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PBY Memorial takes flight: Museum plans to relocate to Highway 20

Memorial director William Stein identifies an enlisted pilot from a World War II era photo. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Memorial director William Stein identifies an enlisted pilot from a World War II era photo.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Leadership of the PBY Memorial on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station property are gearing up to relocate its museum and its PBY Catalina aircraft to a location along State Highway 20.

“This is a big step for us,” said PBY Memorial Foundation President Wil Shellenberger, who took office in 2013.

The PBY Memorial Foundation was established in 1998 and is dedicated to the preservation the PBY Catalina and Seaplane Base artifacts, as well as items from throughout American military history.

As part of its four-phase program, it has long been the foundation’s goal to acquire its own property and build a hangar-style structure to house aircraft and other artifacts.

The memorial is currently housed in the Naval Heritage Center on the Seaplane Base.

The foundation is in negotiations now with Flowers Marine which sits adjacent to the new property and have the same owners. Shellenberger said the foundation hopes to have something worked out within the coming weeks.

The foundation’s five-year lease with the NAS Whidbey  Island ends in April.

“We’re pretty confident we’ll work something out to lease at first and then buy,” Shellenberger said.

Jimmy Flowers, owner of Flowers Marine, said that the property is available to the foundation to lease or purchase.

However, Flowers said, discussions are in the preliminary stages and hinge on the foundation’s ability to sell the idea to the residents of Oak Harbor.

“They’ve got a big job ahead of them,” Flowers said. “They want to community to buy them a museum. Is that going to happen? I don’t know. Their job now is to sell the vision to the community.”

If relocated off-base, Shellenberger said, the foundation will have more public visibility and an easier time starting a “full-throttle” fundraising effort.

Shellenberger said he expects the memorial to move into a temporary location after the lease with the Navy has expired, so they can raise funds for a new memorial building at the Highway 20 location.

Phase three in the foundation’s mission was acquiring the PBY Catalina, said William Stein, memorial director. Once that was accomplished in 2010, “the clock started ticking,” Stein said.

The PBY Catalina currently rests next to the Naval Heritage building and has been treated with a protective coating and the body of the aircraft covered in tarps for protection during winter.

“That plane needs to be hangared,” he said. “Whidbey Island weather will have it for lunch.”

But they would also like to acquire additional aircraft for the museum, and the building would be designed to allow them to expand.

Stein said that there has been informal discussions about temporarily providing space for the A-3 Skywarrior at the new location. After many years working to acquire and then find a location for the “Whale” at Ault Field Road and Langley Avenue in Oak Harbor, the project came to an abrupt halt in 2012.

Construction workers hit an underground fuel tank on the parcel just days after a triumphant groundbreaking, stalling the A-3 Skywarrior project indefinitely.

Stein said that serious discussions about including the A-3 Skywarrior would happen down the road, but that the solution would be “great for both sides.”

Representatives for the A-3 Skywarrior Foundation could not be reached for comment.

Stein said it is the hope of the foundation that the move and expansion off base would allow the memorial to become an easily accessed destination for history and military buffs, the education community, as well as residents and tourists.

Recent donations to the museum include a 1918 Red Cross nurse’s uniform, and a Navy pilot’s helmet and mask from 1957.

“We have a wide variety of things here, not just Navy,” Stein said.

 

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