What IS that building on Mt. Umunhum?
The most prominent feature visible on Mt. Umunhum is a large white tower. Mt. Umunhum was the site of the Almaden Air Force Station from 1958 until 1980. This five story tall concrete building was the base for an early warning RADAR antenna which was used to detect incoming airplanes during the Cold War.
Is the Tower in danger?
Yes. Unless the Conservancy can prevent it, the Tower will be demolished.
Who owns the Tower?
Today the summit of Mt. Umunhum, including the Tower, belongs to the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), which manages it as part of the Sierra Azul Regional Open Space Preserve. MROSD purchased the former Almaden Air Force Station atop Mt. Umunhum from the Federal Government in 1986.
Why do they want to demolish the Tower?
MROSD is an open space district funded by property taxes. Their policy is not to spend any money for historic preservation. As a result, they plan to demolish the Tower unless the Conservancy provides the funds necessary to restore and maintain it.
How much money is required to save the Tower?
Approximately $1.5 million is required to restore the Tower and to pre-pay for 20 years of anticipated maintenance costs. MROSD requires all of these costs be paid by the Conservancy up front in order to keep the Tower intact.
Is there a deadline?
Yes. MROSD has set a deadline of October 2017. If the Conservancy does not raise the necessary funds by that deadline, we fully expect that MROSD will demolish the Tower.
Is the Tower historic? Can it be designated a Landmark?
The Conservancy’s architectural historian’s study concludes that the Tower qualifies as a Santa Clara County historic Landmark. However, MROSD’s consultant concludes that it does not. The only point on which the two studies disagree is whether the Tower retains sufficient historic integrity to be designated a Landmark.
The Conservancy is working with Santa Clara County’s Historical Heritage Commission to resolve this conflict. We hope that the HHC will recommend that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors include the Tower on the county’s Heritage Resource Inventory. Inclusion on the Inventory would give the Tower some limited protection against demolitiion.
Unfortunately the Santa Clara County ordinance says that a structure can only be designated as a Landmark if the owner agrees. We do not believe MROSD would agree to that designation, so listing the Tower on the Inventory is our goal at this time.
Sadly the State of California has already ruled that the Tower does not meet State criteria for Landmark status.
What are the Conservancy’s plans for the Tower?
Our first goal is to preserve the Tower in a sealed state. Repairs to the exterior of the Tower will be made; cracks and other damage to the exterior of the building will be fixed. The building will be painted. Once these repairs are accomplished, the building will be preserved in a sealed state; there will be no access to the interior.
Once this first goal is achieved, the Conservancy’s goal will be to open the first floor of the Tower as a museum / visitor’s center. However we are currently fundraising only for the first goal.
Why not make the Tower into a museum now?
The Tower’s owner, MROSD, is not willing to entertain the concept of opening the Tower now.
Since there are no utilities on Mt. Umunhum, getting permits to allow for human occupancy inside the Tower will require significant extra expense. Providing for lighting, fire suppression, and other requirements will take extra planning and funding.
We are confident that those challenges can be met, but believe that first we need to insure that the Tower isn’t demolished.
When can I visit Mt. Umunhum?
MROSD anticipates that a trail to the summit will open in the Fall of 2016. They have no estimate for when the road to the summit will be open to the general public.
What about the rest of the Almaden Air Force Station?
The Almaden Air Force Station atop Mt. Umunhum consisted of dozens of buildings. Hundreds of people lived and worked on the mountain. MROSD has demolished all of these structures and has returned the Air Force Station to a natural state.
The only remaining structures from the Air Force Station are the Tower and the Station’s flagpole.
Is the Tower toxic? Does it need to be cleaned?
No. Cleanup and abatement of toxic hazards left behind by the Air Force Station has been completed.
Are donations to the Conservancy tax deductible?
The Umunhum Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. The Conservancy’s EIN is 46-1438547.