Pasco's old airport tower lands a $50K surprise

Pasco Airport’s Old Tower lands $10,000 historic preservation grant

Malin Bergstrom, president of Bergstrom Aviaiton and leader of the Save the Old Tower effort, talks about progress on the tower's renovations and recent donations.
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Malin Bergstrom, president of Bergstrom Aviaiton and leader of the Save the Old Tower effort, talks about progress on the tower's renovations and recent donations.

When $50,000 showed up in the bank account of the nonprofit working to preserve the old tower at the Tri-Cities Airport, officials thought it was a mistake.

Malin Bergstrom, who is leading the Save the Old Tower campaignto turn the former air traffic control tower into an aviation museum, was skeptical when she saw the alert about the unexpected deposit.

But the bank assured her it was a legitimate.

An anonymous donor made the contribution with the note, "In honor of veterans."

The donation comes at a fortuitous time.

The all-volunteer Old Tower team is almost ready to declare victory and hold a grand opening celebration. In the spirit of the donor's intent, veterans will always be admitted free.

"It was a big surprise," Bergstrom said.

Old Tower
A Pasco nonprofit hopes to open a World War II aviation-related museum in Pasco's Old Tower this summer. An anonymous contribution ensures veterans will always be admitted free. File Tri-City Herald

Save the Old Tower is a herculean effort to celebrate the airport storied World War II history.

Richland had the Manhattan Project. Pasco had naval aviators and a vast base to support them.

At its wartime peak, Naval Air Station Pasco was third only to Pensacola and Corpus Christi.

Eighteen hundred pilots went through its doors before it was decommissioned and reoccupied by private tenants.

Bergstrom's father operated the family company, Bergstrom Aircraft, in its uninsulated walls before he moved to a modern new facility next door.

Bergstrom, now head of the company her father started, moved to reclaim the neglected tower when airport officials mulled a demolition for safety reasons.

The Old Tower group leased it from the Port of Pasco and launched an ambitious rehab project supported by volunteer labor, in-kind donations and grants.

Franklin County contributed a a $10,000 historic preservation grant in 2016, and the 2018 Legislature included $300,000 in its capital budget. The port converted the nonprofit's short-term lease into a long-term one after the state grant came through.

The Old Tower was torn down to the stud and rebuilt with new plumbing, insulation, walls and more. The renovation uses modern materials but was destined to return the building to its original appearance.

Bergstrom said workers caught a lucky break when they pulled off the metal siding that had been added and the original wood siding was still intact and in good shape.

There's no shortage of war memorabilia to exhibit in the museum. Supporters have overwhelmed Bergstrom Aircraft with photos and military paraphernalia since the outset.

"I've run out of room to store these things. We have to get the museum done," she joked.

The Walla Walla family of a flight instructor donated a "Link" simulator, a tiny airplane used to train pilots to fly on instruments only.

Bergstrom said the Link needs repairs and is probably too fragile for visitors to sit in.

She hopes to hold a grand opening in August. The date hasn't been set because the group is hoping to arrange a visit from a vintage military aircraft group.

It will be open Fridays and Saturday and by appointment.

The museum is at the airport, so visitors will be admitted through Bergstrom Aircraft and escorted by docents while they are inside the airport fence for security reasons.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514