local demolition of SAGE building

'Computer Collector Newsletter' news at computercollector.com
Tue Jul 19 12:51:29 CDT 2005

Before we say the reporter was wrong, consider this: of course the main SAGE
computers in the 1950s used vacuum tubes, but isn't it likely that the
later, remote facilities (like the one in this story) used transistors?

>>>> Transistors?  Thousands of them??  Do some research, please.  Not you,
John.  :-)

-----Original Message-----
From: cctalk-bounces at classiccmp.org [mailto:cctalk-bounces at classiccmp.org]
On Behalf Of John Boffemmyer IV
Sent: Saturday, July 16, 2005 7:47 AM
To: cctech at classiccmp.org
Subject: local demolition of SAGE building

I saw this in today's copy of my local newspaper on-line. The location of
the building is in New Windsor, NY. Stewart International Airport -as some
of you know- sits on the border of the Town of Newburgh and New Windsor. It
used to be and still is to a degree, a major Marine, Army and Air Force
base. More currently, it is a commercial international airport and a base
for the Air Force, local Army and Air Force Reserves and touts a pair of the
biggest runways in the USA. It is the 3rd location on the list for emergency
landings for the Space Shuttles if something should go wrong. Unfortunately,
as this piece suggests, the military has already removed the actual SAGE
equipment from the building. I used to go on walks past this building as a
kid as there is a path near it that my family would take through a wooded
area (scenic stuff) and up until recently, was open to the public, sort of
like a park. I figured I'd send this to cctech because it has a lot of
historical relevance.
-John Boffemmyer IV


July 16, 2005

Cold War building faces colder reality
By Jeremiah Horrigan
    Times Herald-Record
    jhorrigan at th-record.com
    New Windsor - You'll find it on the edge of Stewart International
Airport, a windowless, four-story concrete cube that looks like it could
withstand a nuclear blast.
    And that's exactly what it was built to do. 
If things had gone as many Americans feared during the Cold War, if the
Russian bombers had finally come over the horizon, the Semi-Automatic Ground
Environment building was the key to the country's military defense system.
    The building that once thrummed with the tensions of a time when nuclear
Armageddon was a constant threat was abandonned by the military decades ago.
The unnerving skeleton of its legacy remain, including the war room, where
etched-glass maps of the Eastern U.S. display likely Russian targets. Above
the maps looms a doomsday tote board, meant to track the "progress" of World
War III.
    Even before the '50s faded and ICBMs became the weapon of choice among
the world's super-powers, the SAGE building had become as antiquated as an
Edsel. It's now slated for the wrecking ball under the airport's new 20-year
master plan for development.
    And that plan is under siege by a group of people who for years have
been laboring to transform the SAGE building into what they call a Cold War
Peace Museum.
    Ulster County Legislator Susan Zimet has spearheaded the effort,
lobbying, fundraising and proselytizing on the building's behalf for the
past five years.
    To her, the building isn't a dead relic but a living reminder of an era
she believes we forget at our peril.
    "All the stuff we deal with daily - terrorism, the possibility of
nuclear terror or the situation in Korea - it all began with the Cold War."
    Zimet's not much of a history buff herself, and, after years of
exploring possibilities, she's doubtful the building is suitable for
becoming a first-class museum.
    But that, she argues, doesn't mean the building should be demolished.
Taking it down (at an estimated cost of nearly a million dollars) would be
no different than destroying Washington's headquarters in Newburgh, she
    Tanya Vanasse toured the building's interior recently. She wasn't
impressed. Vanasse is the airport's director of marketing. She sees no
reason to keep the building around.
    The airport's master plan calls for the building to come down sometime
between 2008 and 2012, to make way for a rail yard that would be part of a
new train station, according to Zimet.
    "I can see no viability of making this into a public space. It's far too
dangerous, it's got far too many accessibility problems," she said last
week. "I could see removing the (etched
glass) pieces and building a display around them."
    Vanasse said the plan is open ended, that no hard-and-fast timetable
exists. Nevertheless, Zimet's group is urging people to sign petitions that
would preserve the building.
    In the meantime, the SAGE building, silent and foreboding as a tomb,
continues to do what it has always done: It waits.

    Anti-blast from the past was built to last

    If it goes, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment building won't go
easily. Its thick, lead-reinforced concrete walls were intended to withstand
the ravages of a nuclear holocaust. 
Only a direct hit could have taken it out.
    The building was designed in the mid-1950s as part of a network of
identical information-gathering centers built throughout the country that
was supposed to protect the country's nuclear bomber fleet. Its designers
intentionally made it so nondescript that only a handful of military
personnel even knew of its existence or purpose.
    Its computer system was beyond compare, requiring thousands of square
feet and at least as many delicate transistors to track potential intruders.
Watching the skies at a SAGE building console, said one retired Air Force
veteran, was like something out of "Buck Rogers."
    But, like so many other state-of-the-art defense systems, this one was
obsolete almost before it became operational. It was designed to combat
nuclear bombers. By the end of the decade, intercontinental ballistic
missiles had become the bomb delivery system of choice.
    The structure was officially decommissioned in 1969. Since then, it has
served as a free-trade zone. Its ground floor is now occupied by a
chocolate- packaging factory.
    Jeremiah Horrigan



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