2012-04-27 / Community

Ryan Visitor Center Opening Set For Weekend

Watercolor by Philip Thys Watercolor by Philip Thys Gateway National Recreation Area will reopen the William Fitts Ryan Visitor Center, which served as the historic passenger terminal building for Floyd Bennett Field, New York City’s first municipal airport in 1931. The official opening of the Ryan Center is from 12 noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 5, with festivities for visitors planned all weekend.

“Gateway cannot wait to celebrate this beautiful restoration with the public,” said Superintendent Linda Canzanelli. “Finally, the terminal is restored to its majesty during the Golden Age of Aviation.” She encouraged families and aviation enthusiasts to explore the new visitor information and educational exhibits at the Ryan Visitor Center and to visit Gateway’s collection of historic aircraft at Hangar B.

Live music will kick off the festivities at noon, with the ribbon cutting ceremony and christening of the full scale replica of Wiley Post’s Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae” at 12:30 p.m. In addition, children’s activities, live music and swing dancing will continue throughout the weekend. In the newly restored center, visitors can view newsreels from the airfield’s heyday via a touch screen and enjoy historic exhibits. Children can “fly” a mini-airplane and test their paper airplane design skills. The Rockaway Artists Alliance will conduct children’s activities on both days in the new visitor center.

During the three-year renovation, the Ryan Center was painstakingly restored to its original look during the Golden Age of Aviation in the 1930s, when Floyd Bennett Field served as New York City’s municipal airport. Paintings and panels depicting modes of transportation from the steam engine to the dirigible have been restored to their 1939 appearance. Electrical, fire suppression, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems have been upgraded. A new elevator has been added for increased accessibility.

The restoration project, contracted and managed by the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center, was funded in large part by a $4.8 million grant from the Department of Defense. Additional funding was provided by the National Park Service.

The new “Winnie Mae,” a full scale replica of the Lockheed Vega aircraft flown by Wiley Post around the world in 1931 and 1933, was built at Hangar B in Floyd Bennett Field by volunteers from the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project (HARP). Building it took ten volunteers over 16,000 hours from a scale model. No plans for the original are known to exist.

Visitors will be able to see one of two remaining C97 aircraft in existence and the PBY Catalina, an historic amphibious aircraft currently undergoing restoration by HARP in Hangar B.

The Ryan Visitor Center is named after William Fitts Ryan, a United States Congressman from Brooklyn from 1961 until his death in 1972. Ryan championed the creation of Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972. Following his death, the park’s founding legislation stipulated that the terminal would be named after him.

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