USAFA readies for tourism season

If the U.S. Air Force Academy cadet chapel were a supermodel, May would mark the beginning of its fashion week.

Each year, an estimated 500,000 visitors tour the U.S. Air Force Academy ground and inevitably, they all want photos of the chapel, said David Cannon, USAFA spokesman. May, with the academy’s graduation, marks the beginning of its busy “paparazzi” season.

The cadet chapel is the Air Force Academy’s most-photographed sight, with its 150-foot-tall aluminum spires. It’s open daily and visitors are allowed inside.

“We give hundred of tours – thousands of people go through that chapel via tours, or there are those who just waltz out here,” Cannon said. “We are a national institution and a national treasure. We get the most visitors in the summer – we are kicking into the season.”

The $3.5 million chapel is famous among churches around the world. It has made the visual oddities magazine, BoredPanda’s, list of the “50 Most Extraordinary Churches in the World” along with such architecture wonders as Las Lajas Cathedral in Columbia and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Cannon said he cannot definitively say that the USAFA chapel is the most photographed building in the state. But, he has a pretty good inkling that it is, based on the number of photos that show up on postcards and websites.

“Just come out here and watch the number of people who take photographs of this building,” he said. “It is an architectural icon.”

The chapel was designed by Walter A. Netsch Jr. and construction began in the late 1950s. It was dedicated in 1963. Since then, it has been a photographer’s dream shot – chapel at sunrise; chapel at sunset; chapel with cadets parading nearby; chapel at night.

“We want people to come out and enjoy — it’s a taxpayer institution,” Cannon said. “This is one way to show the taxpayer how their money is being spent.”

On May 23, 1,090 cadets will be graduated from the academy. An estimated 25,000 parents and alumni will fill Falcon stadium and cameras will be clicking away. President Barack Obama will be the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony.

Maybe he’ll snap a few photos of the chapel.