper stage

A Hercules upper stage in the Missile Assembly and Test Building.

Hercules electronics

Some of the electronic guts of the Hercules upper stage.

Bibliography

“A fatal first for the Nikes.” Life, June 2, 1958, 40.

Davidson, Bill. “Can Nike X save us?” Saturday Evening Post, August 27, 1966, 19-21.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “Cold War Era, 1952-1974.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/goga/learn/historyculture/cold-war.htm.

Haller, Stephen A., and John A. Martini. The Last Missile Site: An Operational and Physical History of Nike Site SF-88, Fort Barry, California. Bodega Bay, California: Hole in the Head Press, 2010.

Morgan, Mark L., and Mark A. Berhow. Rings of Supersonic Steel: Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1979 – An Introductory History and Site Guide. 1992; 3rd ed. Bodega Bay, CA: Hole in the Head Press, 2010.

Smith, John. “On Nike Duty: Anti-Aircraft Missiles Protected Nation During Cold War.” Army Magazine, May 2020, 42-46.

Thompson, Craig. “They Didn’t Want That Guided Missile.” Saturday Evening Post, September 9, 1955, 36-37, 90-92.

Ubell, Earl, and Stuart H. Loory. “The Death of Nike-Zeus.” Saturday Evening Post, June 1, 1963, 15-19.

History and geography of Tabasco video

Tabasco is a small, verdant, and very hot state in southern Mexico. Mexico’s first civilization, the Olmec civilization, was based in Tabasco and neighboring Veracruz. The Maya built pyramids and wrote glyphic inscriptions there as well.

Last summer, when I was visiting Tabasco, I shot a video about the geography and some of the early history of Tabasco, including the Olmecs and the Maya. I finally finished editing the video just this week. Here it is in its finished form (plus some pictures related to the video).

Your blogger with La Venta Head 1

Mexico’s first civilization, the Olmec civilization, was based in Tabasco and neighboring Veracruz. The Olmecs are best known for carving giant stone heads. This one is La Venta Head #1. It was discovered at La Venta archeological site in the western part of the state, and moved to the state capital Villahermosa, when the site was threatened with destruction by Pemex, the government petroleum company. The four heads from La Venta reside in Villahermosa to this day.

Your blogger with a statue of the Mayan king Tabscoob.

Mundo Maya, the realm of the Mayan civilization, extended into Tabasco. In fact, the name of the state is apparently derived from Tabscoob, the name of a Chontal Maya king who fought against Cortés in 1519. This is an impressive statue of him on the road to the airport in Villahermosa.

Comalcalco Templo I

The most impressive Mayan site in Tabasco is Comalcalco. Like Palenque in nearby Chiapas, Comalcalco has a pyramid and a palace building. Unlike Palenque, and every other Mayan city, Comalcalco is built of brick, because there is no stone in that part of Tabasco. This is Temple I at the site.

Carlos Pellicer museum facade

The Carlos Pellicer Cámara regional museum of anthropology in Villahermosa has a fine collection of artifacts, including one of the four La Venta heads. It is named for a famous Tabascan poet who was also an advocate for historic preservation.

Your blogger with Tortugeuro Stela

One of the artifacts in the Carlos Pellicer Cámara museum is the Tortugeuro Stela, which states that the Long Count, an ancient Mayan epoch, would terminate on a date equivalent to December 21, 2012. This was the source of fears that the world would end in 2012, although the stela doesn’t not make that claim. It just says that the Long Count would end then, and presumably a new one would begin.

American Revolutionary War sites around Boston

In 2019, on a trip to Boston, I visited some American Revolutionary War sites in and around the city. While there, I shot some videos to record what I saw, and recently I edited the footage into three little documentaries about important episodes of the first year of the American Revolution.

Confrontation at North Bridge in Concord

North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts is one place where the American Revolution began. There were two small skirmishes that took place in the area west of Boston on April 19, 1775. The first of them was at dawn in Lexington, a little to the east of Concord. The other skirmish took place at North Bridge in Concord at about 11 AM.

The American forces (the Massachusetts Militia and the Minutemen) and the British faced off against each other on opposite sides of the bridge. The British tried to march over the bridge, and they fired on the Americans, and the Americans fired back. Two people were killed on both sides. Then the British started retreating back to Boston. With this skirmish, there was no doubt that the American Revolution had begun.

The Battle of Bunker Hill

An imposing obelisk on top of Breed’s Hill in Boston commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was fought there in the summer of 1775. Following the brief clashes at Concord and Lexington (mentioned above), Bunker Hill was the first major battle of the American Revolution.

You might be wondering: Why is the battle named Bunker Hill if it took place on Breed’s Hill? The Continentals had been under orders to fortify Bunker Hill in order to encircle the British who were occupying Boston, but instead they fortified Breed’s Hill. Nevertheless, the “Bunker Hill” name stuck, and the battle is named after a hill where it didn’t take place!

The Continentals built their fortifications on the top of the hill, where the monument and park are located now. On June 17, the British launched an assault on the American fortifications. Two waves of British troops marched up and were cut down. Finally the third wave was able to overrun the American defensive works, because the Continentals had run out of powder to fire their guns.

The Battle of Bunker Hill was technically a British victory, but the British only won after suffering very heavy losses. The Continentals, for their part, felt that they had won a moral victory, because they had fought well against the British and stood their ground when their positions were overrun.

Dorchester Heights and the Siege of Boston

After the Batttle of Bunker Hill, the British and the Americans were in a stalemate: the British occupied Boston, while the Americans surrounded them outside the city. To get the British to leave Boston, the Americans set up cannons on the top of Dorchester Heights, a hill to the south of the city.

The cannons were actually British cannons, which had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain back in May 1775. Teams of oxen dragged 60 cannons from the fort through the wilderness to Boston. Once the British saw the cannons go up on Dorchester Heights in early March 1776, they decided it was time to get out of town. They sailed out of Boston harbor, and 1,000 loyalists went with them.

In the early 1900s, the anniversary of the British leaving Boston in 1776, March 17, was established as the holiday of Evacuation Day in Boston. Irish immigrants, who lived in large numbers in the area around Dorchester Heights, adopted the holiday and merged it with their own holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, which happens on the same day.

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