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.
Landmark building coming down at LLNL
By Barry Schrader.................................October
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
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
worlds largest superconducting magnets and were able to produce magnetic
fields 150 times that of the Earths while only utilizing 50 watts
of power. It was a part of the Labs 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 worlds 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 Labs
Wasnt 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
PlacesBuilding 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
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 Basnars 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
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.
Heres a simple question for next week: How did Eugene ONeills
Tao House get its name?
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551