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Admission to Be Free at Aerospace Museum : One-Day Gesture Is to Thank Public for Support in Rebuilding Center After Blaze 10 Years Ago

February 21, 1988|CURTIS L. TAYLOR | Times Staff Writer

The Aerospace Historical Center will have free admission Monday to thank the community for its support after a fire destroyed the museum 10 years ago.

"The purpose of free admission is to say to the community, 'Thank you very much. Come see what you have helped put together,' " said Ed McKellar, the museum's executive director.

A fire destroyed the old Aerospace Museum on Feb. 22, 1978, incinerating about 40 vintage aircraft that had been restored after hundreds of hours of volunteer work.

Fires, believed to have been arson, destroyed the 63-year-old Electric Building, where the museum had been housed, and the 43-year-old Old Globe theater March 8, 1978.

Before the fire, the museum was scheduled to be moved to the larger 55,000-square-foot Ford Building, pending its renovation. The Electric Building was 35,000 square feet.

With the help of a federal grant obtained by San Diego to bring the Ford Building up to code regulations, and with the help of individual and corporate volunteers, the Aerospace Museum and the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, were combined to create a museum specializing in aerospace history.

The Aerospace Historical Center opened June 28, 1980, with 13 restored aircraft on display and 50 portraits of aviation pioneers in its Hall of Fame gallery, said William T. Immunenschuh, president of the museum's board of directors. The restoration cost $3.2 million.

Over the next seven years, the vintage aircraft collection grew to 70. Also collected were 330 engines and more than 800 models. The number of people who support the museum has also grown over the years from less than 1,000 before the fire to the current 5,000, Immunenschuh said. Last year, more than 220,000 people visited the museum.

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