Yesterday, the Navy celebrated their 247th birthday. As part of the celebration, there was also an important announcement – and unveiling. After many years of planning and discussions, they are now (as one speaker put it) at the starting line to build the new Navy museum.
It is well past time for this. The current museum is locked behind the Navy Yard gates, making it difficult for most visitors to our city to get to. It is housed in a building that was not originally designed to hold a museum, and thus lacks the appropriate climate controls needed to properly display and maintain the artifacts. And the displays are beginning to show their age.
Two years ago, plans were announced for a new museum. While little has changed in the intervening years, much work was done behind the scenes to secure the land on which it will sit. This is land just to the west of the Navy Yard, land that had been deaccessioned many years ago and the development rights sold off. In the end, a deal was struck: The rights to the six acres that will house the new museum were swapped with land the Navy still controlled on the other side of 11th Street.
While an agreement has been struck for the swap, there are still details to be worked out, including determining exactly how large each parcel is, what its value is, and, crucially, what environmental remediations might have to be done on them.
However, officials both from the Navy and the museum are confident that this final round of negotiations will be straightforward, and end up with a final agreement soon. It will then be necessary to follow the well-trodden path of environmental impact, historic preservation, and a competition to determine the final design of the museum. Along the way, questions of access – including buses to bring in school groups from across the country – will be answered.
Now begins the real work––that of raising money for the museum. All funds will be privately raised, and there is already a team in place to tap those donors interested in telling the Navy’s story. The current hope is that there will be another milestone reached by the time the Navy celebrates its 250th anniversary. While a few years ago there was some hope that the museum would be opening on that day, it may well just be the groundbreaking that occurs then.
After a short ceremony including remarks by both RADM Samuel J. Cox (retired) who is the Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command and the Hon. Carlos Del Toro, the Secretary of the Navy, and whose picture can be seen above, a model was unveiled showing one possible configuration of the new museum. Most importantly, two of the original Navy Yard building will be incorporated – after making all the changes needed to remediate any environmental impacts, assessing the historic preservation needs, and installing the appropriate equipment to ensure that the artifacts displayed will not be subject to any further degradation.
The museum staff is already beginning to determine what they want to display, and are making plans to retrieve items both from storage and from museums and other institutions across the country that have received artifacts on long-term loans. Additionally, the currently museum will serve as a holding and storage facility, where there will eventually also be an abridged history of the Cold War. That display is currently at the southeastern wing of the museum, closer to the Waterfront.
As an example of what the new museum’s exhibits will look like, there are plans for a special exhibit on the Navy’s lighter-than-air program currently underway. At the event, there was a table set up with a piece of the USS Macon, a rigid airship built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin corporation that crashed off the coast of Monterey in 1935. A model of the airship flew overhead, showing off the airplanes that could use the dirigible as a flying aircraft carrier.
And then…there was cake. Because what birthday celebration is really complete without cake?
If you are interested in learning more, and adding your own input to the process, see this page over at the Federal Register. It’s of utmost importance that you add your voice to this comment period, especially if you live close to the area. You can also look at the Environmental Impact Statement, which includes information on the land swap as well as where you can share your thoughts and questions regarding the process. The public has until December 2, 2022 to contribute.