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Famed Pearl Harbor tower to be repaired with federal funds

Referred to as the Empire State Building of Pearl Harbor by Ken DeHoff, executive director of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, the iconic control tower on Ford Island currently stands as a symbol of rust and neglect.

DeHoff, a Cobra helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, sees the 158-foot-tall riveted-steel tower as a potential gold mine for World War II research, in addition to offering a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding areas.

On December 7, 1941, one of the first radio broadcasts of the Pearl Harbor attack was made from the tower. According to published reports, at 7:58 a.m., Vice Admiral Patrick Bellinger, the commander of Patrol Wing 2, announced, “Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is no drill!”

“There’s just so much history in aviation right here on Ford Island,” DeHoff told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

But for now, the tower sits in a state of disrepair, with its faded red and white paint, evident rust, corroded metal stairs and asbestos-containing floor and ceiling tiles located in the adjacent operations building.

Exposure to asbestos, a building material used predominantly in facilities constructed before 1980, has been proven to cause a number of deadly diseases, including malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

In addition, the operations building is littered with graffiti, broken glass and beer bottles as well as peeling paint throughout the facility.

For the first phase of the likely years-long renovation process, which could cost $10 million, the windows will be boarded up, the buildings will be re-roofed and the asbestos will be removed. Then, work will begin on the tower.

“What we have so far is about $4 million to get started, and that’s to take care of the steel structure and take care of the cap which sits on top of the [water] tank,” DeHoff told the news provider.

According to DeHoff, former U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie, was “instrumental” in securing the $3.84 million in federal funding to get the project started.

To remove the old, faded paint, water-blasting and sand-blasting methods are being considered, with the new color of the historic structure yet to be determined. Previously, DeHoff said, the tower had been camouflaged.

The museum will have to raise the funds for the additional renovations, which is being rolled into a $100 million capital campaign to expand the museum, according to the news provider.

Currently, the control tower deck is empty of the radios, furniture and other equipment that would have been there during the 1940s. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tower was a dark color and the crow’s nest had not been completed. The low-level windows were ultimately blown out by bombs during the attack.

On the first floor of the operations building, which used to contain a garage, kitchen and dining and training rooms, the museum plans to put offices and a public research center.

“I want a place where people can come and sit and read about World War II, whether it’s the Marines or the Army or the Air Force or the Navy, that this is a place you can [comfortably] sit and do research and find out what happened in the Pacific,” DeHoff says.

Fred Harris, a 76-year-old resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, who was visiting the aviation museum, agreed with DeHoff that the tower needs to be salvaged for historical purposes.

“I think it’s something that is history and should be maintained,” Harris told the news provider. “There are too many things that are historical and just let go, and history is gone. You can’t get that back.”

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