Homes

November 12, 1957 – Moorpark First Town Powered by Nuclear Energy

On November 12, 1957, the small town of Moorpark, California, became the first town in the United States to be entirely powered by electricity generated from a nuclear reactor.  At 7:30 PM, the lights went out for all 1100 residents of the rural Ventura County burg; twenty seconds later, when they came on again, history had been made.  Local farmers and townspeople, shop owners and newspaper editors, all had different reactions to the new technological marvel.  Barton Miller, Moorpark’s postmaster, was “pretty excited”.  “My wife and I drove up on a hill that night so we could see the town all lighted up.”  Grocery store owner Ruben Castro experienced the event as a “mystery”.  He admitted, “I didn’t know anything about atomic power, other than it was used for a bomb.  I guess I should have been happy that we were using this warlike energy for peacetime purposes.”  Whitaker’s Hardware owner James Whitaker felt let down by the whole event.  “It was very undramatic.  We were like, ‘Oh, so what.'”  An editor of the local newspaper was downright suspicious.  He accused the power company of indulging in “hocus-pocus” in a column titled, “Interesting No Doubt, but Partially Phony”.

Credibility and wider interest came with television coverage two weeks later on Edward R. Murrow’s See it Now program.  The footage obtained by a New York reporter and three-man camera crew put Moorpark on the map.  “We were more impressed with being on national television than about the event itself,” said resident and featured homeowner Charles Sullenbarger.

The Moorpark experiment had originated from President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, which sought commercial uses for the new atom-splitting technology developed for military applications.  All through the 1950’s, the federal government encouraged the national power industry to take advantage of nuclear power as a cleaner, more efficient alternative to fossil fuels for generating electricity.  Moorpark’s “nuclear-flavored electricity” was generated from a small reactor in nearby Simi Hills, operated by Atomics International, a division of North American Aviation, which eventually became Rockwell International.  Southern California Edison transferred the 6500 kilowatts of energy generated by 20,000 kilowatts of nuclear reactor heat to the entire town for only about one hour, although the reactor continued to fill part of the town’s electricity needs for years.  “It was a very successful experiment,” A.C. Werden Jr., an Edison engineer explained, “We proved we could do it.  We could furnish electricity to a community from a nuclear reactor.”

Hardware-purveyor Whitaker’s slightly humorous, slightly ironic assessment of Moorpark’s scientific milestone illustrated the disconnect that can exist between visionaries and grass-roots folks.  “There was a feeling around town that the whole thing had been much overrated,” he explained.  “It was just a short little zip on TV.”

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959

Atomics International reactor control room, 1959. Photo: EnviroReporter website

September 28, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. Photo: Ed Ford, New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection

On September 28, 1957, the Mike Wallace Interview show aired the second half of a two-part interview with visionary architect and iconoclast Frank Lloyd Wright.  Mike introduced Wright as “perhaps the greatest architect of the twentieth century . . . and in the opinion of some, America’s foremost social rebel.  Fellow architects have called him everything, from a great poet to an insupportable windbag.  The clergy has deplored his morals, creditors have deplored his financial habits, politicians, his opinions.”  Wallace’s questions ranged over a variety of topics – from politics, to religion, to morality, to architecture – seeking Wright’s opinions and at the same time hoping to provoke him into outrageous statements.  Wright displayed a witty, canny intelligence.  He was well up to the task of  handling “fishing” questions, revealing just as much as he wanted to and no more, while actually getting Mike to laugh at himself once or twice.  The following are some gems from an entertaining interview which may have intrigued, irritated, and amused the American viewing audience.

Wallace: “I’d like to chart your attitudes specifically . . . first of all, organized religion.”
Wright: “Why organize it?  Christianity doesn’t need organizing according to the Master of it, the great master poet of all time didn’t want it organized, did he?  Didn’t Jesus say that wherever a few are gathered in my name, there is my Church?  I’ve always considered myself deeply religious.”

Wallace: “Do you go to any specific church?”
Wright: “Yes, I go occasionally to this one, and then sometimes to that one, but my church I put a capital N on nature and go there.  You spell God with a capital G, don’t you?  I spell Nature with an N, capital.”

Wright: “I’m against war.  Always have been, always will be.  And everything connected with it, is anathema to me.  I have never considered it necessary.  And I think that one war only breeds another.”

Wright: “I think the common man is responsible for the drift toward conformity now.  It’s going to ruin our democracy, and is not according to our democratic faith.  I believe our democracy was Thomas Jefferson’s idea.  I mean I think Thomas Jefferson’s idea was the right idea, but we were headed for a genuine aristocracy.  An aristocracy that was innate, on the man, not of him, not his by privilege, but his by virtue of his own virtue, his own conscience, his own quality, and that by that we were going to have the rule of the bravest and the best.  But now that common man is becoming a little jealous of the uncommon man . . . .  He’s a block to progress.”

Wallace: “I understand that last week in all seriousness you said, ‘If I had another fifteen years to work I could rebuild this entire country, I could change the nation.”
Wright: “I did say that.  And it’s true.  Having had now the experience of going with the building of seven hundred and sixty-nine buildings, it’s quite easy for me to shake them out of my sleeve, and it’s amazing what I could do for this country. . . . I don’t think the mob knows anything about architecture, cares anything about it.”

Wallace: “Is the nation’s youth a mob?”
Wright: “No.  I believe that a teenager is a teenager, and I think that with him lies the hope of the future.  Now architecture with us is a matter of the future.”

Wright’s sharp humor came out regarding his recently published book (which Wallace had a copy of and Wright claimed not to have seen), self-exiled Charlie Chaplin, intellectuals, his voting record in the last Presidential election, and Marilyn Monroe’s acting ability.  He waxed eloquent on the role of architecture to “grace the landscape” and change the character of individual lives.  He lamented that American culture had become “drenched” in sex “from the bottom up”.  He loved the “Russian spirit” of the Soviet people but hated their communist government.  He felt strongly about the principles enumerated in our Declaration of Independence.

Wallace asked Wright to share the “something” he lived by. Wright replied, “The answer is within yourself . . . . And Jesus said it, I think, when he said, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ . . . . That’s where humanity lies, that’s where the future we’re going to have lies. If we are ever going to amount to anything it’s there now, and all we have to do is develop it.”

Brandes Residence, by Frank Lloyd Wright; Sammamish, Washington. Photo: Dan DeLong, Seattle Post-Intelligencer