Monday, August 1, 2011

Future Dimming For Historic Hangar One

If you look above the white portion of the hangar, you can see the panels at the top have now been removed.

One of the largest unsupported structures in the United States appears to be on its way to oblivion.  With it goes its fascinating military history and its status as a 20th-century American landmark.

The dirigible hangar at Moffett Federal Airfield, known as Hangar One, is coming down.

The U.S.S. Macon sliding into Hangar One at Naval Air Station Moffett, Mountain View, California, in the early 1930s.

Hangar One was built between 1931 and 1934 when the U.S. Navy was testing lighter-than-air ships for future use in war.  The dirigibles proved problematic, but the Navy continued to have blimps anchored at Moffett Field as late as 1959. 

The hangar is astonishing to see.  It covers eight acres.  Ten football fields could fit inside. It is so tall that fog is said to gather in its highest girders.  Its steel frame has a 1930s Sci-Fi sleekness that is strikingly beautiful.

The Macon hovers over Hangar One in the 1930s: a rare craft that makes the hangar's size seem perfectly in perspective.

There is a similar structure in Tillamook, Oregon, that I used to see when covering stories for KGW-TV. It was built during World War II and though it is almost as large as Hangar One (seven acres instead of eight) it is made of wood to wartime specs: it looks like a huge Quonset hut and has none of Hangar One's soaring Gothic cathedral-like style.

Tillamook, Oregon's erstwhile Navy blimp hanger is now a private air museum.

The Navy decommissioned Moffett Field on July 1, 1994 and the property is now operated by NASA, where Ames Research Center has been located since 1939. My parents moved to California in 1947 when my father went to work at Ames/Moffett for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics--then NACA--which became NASA in 1958. 

Can you find my father? In the top photo, count the top row, sixteen over from the left side.  He is two rows down from the tall, skinny bald man. He's wearing a collarless jacket and no tie. 

NASA operates the base and the airfield now and in 2004 discovered that Hangar One has toxic PCBs and asbestos in its frame. The Navy was charged with the cleanup, and NASA, which originally said it would recover the structure when the cleanup was finished, and preserve it, now says it doesn't have the money to do that.

The base is of no further use to the Navy, and NASA has little interest in having an historic landmark on its property that will require public access and maintenance. You can imagine what happens when two government agencies keep shoving a landmark across the table at each other.  

Hangar One eventually fell off the table.

At the Moffett Historical Society Museum, Hangar One's demise is the prime topic visitors want to discuss. The Museum now rents its buildings from NASA so executives there don't really want to enter the fray.

The Moffett Historical Society Museum is truly in the shadow of Hangar One.

Unless private money can be found, another piece of American history will disappear. I hate to see it happen.  But I don't have an extra $15 million dollars on hand--the cost of preserving the hangar.  I wonder who does?

Dad and me at Moffett in the last year of his life.

NAS TILLAMOOK INFORMATION      (They have a terrific site)

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Don Meuler said...

Every time you write about Hangar One, I come back to this post and wonder who indeed might have the $15 million needed to finish the refurbishing job. Then I think of the highly successful tech companies in the Silicon Valley...
Considering the type of work the USS Macon might have done (reconnaissance, anyone?), I now picture in my mind a fully-restored hangar, with a tasteful logo on the exterior: "Intel Inside."

Robin Chapman said...

Don, you are so right. But here is the hitch: Hangar One sits on land that was once a Navy base and is now the property of NASA. Nobody at the US GOVT gets the idea of sponsorhips. If they did, and understood the whole idea of private enterprise, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in! (Not that I think the Washington Monument should have the NASDAQ logo on it or anything ... )

linda said...

i'm curious, robin, the building that houses the historical society, was that once the enlisted club? i remember the club was across the street from my barracks but i didn't think it was that close to hangar one. its been 30 years since i left moffett so my memory is a tad foggy.

Robin Chapman said...

I asked around yesterday and it wasn't the enlisted club, at least that's what they told me. It was some kind of supply office or something. The O-club is nearby though.

linda said...

thanks for asking robin! :-)