A New Day, A New Beginning

In the afternoon of Tuesday, October 16, 1979, a dedication ceremony led by San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson was held in the restored center courtyard of the Ford Building where 300 community members attended to preview the refurbished Ford Building. Recovery Fund director, Fred Garry, was honored for generating over $3 million in donations. As the sun set, Mayor Wilson formally rechristened the 44-year-old Ford Building as the “San Diego Aerospace Historical Center” and switched on the new outdoor blue building lights, symbolizing the Museum’s rise from the ashes.

Museum dedication ceremony held at the entrance of the Ford Building, October 16, 1979.

Dedication performance by the San Diego Youth Symphony Orchestra in the newly restored courtyard.

The Ford Building’s blue lights are switched on in celebration of its new designation as the San Diego Aerospace Historical Center.

Footage of the Museum Reopening:

By December 1979, work focused on the completion of the high-ceilinged rotunda where the new Spirit of St. Louis would be permanently displayed. As the long-anticipated grand opening to the public approached, about thirty planes were moved into exhibit spaces on the 50,000 square foot main floor.

The Spirit of St. Louis (replica 3) is put into place in the rotunda.

The first aircraft on display.

On February 22, 1980, on the second anniversary of the devastating fire, the new San Diego Aerospace Museum and International Aerospace Hall of Fame formally opened its doors again. Other aircraft and space exhibits were placed in sequential time eras along the colorful March of Transportation mural. The San Diego Aerospace Museum and International Hall of Fame was back in business.

In 1982, a replica of the Electric Building, the $8 million Casa de Balboa, was constructed with modern fire-suppression equipment and opened as a permanent replacement for its new tenants: The San Diego Historical Society, the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Model Railroad Museum. As the San Diego Aerospace Museum continued to grow during the 1980s, an annex opened at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, to house additional and larger aircraft and to provide additional storage space for archival collections. In 1986, the Museum was honored by becoming the first aero-themed museum to be accredited by the American Association of Museums, now known as the American Alliance of Museums.

Open House at the San Diego Aerospace Museum Annex at Gillespie Field, 1985.

An aerial view of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Annex at Gillespie Field in El Cajon.

2006 was a watershed year for the Museum. It became a Smithsonian affiliate, the name was changed to the San Diego Air & Space Museum to better reflect its mission and collection, and the California State Legislature voted to declare the Museum as “California’s official Air and Space Museum and Education Center.” Over time, the airplane inventory increased to 61 planes on display in the Ford Building and an additional 22 displayed offsite at the Museum’s annex. The Library & Archives now maintains over 80 million archival documents and four million images as well as films and video, books, periodicals, technical manuals, drawings, and more. Because of San Diego’s contributions to aviation and aerospace history and technology, it is only fitting that this Museum is now recognized as one of the United States’ premier aerospace museums with its Library & Archives ranking the second largest in the nation.

In 2001, the mystery of who set the fire on that cold night back in February 1978 was solved. Thought to be the work of a serial arsonist, San Diego Fire Battalion Chief Art Robertson discovered it was started by three Chula Vista teenagers who confessed they were trying to stay warm. They were not arrested as the statute of limitations for filing an arson lawsuit had already run out.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter

Get Social with SDASM

Icon for Facebook Icon for Twitter Icon for Instagram Icon for Pinterest Icon for Kayak