Mountain View Voice

Opinion - December 31, 2010

Another panic on Hangar One

The roller coaster existence of Hangar One on Moffett Field took a downward spiral last week when Democratic Congresswoman Anna Eshoo announced that the $8 million she had inserted in the omnibus funding bill before Congress failed to pass, due to opposition to its so-called "earmarks."

Built in the 1930s to house the USS Macon, one of the Navy's Hindenberg-size giant dirigibles, the massive hangar's siding has been declared toxic and must be removed. The Navy, which is responsible for cleaning up all toxins left around Moffett, has said it has only enough funding to remove the toxic siding, not replace it. The Navy intends to start the siding project in the first half of the New Year, which historians fear could leave the hangar's superstructure exposed to the elements and subject to rust.

The prospect of funding from Rep. Eshoo's earmark was exciting news and many hangar supporters thought that finally, the drama to save Hangar One was over. But now there is a very real prospect that a giant skeleton will loom over Moffett Field unless enough capital can be raised to finish the job. No firm estimate of that cost is available, but preservationists say it will likely be no more than $30 million, and probably less.

In our view, it makes no sense to remove the siding, which is loaded with asbestos, PCBs and lead paint, unless there is funding to recover the building at the same time. Rep. Eshoo remains optimistic that NASA, which took over Moffett from the Navy in 1994, will step up and complete the job. That would be the best solution, although she said that the space agency was counting on the money from Congress to complete adequate funding.

Preservationists have talked about raising private funding to help out, and developing a business model that could put the restored hangar to good use in the years ahead. Their idea is to make Hangar One the heart of a new western branch of the Air and Space Museum, chartered by the Smithsonian. The hangar is certainly suited for displaying hundreds of historic planes and other artifacts, many of which are in storage due to lack of display space in Washington, D.C. It would also be a great place to showcase Silicon Valley's technological feats, of which NASA Ames has played a significant role over the years.

As in the past, it is difficult to understand any Hangar One solution until funding is in hand and work has begun. In the meantime, the City Council and other local government agencies should make as much noise as possible about the need for some government agency to preserve this unique building that has seen so much aviation history pass through its massive doors. At this stage of the game, it is far too late for the private sector to develop a plan to preserve Hangar One. To rely on that solution would doom the structure to shamefully whither away as a skeleton of its former self.

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