Photos: Courtesy of U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service
Article Written By: Kathryn Drury Wagner, HONOLULU Magazine
What is it?
A massive, steel-frame seaplane hangar, this 1941 building was designed by Albert Kahn, a renowned architect of industrial spaces. The hangar was one of the first buildings constructed for the U.S. Naval base at Midway Atoll, and was impressive not only for its size, but also for its use of glass and light. The hangar was bombed during the Japanese attack on Midway Atoll on Dec. 7, 1941, rebuilt, and then bombed again on June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway. The Navy rebuilt it again, though at half the size of the original building. “It’s the iconic building of the time, of the battle,” says Barry Stieglitz, project leader, Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the area. Standing near the hangar, he says, it’s easy to make the mental shift from seeing millions of albatross that today using Midway Atoll as a breeding ground to imagining a scene of war. “You put yourself in the shoes of those young boys and how completely terrifying it must have been.”
What threatens it?
The hangar has holes in its roof and inoperable bay doors, which have allowed rain, wind, and salt air to do their worst. Factor in millions of sea-birds, too, as their droppings are caustic. A plan to rehab the building was quite far along – Ferraro and Choi had developed drawings and contractor bids had been sought, but, in 2012, all plans were scrapped due to federal funding shortages. The estimated price tag is more than $20 million, says Stieglitz. “Given its remoteness and lack of access by the general public – 1,250 miles from Honolulu – available maintenance funding has been prioritized for other projects.”
What can be done?
Susan Schulmeister, the refuge manager for Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial, reports that conversations have started with a non-profit, Friends of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The group “strongly supports the refuge in its efforts to protect and restore both the biological diversity and historic resources of Midway Atoll,” says member Rob Shallenberger. “The seaplane hangar has a widely recognized historic value. We believe that it will take a coalition of congressional supporters, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and individual donors who share a common vision for the restoration and reuse of the hangar.”