NPS Initiates Historic Preservation Project at Pearson Hangar

Historic black and white photo of the exterior of the historic hangar building at Pearson Air Museum
The historic hangar in 1937

Archives & Reference Collection, Fort Vancouver NHS

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News Release Date: September 20, 2011

Contact: Alex Patterson, Facility Manager, 360-816-6221

Contact: Greg Shine, Chief Ranger & Historian, 360-816-6231

VANCOUVER, WA -- The National Park Service at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site has begun a historic preservation project on the historic hangar building at Pearson Air Museum.

The project work includes the removal of lead-based paint from the building and the immediate grounds next to the building, repainting of the building's exterior walls -- including window frames and trim -- to their historic colors, and incidental work of repair and replacement of excessively deteriorated wood siding.

The project cost is $80,900, with the work being done by federal contractors. It is scheduled to be completed by September 30, 2011.

"At this point, the environmental contractors have removed all of the loose and flaky paint and the carpenter has already repaired all of the holes, including damage from the flickers," explained Alex Patterson, Facility Manager. "The painters are applying four coats of paint this week. As of today, the project is under budget and ahead of schedule."


In July 2009, the National Park Service commissioned a historic paint analysis of the historic hangar's exterior and interior. Using paint samples from the building, this study utilized stereomicroscopal analysis and color evaluation to determine the original paint color and establish the layering sequence of the paint.

It found that sashes, headers and sills on the interior and exterior windows were originally painted with a "moderate reddish-brown, oil base, semi-gloss finish paint." Laboratory data sheets for the exterior window sashes showed a paint sequence of wood substrate, moderate reddish-brown, black, greens, and white, while those for the interior sashes showed a sequence of moderate reddish-brown with layers of white. Further analysis showed that the sashes and trim were a semi-gloss black color at the time when the distinctive yellow and black checkerboard roof went on the building, and this color scheme will guide the project work.

Completing a historic paint analysis for the structure was part of the involved compliance process required on a structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "Ensuring the historical accuracy of this partial rehabilitation effort is only one part of the process that involves real teamwork between the National Park Service and the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation," stated Robert Cromwell, Park Archaeologist, who oversees the historic compliance efforts for all properties within the Vancouver National Historic Reserve. "Part of the project review process looks at not only the accuracy of the paint colors, but the likelihood of the project impacting original fabric of the structure, or archaeological materials near the foundation of the hangar."

"As the nation's foremost historic preservation agency, the National Park Service is taking extraordinary steps to preserve and rehabilitate this historic building," noted Tracy Fortmann, Superintendent. "Researching and then repainting the hangar in historic colors from the early aviation era reconnects to the past and helps demonstrate our commitment to this chapter of our nation's history."


The historic hangar is a large rectangular structure with a gambrel roof. It rests on a concrete foundation and its exterior is clad with wood lap-siding. The roof is covered with corrugated metal and painted with a large yellow and black checkered pattern. At the east and west elevations are large, lap-sided wood hangar doors. Fenestration of the hangars includes paired and tripled 24-light windows at the north and south elevations.

Built around 1918, the historic building originally served the Cut-up Plant of the Vancouver Spruce Mill, operated by the U. S. Army Signal Corps' Spruce Production Division. Around 1924, the building was moved to its present location by the Army Air Service. Today, the building, along with the other facilities at the Pearson Air Museum complex, are federally owned and managed by the National Park Service as part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Since 1995, the City of Vancouver has held a cooperative agreement with the NPS for operation of the museum complex; the city currently subcontracts the museum operation to the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

"This building is an especially significant one, as exemplified by its listing on the National Register of Historic Places,"explained Greg Shine, Chief Ranger & Historian. "At its peak in October 1918, the Vancouver Spruce Mill employed over 3,000 soldiers and cut and shipped one million board feet of aircraft spruce each working day. Not only is this hangar building one of only a few remaining from that Spruce Mill era, it also represents the site's later aviation history. Its repurposing as an aircraft hangar in the 1920's, during the Golden Age of Aviation, also serves as an early example of adaptive reuse."


This project is just one of many that the NPS has initiated to preserve historic and natural resources and provide for a safe and enjoyable visitor experience.  

"The lead paint stabilization and repainting project at the historic hangar is one of many that are critically important to the Historic Reserve," exclaimed Fortmann. "Visitors may also notice that we have undertaken a massive hazard tree trimming and landscape preservation treatment throughout the site. Through this project alone, we have helped extend the lives of more than 170 park trees."


BACKGROUND: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service, is the heart of the Vancouver National Historic Reserve. The Vancouver National Historic Reserve brings together a national park, a premier archaeological site, the region's first military post, an international fur trade emporium, one of the oldest operating airfields, the first national historic site west of the Mississippi River, and a waterfront trail and environmental center on the banks of the Columbia River. The partners of the Reserve teach visitors about the fur trade, early military life, natural history, and pioneers in aviation, all within the context of Vancouver's role in regional and national development. The Reserve's vast array of public programs -- including living history events, festivals, cultural demonstrations, exhibits, active archaeology, and other special activities -- create a dynamic, fun, and unique tourist destination for people of all ages.

Historic Hangar with work in progress
Workers onsite at the historic hangar at Pearson Air Museum

NPS Photo

Historic Hangar prior to rehabilitation
Exterior of historic hangar at Pearson Air Museum, prior to NPS rehabilitation project.

NPS Photo

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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