A former nuclear test site in San Francisco is turning into an $8 billion neighborhood for the middle class — take a look inside

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Lennar Corp. and Five Point

In San Francisco, an influx of tech workers has driven up the cost of housing and pushed natives to the far reaches of the city. And in the remote waterfront neighborhood of Hunters Point, an entirely new community is rising on the site of a former nuclear testing facility.

Five Point, a California-based developer and spinoff of Lennar (the nation’s largest housing builder), has set out to transform the retired San Francisco Naval Shipyard into a bustling live-work community with 12,000 new homes and approximately five million square feet of office and commercial space. The project has a price tag to match its hefty ambitions: $8 billion.

The redevelopment of the neighborhoods around the shipyard and Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco Giants once played, began in 1999. The project has taken so long, in part, because it involves the cleanup of radioactive contamination. In the 1940s, the shipyard hosted a federal nuclear program that included a secret laboratory where researchers ran tests on the effects of radiation on living organisms. Its closure in 1994 left behind San Francisco’s worst toxic-waste dump.

Now, the “micro-hood” at Hunters Point is starting to take shape, with 234 homes sold (about 83% of the completed units) and another 49 condominiums marketed for sale.

Take a look inside the rebranded San Francisco Shipyard.


The bus ride to The SF Shipyard reminds me of the approach to Walt Disney World when I was a kid. For half a mile back, roads signs welcome you to a real-estate wonderland.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

After a roughly 45-minute bus ride from downtown, I arrived in The SF Shipyard.


It was less glamorous than I expected. Wire fences separated swaths of dirt from other plots of dirt. A few residents walked their furry companions along the paved roads.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The city bus drops residents off along the back of the development, where rows of condominiums meet what remains of the retired San Francisco Naval Shipyard.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Hunters Point was a private commercial shipyard from 1869 until the start of World War II, when the Navy bought the property. The military repaired ships and submarines there.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency


From 1948 to 1969, it hosted a then-secret laboratory that ran tests on ships exposed to nuclear weapons, as well as research on the effects of radiation on living organisms.

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The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is seen in 1945.
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Wikimedia Commons

Military equipment and ships contaminated by atomic bomb explosions were left at Hunters Point, and toxic substances including petroleum fuels, pesticides, and heavy metals seeped into and polluted the soil at Hunters Point, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2015.

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency and SF Weekly


After the shipyard closed, it was declared a “superfund” site — a toxic-waste site where the United States Environmental Protection Agency can force parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government to do the work.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

The cleanup of contamination at the shipyard has been ongoing for more than 20 years – and it’s prompted investigations that are steeped in scandal. A 2000 investigation by SF Weekly found “troubling evidence” that the Navy mishandled the radioactive waste it produced. It reportedly dumped huge amounts of contaminated sand into the San Francisco Bay and sprinkled radioactive material on- and-off-base “as if it were fertilizer” to practice cleanup.

Approximately 70 acres of the 500 total acres at Hunters Point have been cleaned up by the Navy, passed inspections by the EPA, and sold from the city of San Francisco to Five Point.

In 2012, several employees of a government-contractor that was paid to clean up the site admitted to faking soil tests – swapping samples from areas known to be highly contaminated with dirt from areas known to be clean. Now all the soil samples are being reviewed, causing delays in the transfer of land from the Navy to the city of San Francisco to the developers.


Still, Lennar and Five Point aren’t waiting for the cleanup to finish before building in the area. Construction is well underway on the parcels that passed inspection.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Kofi Bonner, Five Point’s regional president in the Bay Area, describes the SF Shipyard development as “a new community within an old city.”

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

It’s an understatement to call the SF Shipyard a housing development. The project will eventually cover nearly 800 acres and span about two miles from the farthest points.

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An artistic rendering shows the possible future of the The San Francisco Shipyard.
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Lennar Corp. and Five Point

(The roughly 800 acres of neighborhood will include the SF Shipyard and Candlestick Park.)


The condominium buildings are typical of new urban developments: washed in neutral colors with a familiar industrial flare. Wrought-iron railings wrap around the balconies.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

A fully furnished model unit that I toured featured massive windows, appliances from Bosch, hardwood floors, carpeting in the bedrooms, and contemporary finishes.

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Lennar Corp.

The rooms were small but affordable by Bay Area standards.

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Lennar Corp.

Lennar’s current range of inventory at the shipyard averages $860 per square foot – nearly $200 less than the average price per-square-foot in San Francisco, according to Trulia.


One- and two-bedroom units range between “high $500,000s” and $1 million — typical of starter homes in San Francisco — while three-bedroom units go up to $1.5 million.

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Lennar Corp.

About 10% of all units will be priced below $257,000 and reserved for low- and middle-income buyers. Those units “won’t skimp” on any high-end finishes, according to Lennar.

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Lennar Corp.

Source: Lennar


All units come with one or two parking spots, which is especially important because there are few shops, restaurants, or grocery stores within walking distance of the shipyard (yet).

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

While Lennar is responsible for building the first 1,000 housing units at the shipyard, its spinoff Five Point is tasked with developing the community in and around those new homes.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

(Five Point will appoint Lennar or another contractor to build the remaining 11,000 housing units across the SF Shipyard and Candlestick Park in phase two of construction.)


Five Point wants to squeeze an entire shopping district into the plans. A retail corridor will have a movie theater, a supermarket, and nearly one million square feet of retail space.

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An artistic rendering shows the possible future of the The San Francisco Shipyard.
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Lennar Corp. and Five Point

City buses will someday provide transportation between downtown and the shipyard. In the meantime, residents can take a free shuttle that runs every 30 minutes during the work day.

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An artistic rendering shows the possible future of the The San Francisco Shipyard.
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Lennar Corp. and Five Point

The shipyard dips a toe into the “agrihood” — or agricultural neighborhood — trend with its 350 acres of green space, including a grasslands ecology park, trails, and sports fields.

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An artistic rendering shows the possible future of the The San Francisco Shipyard.
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Lennar Corp. and Five Point

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Ships once pulled in here for repairs.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The dock is the future site of a waterfront promenade where residents will someday enjoy live music, catch a water taxi to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, or just take in the views.

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An artistic rendering shows the possible future of the The San Francisco Shipyard.
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Lennar Corp. and Five Point

The SF Shipyard might sound dreamy to the millennial homebuyer, but those amenities may be years and years away. The plans are subject to change as the cost of construction rises.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

The SF Shipyard is one of the most ambitious real-estate developments that San Francisco has ever seen. The project is expected to cost $8 billion, and it will finish in the early 2030s.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: Office of the Mayor


I walked around parts of the shipyard overlooking the Naval property. It was quiet, except for the soft chatter of a couple touring the property before an appointment.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Lennar and Five Point are selling prospective buyers not on the housing, but on the vision for a neighborhood that, like an all-inclusive resort, gives residents few reasons to leave.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Build it, they hope, and prospective homebuyers will come.

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An artistic rendering shows the possible future of the The San Francisco Shipyard.
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Lennar Corp. and Five Point