March 20th, 2002

Air & Space Venue Renamed For Corporate Benefactor; $10 Million Turns Langley Into Lockheed Martin Theater

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has quietly removed the name of aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley from its movie theater and renamed the facility for the Lockheed Martin Corp. The change comes weeks before the global technology company is giving the museum a gift of $ 10 million.

The theater bore the name of Langley since the early 1980s. Langley, a self-taught astronomer and the third secretary of the Smithsonian, launched a steam-driven airplane model that flew three-quarters of a mile in 1896. In 1903 one of Langley’s associates attempted to fly a gasoline engine plane from a houseboat on the Potomac but failed. Nine days after a second failed attempt by the Langley team, the Wright Brothers made a successful flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Now the Langley name will be harder to find at Air and Space, the most visited museum in the world and a vivid panorama of America’s journey into air and space travel. Last week the sign on the 487-seat theater was changed without fanfare, and on the museum’s Web site references to the facility have been changed to “Lockheed Martin IMAX[reg] Theater.”

This change is the latest evidence that the Smithsonian has solidly stepped into the sometimes controversial arena of museums and commercialization. In recent years officials at the Smithsonian have been on the hot seat for adding the name of businessman Kenneth Behring to the National Museum of American History after he donated $ 80 million to the facility. The Smithsonian Board of Regents approved naming the transportation hall at the National Museum of American History after the General Motors Corp., which is giving $ 10 million toward refurbishing the exhibition area.

John R. “Jack” Dailey, the museum’s director and a former NASA administrator, said the decision to rename the theater was prompted by the changing protocol of fundraising. “The reality of life today is that there are many things named for funders,” he said. “We don’t have much more than naming opportunities here.”

Right now Air and Space must find $ 311 million for its annex at Dulles International Airport. Dailey said he still needs to raise $ 96 million. The Dulles facility is named for Steven Udvar-Hazy, the owner of an airplane leasing firm who donated $ 65 million for the building.

To drum up additional funding, Dailey prepares a series of proposals and then tailors them to the interest of foundations and companies.

“Then in our discussion, we say for an appropriate donation, this would be possible and that includes a naming opportunity,” Dailey explained. The Lockheed Martin $ 10 million gift qualified for the theater renaming. “I don’t think we are selling off a piece of history,” Dailey said.

Within the museum, the change was greeted with some raised eyebrows but none of the internal or external rancor that greeted the donation of $ 38 million to the National Museum of American History. That gift from Catherine B. Reynolds, a local businesswoman, was earmarked by the donor for a hall of achievers. Historians and curators accused the Smithsonian of giving Reynolds too much say in the project’s development. Eventually she withdrew her gift.

At Air and Space a small group sent a note to Dailey about the name change and asked about upholding Smithsonian tradition. Each of the Smithsonian’s big three national museums—Air and Space, American History and Natural History—has a prominent auditorium named after a past secretary. “I think it is extraordinarily important, especially for the Smithsonian, which has a rich research tradition, to recognize that tradition,” said Thomas Crouch, senior aeronautics curator. Langley was the administrator who brought astronomy and aviation to the institution, helped start what is now one of the crown jewels of its science programs—the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.—and was heavily involved in establishing the National Zoo and Freer Gallery.

At a recent “town hall” meeting with Secretary Lawrence Small, Ron Davies, an aeronautics curator, asked how the Langley name was going to be remembered. The theater, Davies said, “was named after a very distinguished secretary—it seemed terrible to remove his name.” The staff was told any other decisions about the Langley name were up to the museum’s officials. It will continue to award a Langley medal to important figures in aerospace and will display his 1896 flying machine in the early-flight exhibit.

The museum and officials of Lockheed Martin are expected to announce the $ 10 million donation at the premiere next month of the film “Space Station.” The 3D movie was made with cameras that were developed by Lockheed Martin, NASA and Imax. Positioned inside and outside the space station, the cameras produced the first 3D space movie. The Lockheed gift paid a little less than $ 2 million for the theater’s upgrade and more than $ 8 million for the Dulles facility.

“We chose to name the theater after our company because of our long involvement with making Imax movies about space and the fact that it is a prominent marquee in a museum that is literally filled with products built by those who were parts of the company,” said James Fetig, a spokesman for the Maryland-based firm. Lockheed has produced a number of movies, such as “Blue Planet,” that were shown in the Langley theater.

The Lockheed Martin name has been intertwined with many of the stories the museum tells and the artifacts it displays. Glenn L. Martin started an airplane construction company in 1909. Allan and Malcolm Loughhead (later Lockheed) flew the first Lockheed plane over San Francisco Bay in 1913. Amelia Earhart’s favorite plane, a red Lockheed Vega 5B, is on display at the museum. She was flying a Lockheed Electra when she disappeared. Lockheed also designed the SR-71 “Blackbird,” a supersonic spy plane that will be a focal point of the Air and Space annex.

There might be other changes, Dailey said. In the spring a new restaurant facility will open, anchored by McDonald’s. “Right now we are looking for a sponsor for the planetarium,” Dailey said.

Right now it carries the name of Albert Einstein.

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