Historic Military Hangar Recreated at National WASP World War II Museum

SWEETWATER, Texas — The “gigglin’ little redhead” was all smiles.
The Abilene Reporter-News reports as the guest of honor, Jessie Lou McReynolds deserved more than just the key to the city. In its place, Sweetwater Mayor Jim McKenzie handed the former airplane mechanic a glittering, stainless-steel wrench.
At 95 years-old, McReynolds’ red locks have long since changed to silver. But that hair and a bubbly disposition earned her an affectionate nickname during the two years she spent fixing airplanes for the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
The National WASP World War II Museum reached a milestone in late May with dedication of the recreated Hangar No. 1 at Avenger Field. It completes Phase I for the campus.
Ann Hobing, the museum’s executive director, said recreating Hangar No. 1 had been a conversation ever since the museum opened in 2005. The original hangar burned in the 1950s.
“Today we have what we are calling ‘A Dream Realized,'” Hobing said. “We have had board members and donors and volunteers over the course of years planning and designing and fundraising, to get this to happen.”
David Zobrist is the architect for the new building. It sits on the east side of the old municipal hangar that’s been used as the museum up to this time.
“We matched the proportions of this building to that one,” Zobrist said. A small plaza separates the two, both for aesthetic reasons and in adherence to fire codes.

“The old building will become strictly an airplane museum,” he said. “Airplanes that fly will be stored in there. That’s why the buildings are pulled apart.”

Jessie Lou McReynolds is hugged by Jeanne Brewer after the dedication and ribbon-cutting of the new Hangar No. 1 at Sweetwater’s Avenger Field Thursday, May 25, 2017. The building is a replica of the original hangar which trained the Womens Airforce Service Pilots during World War II and is part of the National WASP World War II Museum. McReynolds, 95, was a mechanic at the school.

Photo Credit: Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News via AP

The plaza features an homage to the base’s original gate. Beneath and slightly behind the elevated sign are three steel cutouts of women. The figures are based on a historical photograph.
“This was the ladies when they just arrived, you can imagine them in their dresses and heels, with their suitcases on a dusty road,” Zobrist said of the silhouettes. “We recreated that as our gateway entry to the museum.”
The new building, while resembling a hangar from the outside, will be more of a traditional museum and event center within. Standing exhibits in the older building will be moved in here, and new exhibits will be created for the space as well.
The gift shop, administrative offices, and archive room will also be in this new building.
“The beauty of having this space and having it air-conditioned is it keeps our archives within reach and more accessible,” Hobing said. “Like most museums, most of the collections and artifacts are in storage, so having this space we will allow us to refresh exhibits overtime.”
She added that some of the older exhibits will be getting a face-lift in the new space and that they hope to incorporate more high-tech displays which highlight the role of science and engineering in aviation.
“Of course the heritage here at Avenger Field and West Texas and the history of the WASP program, is really core to our mission,” she said.
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