Admiral William A. Moffett is credited with the creation of the two Naval
Air Stations commissioned in the early 1930s to port the two U.S. Naval
Airships (dirigibles). The Naval Air Station Sunnyvale, California, was
the Pacific coast location selected with help from northern Californian
politicians and the leadership of the Chambers of Commerce from Mountain
View to San Jose. More commonly known as Moffett Field, the U.S. Naval Air
Station Sunnyvale, California, Historic District consists of a large number
of buildings that were constructed from the 1930s on. By far the most famous
and visible of these are Hangars #1, #2 and #3, which dwarf the surrounding
buildings, standing as testament to the engineering skills of their builders.
Moffett Field and Hangar One, current
views and historic images of the hangar under construction in 1932
and a 1934 image of the dirigible attached by a tether to Hangar One.
Click here for a larger
photo of the Hangar.
Photo by Judith Silva, courtesy
of the City of Santa Clara and photo from National Register collection
Towering majestically in the northeast corner of Santa Clara Valley is
Hangar #1 constructed in 1933 to house the Navy dirigible USS Macon.
Named as a Naval Historical Monument in the early 1950s, the hangar is
constructed on an amazing network of steel girders sheathed with galvanized
steel. It rests firmly upon a reinforced pad anchored to concrete pilings.
The floor covers eight acres and can accommodate 10 football fields. "Number
One," as it is popularly referred to, is 1,133 feet long and 308 feet
wide. Its walls curve upward and inward, to form an elongated dome 198
feet high. Unique and spectacular are the "orange peel" doors, weighing
500 tons each. The doors are operated by an electrical control panel.
Each door is powered by a 150-horsepower motor. One of the most recognizable
landmarks in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hangar #1 and the original base
are significant in the history of Naval Aviation, defense and in the development
of the Santa Clara Valley. Making use of the facility location and landing
field, NASA Ames Research Center is located to the north adjacent to the
original plaza boundary and at the north boundary of the historic district.
It was here that some of the original moon rocks taken from the Apollo
lunar landings were studied by NASA geologists.
The hangar's interior is so large that fog sometimes forms near the ceiling.
A person unaccustomed to its vastness is susceptible to optical disorientation.
Looking across its deck, airplanes and tractors look like toys. Along its
length, maintenance shops, inspection laboratories and offices help keep
the hangar busy. Looking up, you can see a network of catwalks for access
to all parts of the structure. Two elevators meet near the top, allowing
maintenance personnel to get to the top quickly and easily. Narrow gauge
tracks run the length of the hangar. During the lighter- than-air period
of dirigibles and non-rigid aircraft, the rails extended across the apron
and into the fields at each end of the hangar. This tramway facilitated
the transportation of an airship on the mooring mast to the hangar interior
or to the flight position. During the brief period that the USS Macon
was based at Moffett from October 1933 until it was lost at sea in February
1935, Number One not only accommodated the giant airship but several smaller
non-rigid LTA craft simultaneously. Hangar One is one of the most important
hangars in the world. Hangars #2 and #3 are significant more for their size
than their unique styling or design. Along with Hangar #1, these two buildings
help define the South San Francisco Bay Area from all distant directions.
The style of the other buildings on the base is largely Spanish Colonial
Revival, mostly built in the 1930s, with some International style buildings
constructed in the 1940s and beyond. The Moffett Field Historical Society
was founded in May of 1993. Until recently, their museum was located in historic
Interior of Hangar One
Photo by Judith Silva,
courtesy of the City of Santa Clara
Naval Air Station Sunnyvale is located near Mountain View and Sunnyvale,
California, 35 miles south of San Francisco. From Highway 101 use the
Moffett Field exit. The Moffett Museum has been located in Hangar One
for several years, but relocated to an adjacent building after the hangar was closed due to potential toxic chemicals. If you plan to visit, inform the guard at the main gate
that you are going to the museum and follow his instructions. Call 650-603-9827
or visit the Moffett Field Museum's website for further information.