Hanscom Project Foe Questions Hangar’s Historic Verity

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The advocacy group Save Our Heritage is expressing “concern” over the eligibility of the so-called Navy Hangar on Hartwell Road for state historic preservation tax credits.

“We do not believe credits should be awarded, and we believe the proponent may not have correctly represented the project to the Massachusetts Historical Commission,” wrote Save Our Heritage President Neil Rasmussen to the executive director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission. 

The Navy hangar is incorporated in a massive hangar construction project proposed for acreage contiguous to Hartwell Road. Seventeen of the hangars are new construction, and the plan includes rehabilitation of the existing hangar for aircraft storage and other uses.

Save Our Heritage is a member of the statewide coalition Stop Private Jet Expansion at Hanscom and Everywhere, which has mobilized to oppose the development. 

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Rasmussen’s letter to Brona Simon, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, pointed out that the Bedford Historic Preservation Commission already has approved tax credits “with the understanding that the approval was routine and required. Only very recently did the public understand the connection between the credits and the proposed hangar complex.” He noted that the credits were granted before the planned use was announced in January 2023.

The Navy hangar is on the commission’s agenda for a meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Town Hall’s ground-floor meeting room. The commission at its April meeting decided it would no longer support the developer’s applications for preservation tax credits. However, that support is not a state requirement.

The developers have completed a draft environmental impact report on the project, and the public comment period continues until June 14. (The comment period was extended by more than a month because of the expected May 15 release of the latest Hanscom Environmental Status and Planning Report.)

Rasmussen has said that the future of the project is not contingent on whether the Navy hangar qualifies as a historic structure. But he objects to what amounts to a public subsidy of something that has engendered thousands of petition signatures in opposition.

The letter to Simon said there is a potential of $4,847,000 in credits from the state “and a potentially similar amount in federal funds.”

The state Historical Commission certified the hangar as historic after the U.S. Navy, in its divestiture of the property, noted that the entire complex of the former Naval Weapons Industrial Research Plant on both sides of Hartwell Road comprises what can be considered an historic district.

The Navy cultural resources staff, in a June 2016 memorandum, concluded that the compound “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.”

Rasmussen’s letter, noting that there are nine criteria for consideration for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, concentrated on one of them: preservation.

“In 2016, the Navy released a revised report in which it found that the overall site and its buildings, taken together, may be eligible for listing due to the design and fabrication of missile guided systems,” the letter says, adding that the state commission also found the site eligible because of its role in missile testing. 

Rasmussen pointed out that, while “possible historical significance was related to the overall site,” central to that was “a separate research and development building that developed and produced components for missile systems.

“There is no evidence that those identified missiles were either developed or tested in this hangar,” he wrote. Indeed, that building simply served a utility function in repairing aircraft and fitting aircraft with equipment to be tested.

“All the references provided in support of the credit application are either about Raytheon, current events, or general history;” he wrote, adding in italics, “None relate to any specific historical events at the hangar.

Three similar hangars have been demolished, he pointed out, and several years ago efforts to save another hangar in Lincoln because of its association with the noted scientist Charles Stark Draper failed because the state commission said the building “was found to have no significant impact.

“The building has no historical, architectural, or cultural value. It is a large plain metal box, with two big doors, that was built in 1959 and is invisible to the public,” Rasmussen said. “It is a utility building for the storage of aircraft.

“There appears to be no intent for a preservation or restoration project, as the intent is to refit it as a totally modern building, not as it was,” he added.

Rasmussen also pointed out that earlier studies by the Navy and the General Services Administration said there were no historic sites in the complex. Furthermore, in 2018, both the Bedford selectmen and Historic Preservation Commission said the hangar had “no historical significance.”

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