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Pearl Harbor’s historic Ford Island Control Tower now open to the public after 10-year restoration

The Ford Island Control Tower, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Photo by Bernard Spragg, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
June 15, 2022

The historic Ford Island Control Tower in Pearl Harbor is now open to the public for the first time in 10 years, providing a new view of where the infamous attack on Dec. 7, 1941, played out.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum has been working for the past decade to restore the Ford Island Control Tower in order to provide the public with a 360-degree view of the Pearl Harbor aviation battlefield from 168 feet up. In a press release, the museum announced the completion of the tower restoration project and its dedication ceremony on Memorial Day.

Pictured L-R: RDML Christopher Cavanaugh, Director; Eileen Mosolino; First Lady Dawn Ige, State of Hawaii; Gen. Raymond Johns, USAF, Ret.; Elissa Lines; U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen and wife Sylvia Shoen; Clint Churchill; Hope Marini, C.C.I.M., Director, Real Estate Division, NAVFACSYSCOM Pacific, REBL; Blair Suzuki, General Manager, Otis Elevator Co.; Kahu Kordell Kekoa. (Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum/Released)

Nearly 80 years ago, the Ford Island Control Tower held a key view over Ford Island, where air traffic controllers could see Battleship Row and the various surrounding airfields. The tower had been closed to the public for decades before the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum began its 10-year restoration effort.

U-Haul played a significant role in the tower restoration project, providing updates to the elevator that leads to the top of the tower. The company released a video in 2020 detailing the restoration effort.

The tower restoration effort, which began in 2012, came at a cost of $7 million. The project entailed restoring historic windows and walls, updating ceiling, flooring, electrical conduits, lighting, restrooms, and replacing 53 tons of steel in the tower that was used to stabilize the structure.

The tower is accessible to the public through the museum’s new Top of the Tower guided-tour, which takes visitors through the historic Operations Building, the Firehouse Exhibit, and an elevator ride to the upper cab of the control tower.

“From the tower, it’s easy to imagine the thunderous rain of bombs and bullets coming down, erupting in fire, chaos, and death,” said Rod Bengston, Director of Exhibits, Restoration, and Curatorial Services. “Now, however, visitors will also be able to grasp a sense of peace and tranquility that comes from the historic view.”

U.S. Navy RDML Christopher J. Cavanaugh stands on the Ford Island Control Tower. (Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum/Released)

From the upper cab of the tower, visitors will be able to see the Ewa Plains, where the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service began the attack on Pearl Harbor. Visitors will also be able to see Battleship Row where the USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS West Virginia, USS California, USS Nevada, USS Tennessee, USS Maryland, and USS Pennsylvania were bombed and damaged. Visitors will also be able to see the military bases and airfields at Hickam, Wheeler, Bellows, Ewa, Schofield, and Kaneohe, where 188 U.S. military aircraft were bombed and other surrounding historic features.

The elevator to the top of the tower was a major part of the tower restoration and the process was funded by Edward Joseph “Joe” Shoen, the son of U-Haul co-founders L.S. “Sam” Shoen and Anna Mary Carty Shoen. The elevator lift system was updated by the Otis Elevator Company to preserve the historic elements of the 1940s-era equipment while ensuring safe operations after eight decades.

Joe Schoen, who now serves as president and CEO of U-Haul, said the company was “born out of World War II.” According to a U-Haul biography, Sam Schoen had been enrolled in the Navy’s V-12 college training program at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor and joined the service shortly after the attack. Sam Schoen was dismissed from military service in June of 1945 and started U0Haul about two weeks later.

Sylvia Schoen, Kahu Kordell Kekoa and Joe Schoen stand at the top of the Ford Island Control Tower. (Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum/Released)

Joe Schoen said when he learned of the tower restoration effort, he saw it as an opportunity to honor the remaining Pearl Harbor survivors, the 2,335 U.S. service members who died in the attack and all World War II veterans.

Other aspects of the tower restoration process were possible with the support and donations of the U.S. Department of Defense, State of Hawaii, Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust, Freeman Foundation, Historic Hawaii Foundation, James Gorman Family Foundation, OFS Brands, Dave Lau and Sharon Elske, Alexander “Sandy” Gaston, Robert A. and Susan C. Wilson Foundation, The R.K. Mellon Family Foundation, CDR and Mrs. Edward P. Keough, Larry and other individuals and corporations.