Administrators of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Congressman Bob Turner and New York City Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe joined together with nature enthusiasts and history buffs over the weekend, celebrating the grand reopening of the William Fitts Ryan Visitor Center at Floyd Bennett Field.
The event capped off a three-year effort that saw the building’s interior – once an unfriendly mess of paint chips, splintered wood and decrepit infrastructure – painstakingly restored to its 1930 appearance, including beautiful art deco furnishings and detail work on the interior.
With throngs of buzzing celebrants exploring the building on Saturday – which includes a new multimedia exhibit showing videos of the airport in its heyday, a children’s aviation-themed learning area, museum exhibits and a new gift shop – live big band music provided by the Rockaway Arts Alliance echoed through the hallways.
Parts of the building remain unfinished, including accessory hallways and the air tower itself (which can be accessed, giving sweeping views of the airfield with the Manhattan skyline in the background), providing a stark contrast that hints at the hard work invested in the project.
A relic of the Golden Age of Aviation, the Ryan Center opened May 23, 1931, as the air terminal for Floyd Bennett Field, one of the nation’s first municipal airports. It closed in 1941 and was converted into the headquarters for the Naval Air Station – New York until 1971, when the field was closed. When Gateway National Recreation Area was created in 1972, the building was named after Congressman William Fitts Ryan, who fought for the creation of the park and died that same year. Members of Fitts family were on hand for the grand opening.
Also on hand were members of the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project, an all-volunteer group that restores aircrafts at Floyd Bennett’s Hangar B. To celebrate the Ryan Center’s opening, they built from scratch a full-scale replica of the Winnie Mae, the plane Wiley Post used to be the first pilot to fly solo around the world – departing from Floyd Bennett.
The William Fitts Ryan Visitor Center is open seven days a week, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Relevant permits can be obtained there, and there’s also a bookstore. Call (718) 338-3799 with any questions.
Hangar B’s Historical Aircraft Restoration Project is open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $2 per person.