The Navy has selected a location for its new national museum, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said during a recent ceremony celebrating the service’s 247th birthday.
The new structure will be positioned just outside the gated Washington Navy Yard in D.C. — where the existing museum can be found — a move designed to allow greater access to the public.
“The exhibits of this new museum will create a living memorial to the U.S. Navy’s heritage of victory and valor, bringing to life the human experiences of serving at sea,” Del Toro said at the event.
Although replacing the existing museum has been a drawn-out endeavor, the Navy is finally a step closer to constructing an institution it says will better showcase its history and culture.
At an anticipated 240,000 square feet, the new — and free to enter — museum will be over twice the size of the existing space. It is expected to attract roughly 1.5 million visitors per year — its current annual crowd averages roughly 100,000 — putting it on par with the number of guests the area’s Smithsonian museums welcome each year.
The announcement is a welcome one, especially given widely shared opinions that the current museum “is not meeting the mission of telling the Navy’s story to the American public,” according to retired Adm. Samuel Cox, the director of Naval History and Heritage Command and curator of the Navy.
“The base is very hard to get into due to security requirements that have only gotten more stringent over the years,” Cox told Military Times. “So, we are not going to have the Navy the nation needs if we don’t have the support of Congress, and you won’t have the support of Congress if you don’t have the support of the American people.”
The roughly six acres of land the Navy is looking to obtain for the museum, outside the Navy Yard’s Tingey Gate, will be acquired through a land exchange agreement with the current owner, officials told Military Times. In return, the Navy will give the land owner roughly six acres of land within the southeast Navy Yard the service says is too costly to maintain.
The Navy’s new national museum was first announced in Oct. 2020 by Del Toro’s predecessor, with plans for it to open in 2025 — the year of the sea service’s 250th birthday. For now, a site groundbreaking is not expected to occur until that year, Cox said, adding that the phased project is now likely to cost upwards of $475 million.
Thus far, no money has been raised, but the service is partnering with the Navy Museum Development Foundation to assist in fundraising and development. The initiative is not expected to receive any appropriations from Congress.
Construction of the future campus-style complex will avoid what was estimated to be a $102 million maintenance and renovation endeavor for the current museum structure.
Today’s museum, which opened in 1963 in an old gun factory, will be turned into a support center for the new institution but will remain partly operational until the new center is opened.
The Navy is continuing to work through a review of how traffic in the area will be impacted. Reviews will also ensure the initiative is properly following the National Historic Preservation Act.
Currently, the Navy operates nearly a dozen other museums, including the Naval Aviation Museum, the National Museum of the American Sailor and the Submarine Force Museum.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media