Mountain View Voice

Opinion - June 18, 2010

Options diminish for Hangar One

The saga of Hangar One is heading to a climax this winter as NASA and local preservationists fight to keep the Navy from stripping the historic structure's siding away and leaving behind a bare frame to wither in the elements.

The Navy claims it does not have the $15 million or more needed to replace the siding, and although some federal money is being sought, there are no guarantees in sight that anyone will pick up the tab. After years of haggling and tense negotiations that have involved Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, the Secretary of the Navy and the Environmental Protection Agency, actual demolition of structures inside the hangar is set to begin in August and the Navy has said it will begin removing the outside skin in December.

For preservationists, the effort to clear away one of the metal buildings inside the structure is another lost opportunity to save an important part of the fabled hangar's history. The Navy said it will be "impractical" to save the historic third-floor "cork room," used to store the dirigible USS Macon's fragile helium cells back in the 1930s.

"The cork room is the most significant artifact in the hangar. It's the only physical evidence of the Macon lighter-than-air era, which was the purpose of constructing the hangar in the first place," according to notes written by Carl Honaker, the Navy's last executive officer to serve at Moffett Field.

But regardless of the cork room's fate, the entire hangar could be lost if the Navy proceeds to remove its siding and there are no funds available to pay for recovering it. The only hope seems to be a $10 million request placed in the 2011 federal budget by Rep. Eshoo, which is hardly money that can be counted on at this stage of the budget process.

Things did not look so bleak during a joint meeting in February when NASA and Navy officials promised that they are committed to preserving the hangar. At the time they said they were considering various options and hoped to get back to Rep. Eshoo in a few weeks with details. But since then, no announcements have been made, except that the Navy is going forward with clearing out some structures that remain inside the hangar.

Unless the federal government steps forward with a commitment to cover the 200-foot-tall hangar, it seems almost certain that Hangar One is doomed. Local supporters who have worked for years to keep the hangar in one piece appear to be out of options. And NASA cannot support such a costly project alone.

At this stage, it looks like continued pressure from preservationists, Rep. Eshoo and the federal government are the last and best hope to save Hangar One.

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