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Old 02-01-2009, 04:17 PM
Location: New Orleans, LA
126 posts, read 435,924 times
Reputation: 126


Looking forward to this expansion in a big way! The entire expansion is just going to be phenomenal.

The National World War II Museum Expansion Slideshow (http://www.nationalww2museum.org/expansion/expansion-slideshow.html - broken link)

It's nearly showtime at WWII Museum

Sunday, February 01, 2009 By Elizabeth MullenerStaff writer

In a city known for taking its time, a major new building seems to be leaping to life at the corner of Magazine Street and Higgins Drive.

It's the latest addition to the National World War II Museum: the Victory Theater and Stage Door Canteen, they call it, housing a 250-seat high-tech movie theater, along with a stage for live shows, a restaurant, a dance floor and a bar.

At 71,000 square feet, the complex nearly doubles the size of the museum and makes it the city's largest.

"It blows my mind," said Nick Mueller, museum president. "There's a wow factor every time I go in there."

The first piles for the building were driven in February 2008 and construction is now about 60 percent finished. The opening, complete with hoopla and dignitaries, is set for Nov. 5 and 6.

According to the American Association of Museums, building additions are hard to come by in these days of financial jitters. In fact, the New Orleans venture is the most ambitious in the country at the moment, save for an expansion at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

For the World War II Museum, the $60 million Victory Theater is only the first phase of a master plan that someday will include seven pavilions and occupy most of the square block that faces the original museum building. The target date for completing later phases is 2015; additional costs will ultimately total $240 million.

"And it all started with a couple of history professors" at the University of New Orleans, said Mueller, referring to himself and Stephen Ambrose, the World War II historian whom he calls the museum's godfather. "I never cease to be amazed."

--- 'Powerful' presentation ---

"Beyond All Boundaries," a 35-minute, $9 million movie that will be the theater's main attraction, will offer an impressionistic journey through World War II that employs a dazzling array of special effects and immersion strategies never before applied on this scale to a history project, museum executives said.

A 125-foot-wide screen that curves around 180 degrees will show archival film footage interwoven with still photos, graphics and animation. Augmenting images on the screen will be physical objects that rise hydraulically from a pit or drop down from the 75-foot ceiling. Multisensory technology will make viewers feel cold and heat and wind and even snow. Their seats will rumble when a tank comes through. A searchlight will shine on them when a concentration camp guard tower comes into focus.

"I'm telling you, it's going to be powerful," said Bob Farnsworth, the museum's senior vice president, who is managing the expansion. "There won't be anything like it anywhere else."

Much of the story will be told through the personal accounts that have become the museum's signature. Actor Tom Hanks, a leading supporter of the museum since its inception in 2000, will narrate parts of the movie, while other big-name Hollywood actors will read eyewitness accounts from letters, diaries and newspaper articles. Wherever possible, clips of actual voices -- radio broadcasters, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gen. Douglas MacArthur -- will be incorporated.

"The movie will give you a sense of the epic scale of this war," said Mueller, who came up with the original movie concept and title. "Every boundary known to man was crossed in this conflict.

"The boundaries of terrain, from the Himalayas to the Arctic Circle. . . . The boundaries of jet flight. The boundaries of civilian destruction and the Holocaust. There were 60 million people killed in this war -- more than in all other wars ever fought in history."

--- Youth appeal ---

The high-tech approach to history epitomized in the Victory Theater is part of a trend that can be seen in some of the country's most successful museums: the Lincoln museum in Springfield, Ill.; the Washington museum at Mount Vernon, Va.; the Constitution Center in Philadelphia; the Civil War museum in Gettysburg, Pa.

"In general, history museums are making themselves more interactive and embracing technology as a way to engage visitors, especially young visitors," said Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums. "Kids today don't want to look at static wall labels. They're getting their information electronically, digitally, iPod-based."

With the World War II generation diminishing, Mueller recognizes that his mission is to appeal to a younger audience.

"Kids come to history venues without much sense of history," he said. "You have to engage them to some extent with technology -- the medium they learn in, the medium they live in."

On the issue of Disney-fication -- that the bells and whistles could detract from the seriousness of the museum's subject matter -- Mueller counters that education will always be his central mission.

"America's experience through World War II will be firmly anchored in accurate history on both factual and interpretive levels," he said.

"I will never lose sight of the fact that people come to museums to touch the past and artifacts will always have a place here," he added, referring to the thousands of historic relics in the museum's collection.

Bell addresses the issue of Disney-fication with a spirited argument.

"There are 850,000,000 museum visits a year in this country -- more than all other sporting events and theme parks combined," he said.

"What kind of tragedy would it be if we Disney-fied our museums and got up to 1.5 billion visits a year and kids were learning more about history and about science and about global warming because we've borrowed so-called Disney techniques to help teach them? Is that a bad thing? I don't think so."

--- Old-time entertainment ---

If the Victory Theater is the ultimate in forward-looking technology, the Stage Door Canteen is meant to evoke old-fashioned entertainment of the World War II era.

The restaurant will seat 150 with indoor and outdoor seating and will be run by a local food-service operator, yet to be selected. A 15-minute video will feature music from the 1940s. Still in the works is a live song-and-dance show involving local talent re-creating the look and feel of the war years. Jazz and swing music will be on stage regularly and will, it is hoped, keep the dance floor filled.

Along with its recreational value, the Canteen is meant to showcase the work of the USO during World War II.

"The USO would show up and keep soldiers from thinking they were forgotten over there in the godforsaken islands of the Pacific or the North African desert," Mueller said. "Music was something that pulled the whole nation together."

The Canteen will be open to the general public, day or night, without museum admission charges, and will be available for rent for parties or meetings.

With the new building well under way, Mueller and his staff are turning their attention to their next project: the Campaigns Pavilion, which will become the cornerstone of the expansion. Like the original museum, it will explore the major campaigns of the European and Pacific theaters, but with more depth and detail and more interactive features.

Groundbreaking for the Campaigns Pavilion, estimated to cost $44 million, will be within two years, Mueller said.

. . . . . . .

Elizabeth Mullener can be reached at emullener@timespicayune.com or at 504.826.3393.

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