This year marks the 22nd annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has used this list as a powerful alarm to raise awareness of the serious threats facing the nation’s greatest treasures. It has become one of the most effective tools in the fight to save the country’s irreplaceable architectural, cultural and natural heritage. In the days leading up to and during the National Preservation Trust’s Nashville Conference, Nashville Past And Present will highlight the historic buildings, structures and places on this years most endangered list.
It is a name synonymous with a moment in history that was both devastating and defining. The Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress airplane that dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, still evokes strong emotions more than six decades after its fateful mission. The operation to deploy the “Little Man” bomb began at Wendover Air Force Base, the remote facility 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Army Air Force’s 509th Composite Group conducted top-secret assembly of prototype atomic weapons and aircraft training as part of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. government’s classified program to develop a nuclear bomb. In June of 1945, the still-unnamed B-29, commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets, left Wendover and flew to California, Hawaii, Kwajalein and then to the Pacific island of Tinian. Here, Tibbets had the name “Enola Gay” painted on the bomber’s nose in honor of his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets, and, on August 6, executed the history-making mission. Although the Enola Gay has been restored, the Wendover hangar where the plane was stored prior to its deployment is severely deteriorated, as are many other important sites associated with the Manhattan Project.
After the war, Wendover was used for training exercises and as a research facility. Closed by the Air Force in 1969; the airfield is now owned by the City, and the historic buildings are operated in cooperation with the Historic Wendover Airfiled group. The famed Enola Gay is today fully restored and on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the Wendover hangar is in a critical state of disrepair requiring between $5 and $6 million to completely restore the structure and turn it into a public museum.
Five years ago, recognizing the significance of the Manhattan Project to American and world history, Congress directed the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior to study the feasibility of creating a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Because the Manhattan Project took shape in more than a dozen states, a park would encompass many geographically diverse areas, from the mountains and deserts of the West to the island of Manhattan, the project’s namesake and site of its first headquarters.
In 2000, eight sites were designated by the Department of Energy as “Signature Facilities of the Manhattan Project.” Only one, the “V Site” at Los Alamos, N.M. – where the atomic bombs were designed – has been restored. The future of five others, including the K-25 uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., currently threatened with demolition, may be in jeopardy.