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Old Bethpage Village armor museum gets $1M state grant

Visitors look at some of the historical tanks

Visitors look at some of the historical tanks at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage. Photo Credit: Museum of American Armor

A state agency on Thursday approved a $1-million grant for a new military vehicle museum at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, almost doubling the start-up funds for the fledgling institution.

The board of the Empire State Development Corp. approved transferring the grant money from the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale to the new $2.5-million Museum of American Armor.

The Airpower Museum had received the grant in 2006 for construction of a World War II Quonset-hut-style building at the airport to house the armored vehicles. But that plan was abandoned, and the museum and Nassau County officials recommended to the state that the money be transferred to the armor museum founded this year and whose vehicles are stored at the airport site.

"This grant is designed to strengthen the museum's role as a pivotal Long Island player in heritage tourism," said Gary Lewi, a board member and spokesman for both museums. "It also allows the county to multipurpose a park and build attendance revenue that protects the historic assets in the village."

Plans for a 25,000-square-foot armor museum on the grounds of Old Bethpage Village were announced in May by Nassau officials. Groundbreaking is set for Sept. 30, with completion in November.

Lawrence Kadish of Old Westbury, the museum's founding chairman, has donated $1 million to the museum along with two vintage armored vehicles he bought and had restored to driving condition. Additional pledged donations will provide the rest of the construction money.

The facility, to be erected near the Old Bethpage Village parking lot and away from the 19th-century buildings, will house operational vehicles including a Sherman tank, a Stuart light tank, a 155-mm howitzer, half-track trucks, a LaSalle staff car, jeeps, weapons carriers, and reconnaissance vehicles -- a total of 27 military vehicles.

The two military museums are legally independent but share board members and plan to continue their joint marketing and programming.

The original plan to house the armor museum in the Quonset hut at Republic was abandoned when it became clear that federal and state airport regulations would have prohibited public access to the building because of active runways.

Kadish thought of Old Bethpage Village because some of the armored vehicles had been used there for well-attended "World War II Weekends" for the past four years.

The Airpower Museum will remain at Republic, but its state-landmarked hangar will ultimately be moved by the Federal Aviation Administration to provide more of a buffer zone for the runways. The FAA had threatened to demolish the hangar as a hazard to aircraft, but its landmark status and opposition of elected officials quashed that plan.

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