“Welcome to the house that hope built… I’m here to tell you this is the greatest day of my life.”
- Philip C. O’Keefe, Director, at the Dedication Ceremony of the Main Exhibit Building.
The loss of Building 170 made it clear that the Bradley Air Museum needed a new home. Prior to the tornado in 1979, there had been talks with the airport about moving the museum to a new site, so that the airport could use that area for commercial space. With the tornado damage, it was obvious a new location was needed for BAM. In 1980, the Bradley Air Museum signed a long-term lease on 56 acres near the airport, which is where the current museum sits. It was the start of a new chapter for the Bradley Air Museum.
BAM broke ground for the new exhibit building on May 28, 1981. The new site seemed like wilderness compared to their old location on Route 75, but that did not stop the staff and volunteers from charging forward. Architectural firm Russell, Gibson, von Dohlen designed the new building, and Pratt & Klewin were the general contracting firm for the exhibit hangar. The building would have space for the exhibits, offices, library, and a gift shop. On July 7, 1981, the museum held a “Roof Tree Raising Party,” in which Seigrid “Siggi” Sikorsky flew a helicopter to lower a symbolic tree to the roof of the building. When the building was complete, staff and volunteers had to move the collection across the airport to the new location.
On October 2, 1981, a large dedication ceremony was held in honor of the new location. Three hundred guests, including members of CAHA and state and local officials attended. A ninety piece band played as the crowd celebrated this exciting moment in the museum’s history. A new logo was unveiled, which encompassed the old and new by showing a propeller plane encircled by a jet. The public opening of the Main Exhibit Hangar (now known as the Civil Aviation Hangar) occurred on October 3, 1981, exactly two years to the day since the tornado, showing the organization’s resilience. That day marked a new beginning for the Bradley Air Museum, ready for its next chapter.
Photos by C. Horner.