USAFA Cadet Area designated National Historic Landmark

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The Cadet Area at the U. S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has been designated a National Historic Landmark, the federal government’s highest official recognition of nationally significant properties.

The Cadet Area is Colorado’s 18th landmark among the nation’s more than 2,300 designations and was recognized for its significant contributions to America’s military and architectural heritage.

The federal government authorized the creation of the U. S. Air Force Academy in 1954. It joined the other two major U.S. academies located in West Point, N. Y., and Annapolis, Md., as the nation’s undergraduate military schools. The academy opened in the summer of 1955 at a temporary location at Lowry Air Force Base near Denver. Following the near completion of the Cadet Area, the cadets moved on campus in September 1958, which allowed the first graduating class to spend their final year in Colorado Springs.

The Air Force Academy Cadet Area, which includes the chapel, ranks among the most significant collection of modernist buildings commissioned by a federal agency during the post-World War II era. Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the campus broke from the traditions of the other academies by employing a new style of architecture and very different materials.

The Air Force Academy buildings were “to be as efficient and as flexible in their design as the most modern projected aircraft,” said the Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott at a 1955 congressional hearing.

SOM utilized many technological advances developed specifically by the military during the war. The firm’s comprehensive design vision provided a unique opportunity to transfer technology from manufacturing to architecture, employing materials such as extruded and anodized aluminum, tinted glass and pre-cast concrete. These progressive designs stirred a national debate in Congress, professional journals and the media during the early years of the Cold War. The chapel became a lightning rod for the whole Academy. Despite the controversy, SOM’s innovative use of materials sparked national trends in construction and design.

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton officially designated the Cadet Area on April 1, 50 years to the day after President Eisenhower signed into law the congressional bill authorizing the Air Force Academy. The soaring spires of the much-debated chapel also appear on a postage stamp that commemorates the 50th anniversary.

Prior to this entry, Colorado had 17 National Historic Landmarks. The last time a Colorado property was designated a National Historic Landmark was in 2001 when the Administration Building at Rocky Mountain National Park joined this select group. Other Colorado National Historic Landmarks include the Kit Carson County Carousel, Durango-Silverton Railroad, Mesa Verde Administrative District, Shenandoah-Dives Mill, Bent’s Old Fort, Pike’s Stockade, Pikes Peak and Raton Pass. Landmark status was awarded to two archaeological sites in our state, Lindenmeier and Lowry Ruin. The historic districts of Telluride, Leadville, Silverton, Georgetown-Silver Plume, Cripple Creek and Central City-Black Hawk also have National Historic Landmark status.