End of an era at LANL

-A A +A

Demolition brings back memories for those who worked in the old administration building

By John Severance

Scott Gibbs is a busy man at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as the associate director for threat identification and response.


But sometimes he catches himself as he looks out the window of his seventh-floor office of the National Security Sciences Building. He has a bird’s eye view of the demolition at the site of the old administration building and the memories often come flooding back.

Gibbs started at the lab in 1985 and had eight different offices in the building. Since demolition started six months ago, he has watched each of the offices he occupied turn to rubble.

“Everything disappeared before I got a chance to get a memento,” Gibbs said. “I sit on the seventh floor and watch the demolition and count as each of my offices go down.

“There is one left on the East wing in the center of the building. It’s a little sad because each place where I spent some of my career has disappeared.”

Former lab director Siegfried Hecker remembers being a summer student at Los Alamos in 1965 and he spent some time in the main auditorium of the old administration building.

“I remember well Director Norris Bradbury welcoming new employees there,” Hecker said. “The director’s office was on the fourth floor – seemingly in the stratosphere from where I was.”

Hecker said he will never forget his first visit to the lab director’s office in the 1970s.

“I had to report on some scientific details of plutonium alloys,” Hecker said. “I felt the same trepidation that most employees experience when they get called in by the big boss. Never did I expect to sit in the director’s chair.

“When I did arrive in that office as director in January 1986, I tried to make it a more engaging and less intimidating place for our employees. We had good times and some tough times while I was in that office, but in looking back I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It was the greatest place to be.

“But times change – the old timers move on, a new generation takes over, and even those buildings that carry such great memories for some of us have to go. For the Ad Building, it was high time.”

Carolyn Mangeng has worked at the lab in various capacities in the past 27 years.
And she will never forget when she got the job as a deputy director and she walked into her office at the old administration building.

“I almost didn’t want to enter the room,” Mangeng said. “There was so much history and I didn’t feel worthy of being in there. The offices were decorated in the styles of the 1950s. It was like walking into a different era.”

Terry Hawkins, now the program director for Global Security programs in the Global Security Directorate, began work at the administration building in 1988.

And he has a unique perspective.

“When President Clinton made one of his visits to the lab, they used my office as the west wing of the White House,” Hawkins said. “In the weeks before, there were security people all over the place checking the office out.”

Hawkins said he has a lot of memories of the place as well.

“I hate to see it come down, but progress is progress,” Hawkins said.

According to Darrik Stafford, who works in the Lab’s Site Projects Division and is the project manager; the demolition job is 70 percent complete and is expected to done this summer. There are no plans yet for redevelopment at the site after all the debris is hauled off.

It has been a meticulous and arduous process demolishing the building because of the close proximity of existing structures.

What have they recovered?

Some mementoes from the lab director’s office like doors, windows, and desks were retrieved before demolition began.

So far, they have secured 816 wood doors, 313 portable air conditioners, two switch gear stations and 56 truckloads of furniture.

By the time the project is completed, Stafford says 13,000 tons of scrap steel, 43,000 tons of concrete, 6,500 fluorescent bulbs, 1,875 incandescent light bulbs, and 116 tritium exit signs will be hauled off or recycled.

Stafford also has a soft spot in his heart for the history of the old administration building and the history of the lab itself.

“Both sides of my family are third generation LANL,” Stafford said. “The history is absolutely fascinating.”
Leroy Hesensack, who worked in the building as part of the Field Intelligence Office and is part of Stafford’s demolition team, said, “If the walls could talk, it would make people pass out. When you think of the decisions that were made as it pertained to this country and the national security, it’s amazing.”

According to a 2001 LANL report prepared for the Department of Energy, the administration building was referred to as TA-3-43 and was designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Menill, out of Chicago.

Construction began in December 1953 and was completed in November 1955. The 315,000-square-foot Administration Building was first occupied in early 1956 and was home to about 1,000 people through most of its 50-year lifetime.

While named the Administration Building, many of the “administrative” functions were moved when the Otowi Building was constructed in 1982. In the 1990s, it was deemed no longer to be fit for use, and plans began for replacement and demolition. The facility was committed for closure by the laboratory in 2000 to justify the construction of the NSSB and as part of the Footprint Reduction Initiative. And in September 2008, the last employees moved out of the building.

Gibbs, meanwhile, has one lasting memory of the building.

“The most vivid was the Cerro Grande Fire and there were a number of us called back and we were figuring out how to restart the lab,” Gibbs said.

“My office was on the third floor heading east and I looked out the window and there were still spot fires in the canyon all around the lab and we were trying to figure out how to clean the place up.

“But it was just so quiet. I will never forget looking through the smoke and the morning light of the canyon.”