When Andrew Higgins was cranking out landing craft and PT boats at his City Park plant during World War II, a banner over the assembly line admonished: “The guy who relaxes is helping the Axis!”
No such banner hangs inside the next big addition to the National World War II Museum rising near Camp and Calliope streets, but the sense of urgency is the same.
Named the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, the four-story tribute to the industrial might that helped win the war, is scheduled to hold its ribbon-cutting Jan. 12. That date didn’t seem ambitious to museum CEO Gordon “Nick” Mueller when it was announced in the spring, but delays in the delivery of steel and such weather events as Hurricane Isaac have made it more challenging. The Freedom Pavilion interior isn’t scheduled to be fully enclosed against the elements until the end of October.
“We thought we’d have three months to get our exhibits in and he’d be finished with the building,” Mueller said. “Anyway, it is what it is. They’re still working … double-shifts, pushing real hard to get to the goal line.”
“They say that they’re going to be done. We’re going to start assembling the planes while they’re still building.
“As they’re finishing their work inside, we’ll start slowly bringing our exhibits in during the construction phase. We’re going to all finish at the same time — get the planes hung, get the exhibits done and get the thing open.”
The Freedom Pavilion is the first of three major expansions planned for the popular attraction.
The Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, which will give a narrative of America’s involvement in the war in Europe and the Pacific and Asia, is now scheduled to open in the spring of 2014, having originally been planned for November 2013. The opening of the Liberation Pavilion, which will tell the post-war story, has not been put on the calendar. Its pilings have been driven, but major fundraising has not begun, Mueller said.
As well, the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion across Andrew Higgins Drive will be converted next year into a mock train station where visitors will begin their museum experience, mimicking the journey that took those in the military to war. Work will begin the day after the Pro Football Hall of Fame traveling exhibit ends its four-month run in mid-May and should take 60 to 90 days, said Bob Farnsworth, senior vice president of capital projects.
In keeping with the standard set when the museum opened the Solomon Victory Theater’s “Beyond All Boundaries” show in 2009, the Freedom Pavilion will be eye-catching and technologically sophisticated.
The 26,540-square-foot, $35 million building will include an enormous sheet of glass along the entire height of one wall. From the outside, visitors can see six famous aircraft — including a B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber and P-51-D “Mustang” fighter plane — suspended from the ceiling. The decision to display the B-17 required adding 16 feet to the building, Mueller said. From the inside, and especially from the fourth-floor catwalk, the New Orleans downtown skyline is in full view.
The pavilion will have a variety of interactive features. Some will provide a digital view of the inside of the various aircraft. Photos, stories and, in some cases, oral histories of the war’s 464 Medal of Honor recipients will be available, as well as information on service personnel who went on to serve as president, in Congress or on the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the highlight will probably be “Final Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience.” Part of the submarine’s interior has been re-created so that 27 visitors at a time can experience its final battle on Oct. 24-25, 1944, when it sank two of the 33 Japanese ships it sent to the bottom during the war but was, tragically, sunk by one of its own defective torpedoes. Visitors will get a hands-on idea of what it was like aboard the vessel during the battle.
“You’re going to feel the shake of the submarine when the torpedo hits, and you’re going to feel like the water is coming in, smoke,” Mueller said. “It’s going to be as close to reality as we can make it. We’ve had submariners giving us advice on how to do this, how to have the diesel smell in there. You’re going to find out who made it and who didn’t.”