Looking out over Silicon Valley, the airstrips of Moffett Field and its three gigantic hangars are a defining feature. The airfield is a bastion of open space surrounded by dense urbanity to the west and salt ponds and the bay to the east. If you drive by it along Highway 101, your eye naturally finds Hangar One. Oddly beautiful, it stands apart from Hangars Two and Three and conjures up a sense of hugeness, achievement, and possibility. Built in 1932 to house the Navy’s cutting edge lighter-than-air rigid airship, the USS Macon, Hangar One is the icon of Moffett Field and a symbol of pioneering aeronautical achievement in the 20th century.
You might have noticed that Hangar One looks different since 2011. This change in appearance was quite a catalyst for other significant changes.
Decades-long Dilemma: What to Do with Hangar One?
Heavy airfield use and related high costs for upkeep nearly shut Moffett Field down on numerous occasions throughout the six decades that it served the Navy as Naval Air Station Moffett Field. It officially closed as a Naval operation in 1994, when it was turned over to NASA Ames Research Center and renamed Moffett Federal Airfield.
Since that time, there has been near continuous evaluation of the fate of the airfield, and Hangar One in particular, by various federal agencies and commissions. The 1994 Moffett Field Comprehensive Use Plan found Moffett Field to be an important federal asset, as did all the other commisssions and committees over the years.
In 2003, plans to turn Hangar One into a space and science center were put on hold when polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) was discovered to be leaking from its metal exterior. The Navy was still responsible for the environmental remediation, and its price tag of tens of millions of dollars. Initially, the Navy decided just to remove the metal skin and then demolish Hangar One. This prompted an outcry from local politicians, history preservation groups, and local residents who all wanted to save the Silicon Valley icon.
In May 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Hangar One as one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places. In its news release about the designation, they wrote that the Navy would probably be compelled to complete the remediation but then leave the skeletal frame exposed to the elements to avoid costly restoration. They were right.
Public Protests the Navy’s Plans
In 2011, the Navy began stripping the interior and exterior PCB-laden metal covering of Hangar One at a cost of $25 million. They had no intention of refurbishing the building, but they sprayed the remaining metal skeleton with a coating to protect it from the elements.
Meanwhile, three Google executives, chairman Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had been leasing Moffett Field’s Hangar 211 for a fleet of private jets since 2007. In October 2011, while Hagar One was still being stripped, they offered NASA $33 million via their company called H211 LLC, to pay for Hangar One’s restoration. In return, they wanted two-thirds of Hangar One’s floor space set aside for eight private jets. NASA could use the rest of the hangar floor area and the space above it.
NASA apparently did not respond to their offer. Perhaps it was because of previous cries of favoritism to Google that resulted because their lease of Hangar 211 was never put up for bid, and they might have purchased jet fuel at a much-reduced cost. Regardless of the reason, the local community saw H211’s offer as the last best hope to save Hangar One.
In late 2011, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo motivated 21 members of Congress, representatives of the cities of Sunnyvale and Mountain View, and several other interested groups to communicate with Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, and implore him to accept H211 LLC’s lease offer. With such a viable solution so close, Bolden’s April 12, 2012 written response to Anna Eshoo did not go over well. Bolden replied that “…because NASA has determined that these properties no longer have a mission need and are therefore excess to the Agency, NASA’s Enhanced Use Lease Authorities are not available for these properties.” This incited a firestorm of local outrage and political maneuvering to bring the fate of hangar One and Moffett Field to the attention of all levels of the federal government.
Just Google it
By mid-2013, thanks to Congressional pressure, it was decided that NASA could negotiate a lease after all. An official NASA request for proposal (RFP) to lease the entire 1000-acre Moffet Federal Airfield (including Hangars One, Two, and Three) was issued in October 2013. A $500,000 cashier’s check was required as a bid deposit (returnable to any non-successful bidders).
In February 2014, NASA announced that Google’s proposal won and the company had signed a $1.16 billion, 60-year lease for Moffett Field. The runner-up was Orton Development Inc. of Emeryville, California, which specializes in building renovation and reuse. Google plans to allocate $200 million to rehabilitate the three hangars and two runways, as well as the site’s 18-hole golf course.
As of early 2016, Google is testing three methods for removing the coating that the Navy applied to the frame of Hangar One to prevent corrosion. Some contaminants remain under the coating, and the goal is to remove them before replacing the skin and renovating the hangar. According to Lenny Siegel of SaveHangarOne.org, who is also the recipient of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 Award for Citizen Excellence in Community Involvement, Google is also in the process of seeking approval for their planned work. According to Siegel, the most significant approval will likely come from the State Historic Preservation Office.
Google intends to use the three renovated hangars as research facilities for robotics and other developing technology. It’s not clear where their eight private jets will go, but cutting edge technology will again be housed in Moffett Field’s Hangar One.
- “Community blasts NASA chief's proposal to dispose of Moffett,” by Daniel DeBolt, Mountain View Voice website, May 11, 2012.
- Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s personal correspondence re: Moffett Field and Hangar One. Availible on navydocs.nuqu.org
- Exclusive: Google won Moffett Field, but a Bay Area real estate firm was in the running Silicon Valley Business Journal, January 29, 2015.
- ”Fate of Moffett’s 1,000 acres may be sealed by next month,” by Daniel DeBolt, Mountain View Voice website, September 19, 2013.
- Google’s Moffett Field plans include robots, space tech, aviation. Silicon Valley Business Journal, February 10, 2014.
- Google takes over aging Moffett Field and its airship hangars, by Matt O’Brien. San Jose Mercury News, April 1, 2015, mercurynews.com.
- Hangar One Moffett Field For Lease. NASA. NASA.gov website. Accessed February 2, 2016.
- "Hangar One (Mountain View, California)". Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. website. Accessed December 27, 2015.
- Notes of the Moffett Restoration Advisory Board meeting, November 12, 2015. nuqu.org website.
- Moffett Federal Airfield. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Accessed December 27, 2015.
- Moffett Field’s Hangar One Stripped to the Bone, Renovation Plans Stalled, by Peter Jon Schuler KQED News website, July 17, 2012.
- National Trust for Historic Preservation Names Hangar One, to its 2008 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered HIstoric Places. National Trust for Historic Preservation, May 20, 2008.
- Public/Civic Project of the Year Winner: Moffett Federal Airfield ground lease. The Silicon Valley Business Journal, website, September 2015.
- Feds seek Hangar One tenant, Moffett airfield manager, by Daniel DeBolt, Mountain View Voice website, March 1, 2013.
- "USS Macon (ZRS-5)". Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. website. Accessed December 2015.