Archive for Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Aviation museum renovation launched

August 24, 2004

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— The building that served as the terminal for Wichita's first municipal airport before becoming the Kansas Aviation Museum will undergo extensive work aimed at restoring its original look.

Wichita's Rainbow Construction has an $835,000 contract for the exterior restoration work, expected to start within two weeks. The project involves preservation of the original windows and doors, reconstruction of the main entrance steps and terrace and removal of 1950s additions that enclosed the observation deck.

"All of the additional stuff will be stripped away to reveal the original exterior wall and the original flight observation deck," said architect Sam Frey of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture. "It will return the building to the look of the days when people would go to the airport just to watch the planes and the people come and go."

The Wichita Municipal Airport terminal building was built just 26 years after the first flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903. In the early days of transcontinental flying, the airport's location made it a popular place for travelers to stop for the night. A generation of the rich and famous passed through the airport, with aviation pioneers Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart among the frequent visitors to Wichita.

Dancer and movie star Fred Astaire once danced his way through the atrium to the double doors and down the front stairs to the airport tarmac. Howard Hughes, a pioneering pilot as well as an aviation executive, film producer and eccentric billionaire, once angrily threw his lunch to the floor of the terminal cafe.

During World War II, the terminal was the scene of many sad farewells as Kansans left home for military service, and later of joyous reunions with those who returned safely.

Frey said the museum has artifacts and archives with the potential to draw many visitors, and the area's rich heritage as a center of aviation manufacturing means more treasures could be brought into the collection.

"We are blessed with having many people with the talent to do reconstruction work right here in Wichita," he said. "And there are so many planes and parts of planes stored in garages and barns and abandoned houses. We need to get those pieces of history donated, restored and exhibited."

Museum officials are raising money to build a hangar to house aircraft exhibits, and for other restoration work.

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