The Blue Cube Disappearing From Silicon Valley

Blue Cube DemolishedWhile crisscrossing Silicon Valley on the light rail to attend a job interview in Mountain View, I noticed the Blue Cube (a.k.a., Onizuka Air Force Station) for the first time in years. Or what was left of it. The large satellite dishes outside the building were long gone after the base closure in 2010. The blue walls that concealed the tracking operations of military satellites were coming down one wall at a time. Like many iconic buildings from 50 years ago, the redeveloped site will become a new educational facility.

After I turned eighteen in 1988, I started working in construction with my father for a few years. We had a short job at the Blue Cube to build a block wall near one of the outer buildings, which was both exciting and scary at the same time. Military Police at the checkpoint patted us down and inspected the truck (presumably for weapons and/or spying devices). We followed a patrol car to the construction site, where the M.P. unlocked the chain link gate, signaled for us to drive through, and locked the gate behind us. During the whole time we built the wall, M.P.s with assault rifles and snarling police dogs patrolled the perimeter of the construction site. Whenever we stood next to the fence, an M.P. would stand on the opposite side with the police dog ready to lunge at the fence.

That was my first and last visit to a military installation.

Another iconic Cold War-era structure is under threat. Although the summit of Mount Umunhum will eventually become a public park, the five-story radar tower of the former Almaden Air Force Station will get demolished unless money is found to preserve and restore the structure by 2017. For the first eight years of my life, I would walk out of my family home each morning to look south to see the bright red radar dishes on the tower. As I gotten older and became something of an amateur historian, I learned how integrated the U.S. military complex—and the threat of nuclear annihilation—was into the electronic fabric of Silicon Valley.