Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum


From Near Disaster to Happy Ending

In early February, one of the storage buildings at the Museum's Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland partially collapsed after a major snowstorm hit the area. The building housed approximately 1,200 pieces of art, and another 1,200 objects such as airplane parts.

Fortunately, many of the artworks were in a special environmentally controlled room-within-a-room called a Bally Box, which partially supported the collapsed ceiling and helped keep it from falling in completely. Items outside the box were on sturdy metal shelves that also provided support for the roof and prevented the total collapse of the building.

It was six weeks before the building could be made safe for Museum employees to go inside. Then, a team set up a triage-like system. As artworks were removed from the Bally Box, they were evaluated. If no damage was found, they were packed for long-term storage to another Smithsonian storage area in Lanham, Maryland. Those requiring immediate treatment were taken care of in other Garber buildings.

The same process was applied to the items stored on shelves and racks. Since the shelves were holding up the roof, demolition experts took down sections of the building as each shelf was emptied, until the entire building was demolished.

Crews were consumed with the recovery until April. While the initial reports painted a grim picture, only a small number of items were severely damaged. Thanks to the alertness of Smithsonian security officers on duty at the Garber Facility on the day of the snow storm, and the staff and volunteers who worked long hours to save the collections in building 21, a major disaster was averted.

Photo: Museum specialists prepare the art collection for transport after heavy snow partially collapsed the storage building in which the works were housed.