The “Lacey Lady” restaurant in Milwaukee, Oregon, has closed for good due to business conditions during the pandemic.
In 1947, Art Lacey purchased a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber plane that had been decommissioned when World War II ended.
He flew it from Oklahoma to Oregon and then had it mounted on a building at his gas station. The 102-foot wingspan of the plane served as the canopy over the gas pumps.
It was nicknamed “Lacey Lady” and served as a tourist attraction for almost 70 years. A year after installing the plane, the family opened a restaurant at the site.
In 1996, the gas station closed down but the restaurant continued. In 2014, the bomber was removed from the roof in order to restore it.
The Laceys had the goal of restoring the plane to flying condition. However, both Art and his wife, Birdine, passed away before they could see their goal realized.
The B-17 Alliance Foundation was formed to raise funds and recruit volunteers to help with the restoration project.
According to their website, it has cost $500,000 to reach the current stage of repair. Another $8.5 million are required to complete the project.
In addition to restoring the plane, the foundation has plans to open a permanent museum, a storage hangar, a service hangar, and traveling displays.
While the plane was at the restaurant, it was open for visitors to walk through. Over the course time, visitors walked through seven sets of wooden floorboards. All of that walking through the plane caused a great deal of stress on its metal structure.
In addition, bird droppings ruined the aluminum flashing on the wings and the wet Oregon climate had leaked into the interior.
Finally, millions of visitors over 70 years had taken anything that could be removed from the plane even flexing things until they broke off.
When the restoration process began, the plane was moved to a hangar in Salem at McNary Field. Volunteers have completely dismantled the entire plane so that they can examine every piece down to the bolts and fasteners.
Volunteers have donated thousands of man hours to the cause. The foundation expects to have the plane in flying condition around 2035.
According to the foundation there are less than 50 B-17 Flying Fortresses in the world today. After the war, many of the existing planes were stripped for parts or melted down for their metal.
Part of the difficulty in restoring such an aircraft is that there are no longer any spare parts to purchase. All needed parts will need to be manufactured to the original specifications from raw materials.
They estimate that they will need to raise $5 million just to get started on restoring the needed parts after they are done inspecting the current condition. They are accepting both private and corporate sponsorship from those willing to support their mission.
A voice mail message at the restaurant states that they hope to resume their catering business in the future.