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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Landmark building coming down at LLNL

By Barry Schrader.................................October 13, 2005

The skyline of Lawrence Lab is about to change as the seven-story, 100 foot high sheet metal structure known as Building 431 is coming down, panel by panel.

To most people offsite the towering metal building looks like a blimp hangar or a giant grain elevator. As you drive over the Greenville Road hill adjacent to Sandia Labs you can easily spot this towering edifice.

The building is one of the oldest onsite, constructed by the California Research & Development Corporation (CR&D), the predecessor to the “Rad Lab” now officially called Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It was first used to house an Atomic Energy Commission-sponsored program to develop fissionable materials for nuclear weapons.

Beginning in 1954, two years after the Lab had taken over site, it housed several generations of fusion research. Some of the remnants of decades of research are seven-foot-thick concrete shielding blocks and big steel platforms used when it housed the Mirror Fusion Test Facility (MFTF) which was constructed over a period of eight years culminating with its dedication in 1986. Immediately thereafter the Department of Energy pulled the funding for operating the MFTF due to research budget cuts and it was mothballed.

The first of the 400-ton magnets for MFTF had to be rolled in on eight inch diameter oak logs, using the ancient Egyptian pyramid-building method of moving massive objects across the ground. At that time they were the world’s largest superconducting magnets and were able to produce magnetic fields 150 times that of the Earth’s while only utilizing 50 watts of power. It was a part of the Lab’s large Magnetic Fusion Energy (MFE) program that sought to use fusion as an alternative energy source.

Some of the better known scientists who worked on experiments inside 431 included Richard Post, Nicholas Christofilos, Sterling Colgate, Donald Furth, and Kenneth Fowler.

By 1998 it was realized that the MFTF in Building 431 was never going to be used again, so a six month salvage operation was undertaken by Evans Brothers of Livermore to remove 2,500 tons of material.

Since that time the empty structure has housed only flocks of domestic pigeons, evident by the layer of bird droppings that accumulated on the concrete floor. This was probably (unintentionally) the world’s largest pigeon rookery, totaling 150,000 square feet under one roof! When it is gone there will sadly be no more servings of pigeon pot pies in the Lab’s cafeterias… (just kidding).

Wasn’t the building historically significant enough to save, you might ask? Well in 2003 a study was commissioned to determine if it was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Two historian consultants, Rebecca Ullrich and Michael Anne Sullivan, were brought in from New Mexico and spent weeks doing a thorough study of its origin and uses. Rebecca told me recently that their report, entitled “Assessment of Eligibility of National Register of Historic Places—Building 431”, is available online. They concluded that even though it had a major part in Cold War weapons research, housed some significant breakthroughs in accelerator technology and magnetic fusion energy research, it no longer has any historic significance. So down it comes!

So if you notice some unfamiliar wayward pigeons in your neighborhood, guess where they might be refugees from?

***

Past column tidbits: Reader Lynne Jensen just emailed me that she looked back at my column on presidents or presidential hopefuls who visited the Tri-Valley and recalled that her Dublin Elementary School class was taken to the Shamrock Village Shopping Center to hear then-gubernatorial candidate Richard Nixon speak at an outdoor rally. She also mentioned that her grandfather Eugene Regenwetter used to do some welding work for the Hearsts locally and Lynne says he had the first successful pistachio orchard in California.

I get dozens of these interesting follow-ups to past columns and someday should include them all in a collection of local historical trivia!

***

The history mystery answer, easily found online, is the title of Major Lee Basnar’s new book, “Northern Lights and Shadows, Sixteen Years in the Alaskan Bush.” The bookmark says it so well: “Bears, blizzards and bush flying; numbing, subarctic cold, wild neighbors…” Lee vividly describes how he and his wife Joan lived, loved and laughed through adventures and mishaps in the remote Alaskan outback. You can find more about Lee and his two books at www.leebasnar.com.

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Here’s a simple question for next week: How did Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House get its name?

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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