Mountain View Voice

Opinion - May 24, 2013

Finally, a policy to save Hangar One

When the Navy built Hangar One in the 1930s to house the dirigible USS Macon, no one thought of what would become of the massive hangar if the giant airship disappeared. But that is exactly what happened shortly after the Macon arrived at Moffett Field, the victim of a crash on an ill-fated rescue mission. Soon after, the U.S. Navy abandoned massive airships, leaving Hangar One to be re-purposed to much more mundane jobs, like parking airplanes and small blimps within its bulky confines.

Then, after years of service as it became a South Bay landmark, it was discovered that the exterior panels covering Hangar One were leaching toxic chemicals into storm-water retention ponds on the edge of the Bay and discussions began about who was responsible to rehabilitate the hangar. Finally, after several years of arguments, the Navy agreed to remove the siding, but refused to spend the $30 million or more it would take to replace it. Today, the Navy's refusal to complete the job has left the historic structure a skeleton without a skin, with only a new coat of paint to protect it from the elements.

But after years of bickering between the Navy, NASA and preservationists, a new idea has emerged that federal officials say could restore the hangar as long as its use is tied to its original aerospace-related purpose. And the winning bidder does not need a link to NASA's scientific missions, as is usually required for leases of Moffett's buildings. It will be made possible by a provision in the National Historic Preservation Act, section 111, that allows historic buildings such as Hangar One to be used for their original purpose.

This new policy almost certainly will bring Google's founders back into the picture with their offer to restore Hangar One for upwards of $30 million, the cost of restoring the siding. By doing so, they will be able to house their fleet of corporate jets inside the hangar and to use the airfield. The Google planes earned that right earlier by being available for NASA experiments, but that work will no longer be necessary if the company submits the winning bid on Hangar One. A request for proposals is expected to be released this spring. It is expected that the lease will be at least 25 years, which finally would close a volatile chapter in the life of Hangar One. NASA also will allow bidders to propose to take over Moffett's runway operations, saving NASA millions a year to run its flight tower.

In a structure the size of Hangar One, there should be plenty of room for the Google founders' fleet as well as a niche for the world class museum advocated for by the Earth, Air and Space Educational Foundation, which Google said it could accommodate in an earlier offer to reskin the hangar.

We hope the community's input will be considered in this process and that Hangar One can once again be enjoyed by the public, as it was during air shows and other public events in the past.

None of this will be possible until the General Services Administration and NASA completes a deal with Google's founders that will restore Hangar One to its rightful place in the history of the South Bay.

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