The once-backburnered plan to build a replica of Ford’s famed Rotunda as part of the Early Ford V-8 Museum has now returned to the forefront after an anonymous donation that will allow the museum to more than triple in size.
“This is a huge undertaking but one the V-8 Museum is confident of achieving,” foundation officials wrote in the group’s most recent newsletter.
Plans for a replica of the Rotunda – the 214-foot wide and 10-story tall structure that Albert Kahn designed for Ford’s exhibit at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair and which burned down in Dearborn in 1962 – have been discussed since 2007 when the Early Ford V-8 Foundation began work on establishing a permanent facility in Auburn, Indiana, work that resulted in the existing museum’s construction in 2009-2010.
Foundation members had initially planned to begin building the Rotunda replica (though downsized to roughly two-thirds to three-fourths of its original size) in the museum’s second phase of construction, but by last fall the foundation’s trustees decided to shelve the Rotunda plans – by that point estimated to cost as much as $9 million – in favor of a more modest 8,700-square-foot addition to the museum’s existing 8,040-square-foot space.
A recent anonymous donation to the museum, however, has allowed the foundation to take those plans down off the shelf. Just as the foundation trustees were ready to finalize plans for that 8,700-square-foot addition, a Ford V-8 collector approached the foundation to offer not only his 17-car collection, but also the funds necessary to build a 10,000-square-foot addition to the museum to house the collection.
According to Josh Conrad, the museum’s collection coordinator, the anonymous donor’s contribution didn’t specifically include the Rotunda replica, “but it made that project a little easier for us to swallow.”
To accommodate the donation, the foundation decided to revise its plans. Rather than build its already-planned addition to the west of the existing museum, the foundation would build that addition and the 10,000-square-foot addition – which will include the 98-foot wide Rotunda replica – to the south. Included in those plans are a restoration shop and new entryway to the existing museum as well as a turntable for the Rotunda replica.
While groundbreaking for the additions took place earlier this month and construction is set to begin in the spring, the foundation still needs to raise another $750,000 to complete the funding for the already-planned addition, now measuring in at 9,200 square feet.
“We’re optimistic we’ll raise the remaining amount by the spring,” Conrad said. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We’re pretty open ended on the timeline for completing construction.”
The museum already has the last remaining piece of the Rotunda: the original entrance sign, which foundation members restored and placed out front of the museum in 2013. In addition, the museum has 21 vehicles and 35 engines currently on display, with another 93 vehicles in its legacy program – that is, waiting for display space.
Conrad said eventually the foundation plans to expand the museum to the northwest. “In the long haul, we have plenty of room to expand,” he said.
For more information on the Early Ford V-8 Museum and Foundation, visit FordV8Foundation.org.