Driving down Highway 101 past Moffett Field, it's hard to miss the looming, black-and-white aircraft hangar being summarily torn asunder. Hangar One. A beloved architectural fixture that, unless funding appears soon, will remain a partial skeleton and a reminder of the economic hardship gripping the country.
Although it once served a great purpose for the U.S. Navy, right now the 328,500-square-foot NASA-owned building is being used for absolutely nothing.
“The hangar is currently vacant,” said Scott Anderson, Defense Base Closure and Realignment environmental coordinator.
Completed in 1933, the hangar "was originally used to house the rigid airship, the U.S.S. Macon,” said Bill Stubkjaer, curator at the Moffett Field Museum.
Stubkjaer said that even the hangar's rich history couldn't save it from abandonment, however.
“It was closed in 2002 due to contamination,” Stubkjaer said. “They found traces of lead, asbestos and PCB.”
According to Stubkjaer, the Navy has been removing the outer skin, which is the source of contamination. The Navy’s only responsibility is the removal of the contaminated outer layer of the hangar. Once completed, it is NASA’s responsibility to rehabilitate the building, he explained.
"When it is finished [the hangar] will be a bare skeleton,” Stubkjaer said.
However, NASA's recent financial setbacks will postpone the rehabilitation of Hangar One.
“NASA had put in money to re-skin the building, and it was removed mainly for political reasons," Stubjkaer said. “NASA wanted to do it, but the people back East said, 'Nope.' Given the budget climate ... it doesn’t surprise me that the money has been taken away.”
Like Stubjkaer, Palo Alto resident Heather Linebarger is upset that the historical building could be left as an eyesore for many years, but she is understanding of the government’s decision.
“It’s sad," she said. "It’s a landmark for me. My dad used to work at NASA Ames, so I remember going to [the hangar] ... it’s a memory. But given the fact that we can’t even pay our citizens’ Social Security bills, I don’t know if we have the funding for it.”
It is unknown how long it will be before NASA is able to rehabilitate the hangar.
“If NASA had been able to get the money, the plan was to recover it as soon as possible," Stubjkaer said. "Obviously, it’s not going to happen that way, so we don’t know [how much longer it will be]. At this stage, I don’t think anyone can foresee how long it will stay uncovered."
After the skin is removed from the hangar and the metal skeleton is exposed, NASA will have a limited amount of time to come up with the funding for rehabilitation.
“The longer it stays uncovered, the more apt it is to be damaged to the point where they will not be able to revive it,” Stubjkaer said.
“I do not know how long this could be," he said. "They are going to cover the frame with an epoxy coating, which will help preserve the metal, but it will not last indefinitely, and at some point in time, it may not be possible to recover the hangar.”
Despite the murky future for the hangar, however, there are many ideas for what will follow for the 8-acre building.
“There are a number of people out there who have ideas," Stubjkaer said. "Possibly a museum, possibly to build airships in, possibly a warehouse. The problem is, none of these people have money.”