Corey Provides Personal Perspective on “Historic” Navy Hangar’s Role

May 14, 2024
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Don Corey’s local government resume spans a wide range of topics over more than 50 years. His perspective is unique because he is often the original source.

Last month, Corey was unable to attend a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission when it decided not to further support historic tax preservation credits for the 65-year-old Navy hangar on Hartwell Road.

But at last week’s monthly meeting, he provided some background that might engender reconsideration. And the commission agreed to hear from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) on why it certified that building as historic.

According to its former owner, the U.S. Navy, the hangar is part of a complex that “portrays the significant events that occurred during the Cold War era as a Navy research and development facility operated by Raytheon for the design and fabrication of missile-guided systems. The contributing resources as a whole inventory depict the architectural styles and construction methods of the cold war era for the development of research facilities.” 

That structure is now integrated into a proposed development of more than 500,000 square feet of Hanscom Field hangars and aviation support space. And opponents of that development don’t see why the building should get public support in the form of tax credits.

Corey, noting that he has been a member of the Historic Preservation Commission “since its inception,” said, “I served as a naval officer during the exact period of significance of this building. That was the height of the Cold War. There was an urgent need to develop new weapons and guidance systems.” 

That’s what was happening at the airfield in the 1950s, he said, with Hanscom scientists and engineers collaborating with their MIT counterparts, and Raytheon with the Navy.

“There was a tremendous effort to keep the U.S. capability ahead of the Soviet Union,” he added. “Having seen the reason for the designation, I have no doubt the National Park Service has a whole database of facilities comparable to this one that have made a tremendous contribution to America’s defense.”

Corey urged, and the commission agreed, to wait for feedback from the Park Service and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, which earlier certified the overall compound for significance. That was the basis for the new owner already securing $1.8 million in preservation tax credits.

Other board members were still skeptical about the specific building. 

“There were properties in this area that were historic, but every one of them has been taken down,” David Goldbaum said. “This is just a metal box. This is last-building-standing, and that’s not a prerequisite for credits.”

Stephanie Keep added, “Is it truly historic? It doesn’t even matter because we can still vote that it wasn’t worthy of tax credits.”

Neil Rasmussen, chair of the Concord-based advocacy group Save Our Heritage, met with the commission in April and after his presentation, the panel voted 4-0-1 to withhold further support. Save Our Heritage is part of the coalition Stop Private Jet Expansion at Hanscom and Everywhere, leading opposition to the hangar project.

Rasmussen followed up at last week’s meeting, contending that there is no historical significance to the hangar alone, only as part of the entire complex. The most significant research took place before the hangar was even constructed in 1959, he said. 

Rasmussen has said that tax credits, which represent public funds, should not be used to support a development that has engendered widespread opposition.

Later in the meeting, Corey said the hangar was built to accommodate larger aircraft, which were fitted with guidance systems inside the structure. He also noted that other Hanscom test facilities were demolished because of ongoing efforts to remediate soil and water contamination.

Commission Chair Alethea Yates reminded at the start of the meeting that the panel’s role should focus on the historical value of the hangar and not the proposed development. 

“It is not the business of this board to judge the owner, his business plan, or the impact of the project on the atmosphere,” she said.

Corey said besides the state commission, the Bedford panel should also hear the rationale from the National Park Service, which evaluates properties for inclusion in the “National Register of Historic Places.”

He noted that over the years, the commission has worked with the MHC “on getting so many properties listed on the National Register that we don’t want to pick a fight with them.” 

Corey said, “There was never any question that it was an historic property because the MHC said it was.”

Yates added that when the Navy divested the property, there were covenants in the deed requiring historic preservation. 

“That still doesn’t mean taxpayers have to pay for it,” Keep answered.

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