Environmentalist Lenny Siegel, pilot Steve Williams and County Airports director Carl Honaker are among the Save Hangar One Committee leaders on the board of the newly formed Air and Space West Foundation. The three are leaders of a group that has been fighting to save Hangar One as the Navy moves to strip the hangar down to a bare frame in order to remove contamination from the structure by next year.
The group is thinking farther into Hangar One's future. Hopes are that with enough interest and financial backing from donors, Hangar One could be home to a major earth, air and space museum — possibly as one of numerous satellite museums that operate under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institute in the United States.
Early talks with the Smithsonian about turning Hangar One into a major West Coast museum have been promising, said Larry Ellis, the group's CEO and a Silicon Valley business development manager and longtime Hangar One preservationist. The caveat is that the Smithsonian cannot pay for the venture — the group must raise all of the money for the museum itself, which is not unusual for Smithsonian satellite museums, Ellis said.
"They said "become a viable entity and finish the build-out and you'd have something," Ellis said.
Ellis said that the Smithsonian's top two donors are both California residents, yet the Smithsonian has no museum in California and no real presence on the West Coast. That means the Smithsonian's numerous traveling exhibits are never seen by most West Coast residents.
"The Bay Area is the No. 1 tourist destination in the United States," Ellis said. "We in Silicon Valley don't benefit from that. If this occurs and we put a Smithsonian museum in the hangar, there's a destination in the valley for tourists that exists between the city of San Francisco and Monterey."
While there's a long way to go before plans can be made for such a museum, there are infinite possibilities for the massive building, which is 14 stories tall and has a floor the size of 10 football fields. Possibilities include a 14-story-tall screen on one of the hangar's walls on which school kids could watch space shuttle launches, Ellis said. The eight-man cranes that run along the ceiling could also provide a unique view for museum visitors for exhibits such as airplanes, space craft, even birds — earth science exhibits are part of the plan.
Ellis said the content of the museum will probably be decided by NASA, the Smithsonian and major donors.
Putting an air and space museum in the hangar is not a new idea. In fact, there's been talk about it for over a decade. "There's always been this notion that there's going to be some sort of museum in the hangar," Ellis said.
A major obstacle in the museum's path was removed in 2002 when it was part of plans in the environmental impact statement for the NASA Research Park at Ames. That means there are existing "entitlements" for a major museum in Hangar One, so there's little red tape in the way of the museum, which will save the effort $2 million and lots of headaches, Ellis said.
Ellis said the museum's biggest neighbors — NASA Ames Research Center and University Associates — have expressed some support for the proposal. University Associates hopes to build a major Silicon Valley campus for the University of California and other colleges in a planned redevelopment of the NASA Research Park. Both entities could provide the expertise for museum exhibits, which would also help meet their own goals of educating the public. "They are both very positive," about the museum proposal, Ellis said of NASA Ames and University Associates.
NASA Ames, however, has also expressed interest in using Hangar One for an airship research program, but the idea has yet to pan out, Ellis said. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo recently put some pressure on Ames, which owns the hangar, to decide on its re-use so she can appropriate funding to help restore the structure.
Ellis says that in about a month the group will be able to accept donations. Updates on the foundation's fundraising efforts can be found on its website: www.airandspacewest.org.