Base requirements soon changed, however, calling for a permanent facility nearly 300% larger than Johnson's original design. Johnson estimated construction of a larger facility at Site I would cost $450,000. His estimate for building the same facility at Site II (Groom Lake) was $832,000. Johnson ultimately accepted Ritland's recommendation, largely because AEC restrictions would help shield the operation from public view.
Bissell secured a presidential action adding the Groom Lake area to the AEC proving ground. Ritland wrote three memos to Air Force Headquarters, the AEC, and the Air Force Training Command that administered the gunnery range. Assistant Air Force Secretary for Research and Development Trevor Gardner signed the memos, this ensuring that range activities would not impinge on the new test site.
Security for project AQUATONE was now assured.
During the last week of April 1955, Johnson met with CIA officials in Washington, D.C. and discussed progress on the base and the AQUATONE program. His proposal to name the base "Paradise Ranch" was accepted. It was an ironic choice that, he later admitted was "a dirty trick to lure workers to the program." The AQUATONE, officially designated U-2 became known as "The Angel from Paradise Ranch." The base itself was usually just called "The Ranch" by those who worked there.
On 4 May 1955, LeVier, Kammerer, and Johnson returned to Groom Lake in Lockheed's Bonanza. Using a compass and surveying equipment, they defined a 5,000-foot, north-south runway on the southwest corner of the lakebed and designated a site for the camp.
On 18 May 1955, Seth R. Woodruff Jr., manager of the AEC Las Vegas Field Office, announced that he had "instructed the Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Co., Inc. [REECo] to begin preliminary work on a small, satellite Nevada Test Site installation." He noted that work was already underway at the location "a few miles northeast of Yucca Flat and within the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range."
Woodruff said that the installation would include "a runway, dormitories, and a few other buildings for housing equipment." The facility was described as "essentially temporary." The press release was distributed to 18 media outlets in Nevada and Utah including a dozen newspapers, four radio stations, and two television stations.
This, in effect, constituted Area 51's birth announcement.
LeVier and fellow Lockheed test pilot Bob Matye spent nearly a month removing surface debris from the playa. Levier also drew up a proposal to mark four three-mile-long runways on the lakebed at a cost of $450.00. Johnson, however, refused to approve the expense, citing a lack of funds. Drilling resulted in discovery of a limited water supply, but trouble with the well soon developed.
Top priorities for the test site included hangars, a road, offices, living accommodations, and various support facilities. Since Lockheed did not have a license to build on the nuclear proving ground, they gave their drawings to a contractor who did: Silas Mason Construction Company. The Lockheed group hid their identity behind the fictional company name "CLJ", using Johnson's initials.
The fledgling base consisted of a single, paved 5,000-foot runway, three hangars, a control tower, and rudimentary accommodations for test personnel. The base's few amenities included a movie theatre and volleyball court. Additionally, there was a mess hall, several water wells, and fuel storage tanks. CIA, Air Force, and Lockheed personnel began arriving in July 1955 and Richard Newton of the CIA was assigned as base commander. The test site