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Originally published January 13, 2010 at 10:31 PM | Page modified February 11, 2010 at 10:28 AM

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Wrecking ball looms for historic Boeing Plant 2

Boeing is set to demolish its historic Plant 2 facility near Boeing Field, whose roof was camouflaged with life-size fake trees, houses and streets during World War II to foil possible enemy bombing raids. After demolition, Boeing plans to clean up the heavily polluted factory site, which backs onto the Duwamish waterway.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing Plant 2

Location: On the west side of East Marginal Way South across the road from Boeing Field and backing onto the Duwamish Waterway.

Size: Four buildings cover 1.6 million square feet, about 36 acres. The main building was designed to accommodate nine fully assembled B-17s.

Production: During World War II, workers at the plant built almost 7,000 B-17 bombers as well as 380 DB-7 bombers under license from Douglas Aircraft. Other planes built there included Boeing's model 307 Stratoliner, the 377 Stratocruiser, and the B-50 and B-52 bombers. Also, the first four 737s were brought to near completion in Plant 2 before moving to another building.

Source: Boeing

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Boeing is set to demolish its historic Plant 2 facility near Boeing Field, famous for being so vital to the World War II manufacturing effort that to foil possible enemy bombing raids the roof was camouflaged with life-size fake trees, houses and streets.

Boeing spokesman Chris Villiers said a demolition schedule has not been finalized. But the company has told the Museum of Flight it must remove several old airplanes stored inside the plant within the next four months.

After demolition, Boeing plans to clean up the heavily polluted factory site, which backs onto the Duwamish Waterway.

"We'll be cleaning up and restoring habitat along the waterway," said Villiers. "We don't have final plans."

During World War II, the plant employed as many as 30,000 people working three shifts to churn out bombers in staggering numbers — up to 362 a month.

Up for demolition are four factory buildings sandwiched between East Marginal Way South and the Duwamish, covering 1.6 million square feet.

The largely empty main building houses only three old airplanes belonging to the Museum of Flight, south of Plant 2 on East Marginal Way.

Two Boeing bombers, a B-17 Flying Fortress and a B-29 Superfortress, have been there since 2004, being restored for display at the museum. A Lockheed Super Constellation joined them in September.

Flight Museum marketing director Mike Bush said Boeing donated the Plant 2 storage space under a lease agreement that runs out at the end of April.

"We won't be able to renew that lease," said Bush. "We're looking for a place to relocate the planes."

Boeing began making aircraft parts at Plant 2 in 1936, when the total number of employees had just passed the 1,000 mark. Raw materials and large parts were barged up the Duwamish to the back doors.

At the peak of the war effort, on a single day in April 1944, Boeing assembled 16 of its B-17 bombers. In all, the facility built 6,981 B-17s during the war, according to Boeing.

Many workers were women, part of the country's "Rosie the Riveter" war effort.

To protect the facility against a potential Japanese bombing raid, the rooftop was camouflaged to look like a suburban neighborhood.

Fake trees made of board and mesh were fastened to the roof with wires. Clapboard homes were painted with rectangles for windows. A fake rooftop corner street sign said, "Synthetic St. & Burlap Blvd."

Plant 2 also produced Boeing's Model 307 Stratoliner. After the war, other planes built there included the 377 Stratocruiser, the B-50 and B-52 bombers and the first four 737s, the single-aisle airliner now built in Renton.

Villiers said the site has not been used for building planes for around 40 years and Boeing doesn't anticipate the plant's history will pose any obstacles to its plans.

"We will preserve any historical artifacts in the buildings," he said. "We recognize the historical significance of Plant 2."

More problematic are environmental issues. Boeing has negotiated for years with city, state and federal agencies as well as Indian tribes over the future of the site.

The company's manufacturing work polluted the factory site and the Duwamish Waterway over many years with a wide range of hazardous chemicals, including heavy metals, cyanide, mineral acids, petroleum products, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and chlorinated solvents.

Under a 1994 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Boeing is required to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater at the site. Study of the contamination and some cleanup work has been ongoing ever since.

The Museum of Flight hopes to have the B-17 bomber on display by June. It's possible the Lockheed Constellation could be displayed by then, too, said Bush.

The B-29 restoration is further from completion, and that plane will need a longer-term indoor storage space.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com Material from The Seattle Times archive was used in this report.

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