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Fate of Mt. Um's Radar Tower Discussed at Public Forum Wednesday

The iconic and historic cube-shaped radar tower is at risk of demolition. A public meeting on what to do with the radar tower on Mt. Umunhum will be held July 18 at Quinlan Center, at 6:30 p.m.

UPDATE: Basim Jaber discovered one tower, similar to the one on Mt. Um, has been torn down. It was initially thought that no towers had been torn down. This article has been updated to reflect that correction.

Mount Umunhum is on its way to becoming a recreation destination, but the question remains of what to do with the iconic chunky radar tower on top that is visible for miles on the valley floor. People will have a chance to weigh in on the five-story tower's fate at a to be held at beginning with an open house at 6:30 p.m.

Cupertino Patch will cover that meeting and provide a follow up, so stay tuned.

There are 18 towers similar to the one on Mt. Um, and only one has been torn down, according to , but he doesn't see any valid reason to make this one the first. (Editor's note: In the orginal version of this article Jaber thought no towers had been torn down. He since discovered that Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana had an FPS-24 (just like Almaden's) at the southwest corner of the runway that has been torn down. Additionally a steel tower was first reused then because of rust and structural decay a new tower was constructed.

"Each one has been given a purpose in its afterlife," he says.

Jaber is an engineer by trade and has become a historian and archivist for the Almaden Air Force Station (AAFS)—of which the tower was a part of—and has organized several reunions for the veterans who served at the station during the Cold War. (Jaber submitted the opinion article,  to Patch, which was published on July 11.)

He actively beseeches the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which purchased the site in 1986, to preserve the tower as a piece of Bay Area history. He has more than 850 signatures on a petition (https://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-mt-umunhum-radar-tower) to save the tower as proof that he does not stand alone in his plea. And in an even closer to connection to the Cupertino community, the concrete used to build the radar tower most likely came from Lehigh Southwest Cement, known then as Kaiser Permanente Cement.

In a special article for the Mercury News, the district's general manager, Steve Abbors, proposed the following three options for the tower:

  • Tear it down and restore the mountain;
  • Leave the foundation and part of its walls to create a public gathering place;
  • Leave the tower intact and make it available for viewing

Each option includes the district's intention to honor the veterans who served on AAFS, as well as the Ohlone people who are believed to have used the area for prayer. AAFS stationed the 682nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron with up to 120 personnel and their families. It had a bowling alley, housing, its own water and power generation, and a 100-man underground bomb shelter.

"No one else knows but us radar guys what it was like during the Cold War," G. Pittenger, who served at the station from 1974-75, . "We didn't fight with guns. We fought with scopes and meters. We fought with our intelligence...Our country depended on us—and we came through."

Mt. Um and the radar tower were used during the Cold War from about 1958 to 1980 when it was decommissioned and all the classified materials were removed, including the 125-foot-long rotating rooftop radar dish.

Sitting basically empty now is no reason to allow the tower to be demolished, Jaber says.

"To tear it down just because it looks ugly, or what it costs to maintain it, those are all the wrong reasons. It's such an important part of not just the South Bay's history, but the entire Bay Area," he says.

Anne Ernst July 13, 2012 at 02:57 PM
This is an iconic piece of Bay Area history that I just learned more about. I didn't grow up in this area so was unaware the importance of the radar tower and the AFS. Wednesday's meeting is your opportunity to show MROSD how you feel about the tower.
Susan July 13, 2012 at 06:04 PM
An assertion has been made by someone who worked up there that incoming hostile aircraft were able to scramble long range radar, making antennas such as these nothing more than a physical reminder of Military Industrial Complex pork. Maybe someone with firsthand knowledge can clarify the validity of this assertion. If it's true, it would be a good argument in support of it's removal. Thanks for posting the photos. I had no idea it was that large!
Basim Jaber July 13, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Susan, "Frequency Diverse" radars like the one up at Almaden AFS had "redundancy" built in and specific anti-jamming countermeasures. The assertion is only plausible for radars that didn't have redundant channels, yet never confirmed. Nonetheless, any guess as to this network of radar stations being "pork" should be met with this link: http://burritojustice.com/2012/06/27/the-russians-arent-coming-to-%D1%81-%D1%84/ You can click the map to view the larger version. This map proves that the Soviets had every intention to "invade" and even mapped out locations of key military , industrial, and transportation infrastructure. All the way down to "tank-friendly" roadways.
Basim Jaber July 21, 2012 at 01:57 AM
$200,000 donation to save Mount Umunhum Radar Tower http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_21123661

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