WW II tower to be museum
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By Labor Day, Ford Island's iconic control tower may be on its way to a new red-and-white paint job and a restored place in the history of Dec. 7, 1941.
Pacific Aviation Museum-Pearl Harbor has obtained a draft lease from the Navy for preservation and use of the 158-foot-tall, riveted-steel tower, said museum executive director Ken DeHoff.
Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, commander of Navy Region Hawai'i, was "good to his word" when he said the Pacific Aviation Museum would have a draft lease by April 15, "and we got it," DeHoff said.
On April 27, meanwhile, the nonprofit museum will hold a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., as part of a national campaign to raise the $100 million it projects will be needed to expand its displays.
The aviation museum, which opened in the shadow of the control tower on Dec. 7, 2006, envisioned leasing the landmark as far back as 2001 in its business plan.
"This is the icon of Ford Island," DeHoff said.
There's a lot of legend concerning the barber-pole-structure, but the Navy said construction on the water-tank tower began in early 1941. The air traffic control room in the crow's nest was completed after the Pearl Harbor attack.
On Dec. 7, 1941, at 8:05 a.m., the four-story "aerological tower" at the base of the water tank was the site of the first radio broadcast of the attack, proclaiming, "Air Raid Pearl Harbor, this is no drill!"
The taller tower has since been featured in the movies "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and Disney's "Pearl Harbor."
Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie secured $3.8 million in the 2010 U.S. defense bill for the Pacific Aviation Museum to start renovating the rusty and neglected control tower.
"The next step, we'll submit our construction plans, and that will take us probably another month," DeHoff said. "... I'm hoping that by Labor Day, we're going to get scaffolding around that building and we'll get to work on it."
The museum will sublet the land from Ford Island Ventures, which controls property on Ford Island and elsewhere under agreement with the Navy.
The aviation museum is getting the tower in exchange for the restoration work it has planned. The complex also includes the four-story aerological tower and two-story operations building.
DeHoff said the control tower will be enclosed in scaffolding and barrier material to remove fading and old lead-based paint.
"We want to contain the paint and we'll either sandblast or we'll high-pressure water blast it," he said.
Another task will be welding platforms that have been weakened by rust.
One of the museum's first tasks will be to seal open spaces and make the facility look like it's still in use.
"We'll clean it up and make it (look) like there are people in it," DeHoff said. "We'll paint some paintings on the insert boards we'll put in."
Eventually, the museum would like to enlarge a small elevator that runs on the exterior of the control tower so the crow's nest room atop it can be accessed by museum-goers for a panoramic view of Ford Island and Pearl Harbor.
Museum officials have estimated that all of the restoration work at the control tower site could cost close to $10 million.
The aviation museum operates out of Hangar 37, a 42,000-square-foot former seaplane hangar. It also has a restoration shop in Hangar 79, and has plans to expand into a third hangar.
Approximately $28 million has been raised toward the $100 million total the museum needs for future operations, DeHoff said.
The April 27 fundraiser in Washington will honor U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i. The event is expected to draw about 500 people and raise "a couple million dollars," DeHoff said.