L.A. eyed for National Historical Park

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Home of “the single most significant event of the 20th century”

By Roger Snodgrass

The Manhattan Project is worthy of national park status, both in terms of historic significance and cultural suitability, according to the draft of a five-year study that was released this week. But even if Congress can’t incorporate the whole subject at first, Los Alamos appears to be most worthy as a location for a National Historical Park.


“Los Alamos is sitting pretty,” said Cynthia Kelly, president of the nonprofit Atomic Heritage Foundation based in Washington, D.C. “It’s a very nice outcome for you guys.”

Kelly, along with a number of people in Los Alamos, has followed this discussion for many years.

Heather McClenahan of the Los Alamos Historical Society said that the historical park designation for Los Alamos was very closely related to a plan put forth by an ad hoc committee established by Los Alamos County Council in August 2007.

Among other benefits, the draft report said there would be “an economic benefit to the Los Alamos community through the increased visitation that would likely result from park designation.”

“It’s something like the New Orleans Jazz National Park, with one central visitors’ center,” McClenahan said. “People would get sent out to the other locations and hopefully to places within the lab as those get restored.”

The draft study directed by the Secretary of the Interior considered several organizational scenarios, involving Manhattan Project locations, but only one of the alternatives would establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park under the park service. If Congress accepts such a recommendation, this new national park would be located in Los Alamos and would be managed jointly with Bandelier National Monument.

A full-blown national historical park that connects the main Manhattan Project locations in Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tenn. and Hanford Wash. would not be feasible, according to the authors of the report, who suggest a range of lesser associations, from a nonprofit consortium to an affiliation of historic sites. The vast geographical scope of a national historical park that would link Los Alamos with Oak Ridge and Hanford would be expensive and difficult to manage, according to the authors of the report.

The case for Los Alamos

A panel of experts convened by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation stated in their final report to the Secretary of Energy in March 2001 that the development and use of the atomic bomb during World War II was “the single most significant event of the 20th century.”

The draft report underlines the significance of Los Alamos as the most prominent symbol of that event.

“Los Alamos was selected as the site for this national historical park for a number of reasons,” the draft report states. “The facilities and personnel here maintained the greatest concentration of theoretical and experimental work during the Manhattan Project era—it was this work that tied all of the sites together. In addition, the physical aspects of the surroundings have not changed as much over time as those of some of the other sites—when visitors approach Los Alamos by road today, they can still feel some of the isolation and remoteness that were key to the area’s original selection for the Manhattan Project.”

Several features outside the perimeter of LANL are already designated Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory National Historic Landmark Structures. These include Fuller Lodge

Baker House, Ranch School Guest House, Stone Powerhouse, private residences on Bathtub Row (five structures) and the Memorial Shelter at Ashley Pond.

As for cultural resources within the laboratory, the report notes that a study is already under way at LANL “for nominating a potential Project Y, Manhattan Project National Landmark, which would consist of five separate historic properties in various technical areas of the Los Alamos National Laboratory that retain a high degree of integrity and together provide compelling insights into the most significant aspects of “Project Y.”

This list includes “Trinity Test” V-Site, “Little Boy” Gun Site, “Fat Man” Quonset Hut, “Plutonium Recovery” Concrete Bowl (TA-6) and the “Criticality Accident” Laboratory/Staging Area (“Slotin Building”).

Ellen McGehee, the historic building manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, has long been involved in the preservation of key buildings at Los Alamos, including the restoration of V-Site, where the high explosives lens components of the “gadget,” the first atomic weapon that was tested at Trinity Site in 1945.

“What amazes me is that so many people have the same reaction to these sites that have such simple construction and yet such large repercussions for us all,” McGehee said. “To understand Los Alamos (at that time) you have to understand what the technical areas looked like.”

The draft report is another phase in the larger project of preserving the heritage of an influential moment in time. A dissenting letter from a DOE official in the draft holds out for a larger concept that would include Hanford and Oak Ridge.

“We do believe Hanford and Oak Ridge are integral to the story,” said McClenahan. “But we’re thrilled Los Alamos is included because we believe it is the heart and soul of the project.”

The National Park service will hold a series of public meetings across the country, finishing with a meeting in Los Alamos on Feb. 2.

“I think you are in like Flynn; you don’t have to worry.” Kelly said. “The study is all you need.”

McClenahan said the historical society would be involved in the public meeting and encourages as many members as possible to get their comments in.

The public comment period will be open until March 1.

The full report can be found at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?parkID=482&projectID=14946&docu....