Mysterious 8888 Balboa Avenue

The deepest swimming pool in Kearny Mesa. What was its purpose? (photo by Bill Swank)

It is known as “The Washington pizza index.” The bigger the government crisis, the more after-hours Domino’s pizza deliveries that are made to top-level government offices.

I was invited on a tour at 8888 Balboa Avenue on June 27, 2018 to hopefully learn something about clandestine, top secret activities at this site back in the 1980s and 1990s. While standing in the lobby, a young man walked out from the interior of the building carrying a stack of Domino’s pizza boxes.

I was standing by the receptionist and he asked if we would like a pizza? Of course, I took a pepperoni pizza and knew I must be at the right place.

Bill Swank with a mysterious Dominos pizza and Hornets Nest card (photo by Chris O’Connell)

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Coleman College moved to this location in 2004. Who were the former tenants of this mysterious weapons complex with rumored underground passages and tunnels?

Two unclassified documents from 1972 reference Union Carbide at this address. One was published by the Department of Defense, USAF Headquarters titled “Joint Services Electronics Program Reports.”  The other was titled “NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS).”

There are numerous other references to Union Carbide on Balboa Avenue: The Solid State Chemistry symposium (National Bureau of Standards – 1971), the Conference on In Situ Composites (1972), Czochralski growth of single sodium beta alumina (Journal of Crystal Growth – 1977), ceramic machining & surface finishing (U.S. Department of Commerce publication – 1978) and mention in a 1980 article titled “X-Ray Rocking Curves for Silicon-on-Sapphire Characterization.”

None of these topics seemed particularly vital to our national security and the need for secrecy. Yet, over the years, neighboring communities questioned loud “booms” of unknown origin in the area. Military sources routinely denied responsibility. During the early 1960s, old-timers remember the roar of Atlas rocket engines being static fired a little farther north in Sycamore Canyon. The sounds in the 1980s and 1990s more closely resembled explosions.

Things got interesting in the early 1980s when Maxwell Laboratories took over the premises. Maxwell Labs was founded in 1965 as a government contractor to provide pulsed power and space effects analysis for the military. In 1973, Maxwell was busy searching for quarks. Their name was changed to Maxwell Technologies in 1996 after the cold war ended and the focus of their business changed to commercial applications.

In 1983, a Maxwell Laboratories employee at 8835 Balboa prepared an unclassified report on the “Blackjack 5 Pulser.” Less than a year later, a Maxwell Laboratories advertisement with the 8888 Balboa Avenue address appeared in Physics Today magazine. (Was a tunnel dug under Balboa to connect 8835 with 8888?)

Rod Weiss, Coleman University Director of External Relations, had little to offer about the tunnels. “When it rains, they fill with water and debris. They are a nuisance for us,” he said.

Maxwell Labs participated in the 1991 International Magnetic Compression Workshop at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Lasers, particle beams and pulse-powered engineering were among the concepts discussed. Scientists from the Soviet Union attended the workshop.

Hard rock fragmentation with pulsed power was addressed in 1993 at the Ninth IEEE International Pulsed Power Conference. Maxwell Labs was part of that conference, too. Conferring with the Soviets and breaking rocks with pulsed power sounded ominous.

Mark Townsend flies a drone at the “Hornets Nest” (ENVI-US) (photo by Bill Swank)

EMP is electromagnetic pulse which is also known as transient electromagnetic disturbance. Nothing was confirmed or denied, but a large EMP would make a helluva boom.

I wasn’t sure about the identity or credentials of the other people on the tour, but all were considerably smarter than me. One was a member of “I-Triple E,” the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Another laconic gentleman with a twinkle in his eye had held top secret clearances before his retirement.

President Reagan’s “StarWars” defense system was mentioned along with railguns, chemical lasers and EMP, but very little is known about what actually happened at this site. When I got home and did some research, these weapons are so scary that I didn’t want to know anything about them.

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The Hornets Nest Logo (Provided by ENVI-US)

We also visited “The Hornets Nest,” an exciting testing facility for drones and other electronic “toys” at 8888B Balboa Avenue. This facility is part of ENVI-US (Electric and Networked Vehicle Institute – Unmanned Systems). Everybody is welcome in this friendly and dynamic environment.

The Hornets Nest is apparently modeled after the unrestricted and innovative World War II Skunk Works at Lockheed Aircraft. The project director is Dr. James S. Burns, vice-president and CSO of TransPower. Jim Burns views education as a sieve. He wants to attract the 5% of creative minds that will focus on new ideas without fear of failure or interference from outside influence.

“Americans are inventive people. Inventors need freedom to make mistakes. I look for projects that don’t have solutions,” said Dr. Burns.

Dr. Jim Burns, founder and director of ENVI-US (Electric and Networked Vehicle Institute – Unmanned Systems) (photo by Bill Swank)

Not many realize that early video game technology is responsible for major advancements in modern personal computers. It was the video game industry that provided a market for the development of microchips and integrated circuitry at a time when affordable computers and technology seemed unattainable. Innovation can come from unexpected sources.

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In late July 2018, Coleman University president Norbert J. Kubilus unexpectedly announced the school had been denied accreditation which put the institution’s “financial sustainability in question.” On August 5, 2018, Coleman University abruptly closed its doors.

Jim Burns is working with the property owners to keep the Hornets Nest buzzing. “If we lose the space, we will likely have to fold the tent, but I am working for a solution,” said Burns. We wish him and his great crew the best of luck.

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