Many of you have been following our antics here in Yakutat for years through my Situk River Fly Shop blog. Today, it is time to separate my posts for the museum from my regular blog. If you care to go back through my past babblings and the process of renovating the old Yakutat Army Hangar, here is the link to the old category for those posts:
For a shorter version of events, here is the brief history of the Alaska Warbird Museum:
Back in 2005, Cascade Air decided to bring their DC-3 operation back to Yakutat to fly fish out of Dry Bay and the Tsiu River. The State of Alaska owned the hangar and had been leasing it to the City of Yakutat for about 30 years. The city had done virtually none of the required maintenance to keep the building standing and had stopped paying their lease payments to the state. State of AK Aviation Leasing was so tired of dealing with the city that they had the old hangar slated for demolition when Cascade came back in and asked to acquire the lease.
I got to know the owners of Cascade pretty well and agreed to open a small fly shop in a corner room of the hangar. We started renovating that space, while cascade began cleaning up and renovating other areas of the building. Unfortunately, one of the owners of Cascade died suddenly of a heart attack in late 2007, so the whole project went into limbo. We continued to renovate our fly shop area and opened for business spring of 2008. With our heavy investment in the shop and an effort for the city to reacquire the hangar (not a good thing considering their track record), we ended up having the lease assigned to me and my wife to secure the roof over our heads.
This poor old building had been completely neglected for the better part of 4 decades. Broken windows, missing siding, failing hangar doors, collapsing wood floors… But the steel structure is in good shape and the city did replace the roof after a storm tore it off and their insurance company paid for the damages. Good bones and good roof. That’s a pretty good start.
Looking back, I don’t think there is any way I would have been dumb enough to take on this entire project had we not already invested in the fly shop space. With 40,000 square feet of derelict old building, we had renovated one room successfully and so we figured we could continue to renovate one more room at a time. One room down and just 26 more to go on the southwest side…
The Yakutat Hangar was the first of it’s kind and they even named the design after us. Other Yakutat Hangars are still in use throughout Alaska, Washington, California, etc. Heck, there are two Yakutat Hangars in Roswell, NM! With our hangar’s rare history and the story of Alaska’s role in WWII largely untold, we decided to dedicate most of the hangar for a very special WWII museum (with a mix of commercial space to pay the bills).
This has been a LONG process for mostly just me, my wife and two kids, but it is one of those rewarding experiences that makes the journey worthwhile. Also a combination of “no good deed goes unpunished” and “be careful what you wish for”… Over the years, we have been contacted by soldiers, or their decedents who served in Alaska and a few from Yakutat, we have been sent artifacts for the collection and we have acquired the first warbird for our collection – a C-47 that served in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and then flew with a great Alaska history for Cordova Airlines. We just need to keep adding to that collection!
Well, this first post is already getting long, even though I have a lot more to share. Most importantly right now, we will be celebrating the grand opening of the Yakutat Army Air Base – 75 years ago this August 5th. The hangar and museum are still a LONG way from being completed, but this commemoration can’t wait for me to have my act completely together.
More on all of this in posts to come… Thanks for tuning in and we hope to have your support, encouragement, suggestions and see you in August!
And if our classic 40’s nose-art logo is too risqué for your sensibilities, try this one: