Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series that will focus on the history discovered from buildings scheduled to be demolished on the range.
WSMR Stewardship Archeologist Bill Godby and historical preservation assistant Jim Jenks are piecing together parts of WSMR’s past by scavenging through old documents they find in abandoned buildings that are to be demolished.
The pair has been working together for two years to create an account of WSMR’s historic buildings.
“This has been my mission. The things that we’re reading about are coming out of the original manuals associated with the building’s purpose. It’s not easy to find,” Godby said.
The pair has been able to piece together the past through retired employee’s historical accounts and oral histories, technical manuals and blueprints, maps, journals, newspaper articles, and old photos. Research and writing from past WSMR employees, such as Doyle Piland’s work in the “Hands Across History” newsletters has been especially informative. From the documents, Godby and Jenks develop reports on the purpose of the building and the historical value the building had on the range. These reports are used to meet the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, which asks federal agencies to determine the historic significance of the buildings under their stewardship.
“Since this place has changed so much, it’s through these things that we’re able to recreate what happened here in 1966,” Godby said. “The things that went on here are just mind blowing.”
Building 300, which was demolished earlier in the year, sat directly across from Building 100 and housed some of the most innovative pieces of technology of its time. The building, which was built in 1966, was critical for missile tests and was used to conduct test operations with many missions simultaneously. The purpose of the building was to create a central mission command. The building also housed a drone control center, which is still available in the new control center, and at the time was considered state of the art.
“It was perhaps one of the most sophisticated systems in the U.S. There were not many places that were more advanced,” Godby said.
The control center provided real time data during a time when data reduction was something to be vied for.
“It was very important that things were done quickly and efficiently,” he added.
“What was so unique was that this was among the first one in the world. The concept of unified mission control was one of the greatest aspects of what was going on in Building 300,” Jenks said.
The area that was most commonly known as Launch Complex-38 served as the test center for the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic missile program before it was dedicated to the Patriot mission. The site hosted two major components of the late 1950 ABM program, including the Zeus Acquisition Radar (ZAR). The radar component for Zeus came after the Russian development of Sputnik in 1957. According to Jenks, the costly Nike-Zeus program became outdated in the face of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile development, though the ZAR was a technological achievement. After the Nike-Zeus program was put to rest, the building was repurposed, used as the advanced Hard Point Demonstration Array Radar (HAPDAR) in 1965. HAPDAR development was initiated by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), today’s DARPA, which was created by President Eisenhower during the Cold War as a response to Sputnik. The mission of the agency was to advance American military technology and to prevent unpleasant technological surprises such as Sputnik.
“It was a secretive, high level program. It was very new and groundbreaking,” Jenks said.
The technology of the 50s and 60s, such as ZAR and HAPDAR, proved to be vital for future military-based scientific development, like President Ronald Reagan’s Missile Defense Program, known as the “Star Wars” program. After the run of the two programs, the building was then used to house offices for employees of the Patriot program. A rumor that the building housed a missile silo underneath the building was dispelled through background research. The original as-built drawings demonstrate that the large concrete-walled space under the ZAR housed nothing more than the HVAC equipment for the radar.
There is still information the historians are trying to piece together, to include newly-located historic photos that show a piece of equipment that may have been part of the HAPDAR.