Those who frequently drive the stretch of U.S. Highway 101 that passes through Mountain View know that Hangar One looks a whole lot different today than it did just one year ago.
After spending the better part of the past decade as a bare, steel skeleton, the massive structure today is started to get skin on those bones.
The restoration officially began in May 2022. For members of the community who fought hard to save Hangar One, it was a victory nearly two decades in the making.
"It's a source of pride to everyone in our region," U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Menlo Park) told this news publication in an April interview at Moffett Field. "It's an identifier — it's an icon for Silicon Valley."
At a May 11 Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting, Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures, the entity responsible for rehabilitating Hangar One, offered a rare opportunity for the community to ask questions about the restoration's progress.
The company remained tight-lipped about exactly when the public can expect to see the hangar finished — and what the space will be used for upon completion. But those who fought to have it saved imagine a place where the public can learn about Hangar One's nearly 100-year history.
"The people in the community envision that there would be an interpretive museum, so that when children come to see it they understand what it is, when it was built, why it was built, what was inside of it, what was taking place in the country at that time, why did we need a hangar of this size," Eshoo said. "That's a top priority for me."
Hangar One history
Hangar One was constructed in the early 1930s to house the USS Macon, a massive dirigible operated by the U.S. Navy. The Macon had a short lifespan: It only took flight for a few years before crashing during a storm off Point Sur, California, in 1935.
After the USS Macon met its untimely demise, the military continued to make use of Hangar One for decades to house training aircraft.
Moffett Field Historical Society President Tom Spink was a "25-year-old kid from Kansas" when he first arrived at Moffett Field in 1970 to start his Navy career. Spink quickly became acquainted with Hangar One and its history — as well as some of its fabled quirks.
"When a cold front would pass through, water would condensate on the top, and it would sprinkle inside," Spink said in an interview at the Moffett Field Museum.
In 1994, the Navy transferred Hangar One to NASA after Moffett Field was decommissioned. But in 2003, NASA discovered that Hangar One's metal skin was leaching a toxin called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the wetlands near Moffett Field. NASA also discovered lead and asbestos in the structure.
"There was an immediate effort to coat it to prevent further leaching. It was largely unsuccessful," said Lenny Siegel, former Mountain View Mayor and longtime advocate for restoring Hangar One.
A few years later, he said, "the Navy proposed to tear it down," prompting Siegel and others to form the Save Hangar One Committee, which fought to not only prevent the demolition of the Hangar but have it restored.
"There was a great deal of opposition to demolition from diverse sectors of the community," Siegel said. "People who saw it as a landmark of this area; Navy veterans who saw this as a symbol of their service to the country; preservationists."
But the cost of such an immense undertaking — restoring one of the largest hangars in the world — was beyond what NASA could manage on its own.
"What was worked out was a plan for NASA to lease out in a competitive bid 1,000 acres of Moffett Field," Siegel said. "And whoever leased the 1,000 acres would be responsible for restoring and maintaining Hangar One. … Google was the only serious contender."
In 2014, NASA selected Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures as the new lessee, meaning the company would also take on the responsibility to rehabilitate the historic Hangar One.
What's next for Hangar One?
When Planetary Ventures started the restoration last year, the company targeted 2025 for the project's completion. Eshoo said in April that she's still confident in that timeline.
"Every time I'm here I see more progress," she said.
But when asked about the 2025 target at the May 11 RAB meeting, restoration project manager Roozbeh Amini-Rad said this year's weather patterns have presented some challenges.
"I think we're still kind of working through that," he said of the project timeline. "We've had some weather issues here recently, so we're still internally trying to finalize those dates."
Despite the exact completion date being up in the air, Amini-Rad said progress is being made every day.
"One major activity that we've been working through on the hangar is the scaffolding," he said, emphasizing "the size and complexity of the scaffolding structure that we've built in there."
Amini-Rad added that metal decking continues to be installed on the west and south sides of the hangar, noting "the difficulty of installing metal decking on a curved structure like this." The decking will eventually be covered by an exterior aluminum paneling system.
"So once the project's finished you'll see kind of an aluminum finish," Amini-Rad said.
Meanwhile, Planetary Ventures must ensure that hazardous toxins don't escape into the environment while the restoration is underway.
"Essentially we have this plastic material that we've wrapped around the exterior of the hangar," Amini-Rad said. "We're kind of going section by section ... while we're abating it, to keep all the material inside."
When asked what Hangar One might be used for upon completion, and whether a museum is on the table, Amini-Rad said that "right now, the team is focused on restoration, and it's too early to determine the long-term use."
Google declined the this news publication's request for an interview with Planetary Ventures.
Greg Unangst, chair of the Restoration Advisory Board, said that despite some uncertainty around when the restoration will be finished, he's hopeful for Hangar One's future.
"For years, it just sat there. It looked like nothing was happening. Well, there was a lot going on with the planning, and we saw the result of that yesterday," Unangst said after the May 11 RAB meeting. "It's an amazing endeavor that they're doing here, on a major structure. So you can see why there's years of planning and detailed engineering that goes on."
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