V-Site Restoration Project, Los Alamos, NM
Award Type: National Trust/ACHP Award
A small cluster of buildings, the V-Site was where the world's first plutonium bombs were assembled during World War II. After the War ended, the buildings stood empty and threatened with demolition until an innovative preservation partnership ensured that time would stand still in a place where the world changed forever.
In 1942, the US Army Corps of Engineers launched the Manhattan Project, a top-secret effort to win the race for atomic supremacy. Almost overnight, the small town of Los Alamos became home to a team of scientists who worked nonstop in a cluster of hastily constructed wooden sheds known as the V-Site. Abandoned almost as rapidly as they were built, the V-Site buildings quickly eroded and were in danger of collapsing after World War II. The buildings stood empty and threatened with demolition until the 1990s, when historians and preservationists mobilized to save the vestiges of the original laboratories. Several factors posed special challenges, but the energy and dedication of federal, state and private-sector partners resulted in the preservation of an historic resource of international significance.
The V-Site's location on the grounds of the Los Alamos National Laboratory—a Department of Energy complex with significant security and safety constraints—required creative problem solving and commitment far beyond the norm. Moreover, in May 2000, the Cerro Grande Fire overwhelmed Los Alamos, burning 42,000 acres. The wildfire spared only two of the dilapidated structures, including Building 516—the most significant V-Site structure, where the atomic bomb—"the Gadget"—was assembled. Fueled by funding from a variety of public and private sources, including the Save America's Treasures program, each challenge was met.