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Atomic Bomb history: Enola Gay's WWII hangar falling apart

Published April 27, 2009 11:37 pm

Wendover building housed the plane that triggered Japan's surrender
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The aging hangar on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats once housed Enola Gay, the famed B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb and helped hasten the end of WWII. But the hangar has seen better days.

Roof panels have been lost to winds and the wood corner supports are on the verge of collapse. Windows are broken and the building is full of asbestos. Just stabilizing the structure would cost $450,000, and restoring it would likely require $4 to $5 million, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has included the hangar on its 2009 list of the nation's most endangered historic places.

The private, nonprofit trust, based in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1949 to save "irreplaceable" parts of America. Communities use the annual list to help secure grants and private donations. According to trust president Richard Moe, the group has put 211 sites on its endangered list in the past 22 years and has seen only half a dozen lost during that time.

"We have a good record," said Moe. "We work with local partners and try to find remedies to remove the threat."

The hangar is part of the Historic Wendover Airfield, which includes a museum, flight tower, barracks and officer's club, and was a training site for crews that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. The airfield is the most intact remaining Army Air Corps base in the United States and is owned and operated by Tooele County.

"It's important to preserve that site as an important piece of the atomic story in America, which had huge consequences for us and the world," said Moe.

Morris "Dick" Jeppson, of Las Vegas, was part of the 509th military squadron that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Jeppson actually armed the bomb. He was in Wendover on Monday as Moe announced the trust's list of endangered places. Jeppson agreed the hangar is worth saving.

"Los Alamos, the B-29 and the 509th were the three elements that came together here that produced the end of World War II," said Jeppson, whose family first drove through Wendover in 1925 when he was 3 years old. "They should put a major national museum at Wendover where it all came together."

That would suit Atomic Heritage Foundation President Cindy Kelly, who was also in Wendover for Monday's announcement. Her organization is trying to launch a Manhattan Project National Park to preserve the few remaining original structures where 125,000 scientists, engineers, military and civilian employees worked to develop the atomic bomb.

Her wish list of other sites that should be part of such a national park includes Berkeley, Calif., where the radiation laboratory directed by E.O. Lawrence was located; Hanford, Wash., where plutonium was produced; Los Alamos, N.M., where the bomb was designed and developed; the Chicago metallurgical laboratory led by Enrico Fermi; the uranium enrichment area at Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and the Office of Scientific Research and Development in Washington, D.C.

"So many people who have visited the site wonder why we don't have more funding. With the private sector, getting the word out that we are looking for money is important," added Jim Petersen, president of the Historic Wendover Airfield.

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Most endangered historic places

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has identified 11 sites around the country that it deems worth saving.

Ames Shovel Shops, Easton, Mass.

Cast-Iron Architecture of Galveston, Texas

Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles

Dorchester Academy, Midway, Ga.

Human Services Center, Yankton, S.D.

Lanai City, Hawaii

The Manhattan Project's Enola Gay hangar, Wendover Airfield, Utah

Memorial Bridge, Portsmouth, N.H., to Kittery, Maine

Miami Marine Stadium, Virginia Key, Fla.

Mount Taylor, near Grants, N.M.

Unity Temple, Oak Park, Ill.