Less than a year after the approval to move into the Ford Building, on February 22, 1978, a raging fire started in the Electric Building, shocking San Diegans and the aviation community.
Close to sixty original and replica aircraft, hundreds of artifacts, dozens of rare engines, and thousands of irreplaceable books and archival material were lost forever. The total loss was estimated to be over $10 million dollars. Aerial photograph of the Electric Building after being consumed by the fire (Property of the Library & Archives, SDASM).
In the face of this awful tragedy, the citizens of San Diego and the entire aviation community came to the Museum's aid. The morning after the fire, dozens of volunteers helped with the salvage process. Thousands of donations from veterans and veteran families flowed into the temporary museum headquarters. The new museum would not just be a new facility, it would also be a memorial to what was lost, as well as an institution that San Diegans, as a community, helped rebuild. By May 1979, orders were given to move into the Ford Building while it was being restored. The front of the building was proudly relabeled "Aerospace Historical Center."
Almost a year later, in February 1980, SDAM hosted its opening day in its new home. At its opening, the Museum's collection included twenty–five different aircraft. Greeting all visitors to the Museum was a brand new flyable replica of the Spirit of St. Louis which replaced the operable Spirit that was lost in the fire. Spirit of St. Louis Replica in the Rotunda (Property of the Library & Archives, SDASM).
Volunteers reconstructed replicas of unique aircraft such as the Wright Flyer and the Sopwith Pup, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum loaned their displays for the new museum to get back on its feet. To this day, SDASM has kept true to its original purpose to create an educational facility, and by growing into an outstanding museum that commemorates the previous museum.