The hangar (Hangar Number One) and associated facilities were built in the early 1930’s as a Western base for the U.S. Navy’s proposed use of dirigibles to provide long range reconnaissance. The Macon, the first user of the Hangar, was 785 feet long, powered by eight 560 horsepower engines, equipped with accommodations for 100 officers and crew, and kept aloft by helium, rather than flammable hydrogen. It carried five fighter planes for protection. The Hangar is 212 feet tall, but the dirigible cleared the structure by only some 12 feet. This old photo shows the hanger swallowing the Macon.
The Navy experiment with large dirigibles was short lived. The Macon crashed in 1935, and due to changes in strategy, improvements in aircraft, and problems with the dirigible program, the hangar was diverted to other purposes. Over the years it had developed leaks in the covering, and asbestos had been found in its roofing. There was talk of taking it down, but happily there was a great deal of resistance because of its historical and landmark value. The cover has now been removed (and hopefully will be replaced), and the bare structure can be seen from Highway 101. it is wonderful indeed. Here is a photo from the frontage road after the doors were stripped. The hangar is now completely stripped
But recently I wanted to observe it more closely, and Moffett field now being a “government facility”, I approached the guarded gate, and inquired whether I could get on the base. I was told that that would not be possible unless I had business with someone there. Merely wanting to look at the hangar structure would not cut it. But, said the guard, why didn’t I go visit the Moffett Field Museum (sometimes called the Navy Museum — not to be confused with a spacecraft museum in the NASA Ames buildings), which was directly adjacent to Hangar One. I did so, and managed to entertain myself and my camera by acquiring some up-close and personal time with a structure that will probably never be duplicated, and the museum was swell. Here is a closer shot of the structural detail (note size of pickup parked beside it).
I am a fan of small museums, and wish people would visit them more, because they are always interesting, and operated by dedicated volunteers. This one traces the history of Moffettt Field, and of course Hangar #1 and the Macon, with lots of good displays that are attractive to both adults and kids, with eager volunteers to help. If you are in the area, I would recommend you check it out along with the hangar in its present naked form. The museum is not open every day, so check its website, which is here.