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Terminal is prime spot for military museum, group says

WILLMAR -- A group called the Central Minnesota Veterans Historical Council believes the 68-year-old terminal at the former city airport would be a good location for a military museum, a Veterans Council member says.

"They are just looking at using a facility somewhere in Willmar because it's a nice central location for the region, and one that came to mind was the former airport terminal property,'' says John Lindstrand of Willmar, who is known for his collection of 5,000 military items dating back to the Civil War.

"We've understood there was a historical relevance to that property that was going to most likely be preserved, so we've been watching it closely, and as I understand it there is going to be an historical easement go through on that,'' Lindstrand said.

"That's what we're looking at is finding a way to utilize that property that has a strong historical tie as a tie to military and military aviation within our area,'' he said. "It's one of the few locations in Willmar that actually has a direct tie to federal and military service.''

A federally-required historical review tied to an environmental assessment of the old airport determined the terminal, built in 1941, is historically significant and is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The recommendation to place the terminal on the National Register grew out of an analysis by Gemini Research. The city contracted with Gemini in 2008 to determine if the site was eligible for the Register.

Among other things, Gemini said the terminal was significant because it was constructed as a National Youth Administration project with federal "New Deal program'' funds between 1933 and 1941. Gemini said the terminal's complex wooden trusses represent a rare surviving example of the work of an NYA work skills training center.

The terminal is also significant because of its strong association with the late John L. Rice of Willmar, an individual who made significant contributions to the development of aviation in Willmar and in Minnesota, according to Gemini.

The architectural type is known as Streamline Moderne. Gemini said the hangar is "one of few hangars of substantial size that remain in Minnesota from the 1930s and 1940s, and is therefore an uncommon surviving example of society's first major investment in this property type.''

The city closed the old airport after the new airport, located west of the city, opened on Sept. 5, 2006. The old terminal and nearby apron are currently being leased for storage.

Lindstrand said the old terminal is a very interesting building.

"Looking at it, it's a block building. But when you start to find out the history and learn about it, there's a lot more to it,'' he said. "It's actually a very unique facility.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150