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Devotees Want Carrier's Museum To Open In Miami

Aviation news: Pan Am legacy museum in Miami?

LATOYA BURGESS  Aug 20, 2010

Pan Am used to be one of the most recognized trademarks in the world. Now devotees want to cement the legacy of the airline that made Miami its home.

Former employees of Pan American World Airways are looking to establish a permanent museum of the airline somewhere in Miami.

The airline was based in the city from 1927 until the mid '40s, and its former seaplane terminal is now Miami's City Hall.

Even after the company moved its headquarters to New York after World War II, Miami remained a major Pan Am hub. When the airline folded in 1991, it still had 6,500 South Florida workers.

`It would be nice to have a museum here,'' said Renate Van Kempema, a former Pan Am employee who now works as a flight attendant for Delta. ``Pan Am was great to all of us, and we don't want it to be forgotten.''

Pan Am artifacts and documents have been stored or displayed at the University of Miami and the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, now called HistoryMiami. But the Pan Am Historical Foundation, a group of former employees working to preserve the airline's memorabilia, want to gather all the artifacts in one place for a permanent, public exhibit.

``At the University of Miami, there are paper documents, and the museum holds objects and artifacts,'' said Pan Am's former vice president of corporate communications, Jeff Kriendler.

These artifacts are used for research, but Kriendler said Pan Am has a large reservoir of materials stored in a federal warehouse.

Pan American World Airways was founded in October 1927 by Juan Terry Trippe. The airline originated in Key West, but with the arrival of larger and more powerful aircraft in the late 1920s, it moved its headquarters and terminal to what is now City Hall in Coconut Grove and called it Dinner Key.

The Dinner Key terminal featured a restaurant and cocktail lounge on the upper deck, with the terminal and customs downstairs.

Pan Am was once one of the most recognized trademarks in the world, which is why many former employees like Van Kempema would like to see a permanent museum of the former airline in the city she now calls home.

Van Kempema, a native of Germany, worked as a stewardess for Pan Am in 1966. She recalled what it was like working for the historic airline.

``I felt extremely privileged to work for Pan Am because the selection process was severe,'' said Van Kempema, of Coral Gables. ``Everyone had to speak a foreign language, and there were weight restrictions. I'm 5-5, and the maximum I could weigh was 128 pounds.''

Van Kempema is the president of the Miami branch of World Wings International, a philanthropic organization of former Pan Am employees who work to end poverty in third-world countries.

The 67-year-old said she would like to see a museum in Miami because the younger generation should learn what Pan Am was to the world.

Local historian Paul George hosts an annual history tour on Pan Am. He says that although he is not a member of the Pan Am Historical Foundation, former Pan Am employees come out to hear his lectures.

``We really want to keep that memory alive,'' said George, a Miami Dade College history professor. ``Getting a museum here is the best way to do it.''

George said it is the foundation's intention to make the museum a permanent one and says the group's membership for a long-lasting exhibit.

``We're hoping someone will step forward and give seed money,'' he said. ``This project is on a state and national level, so I'm sure the group can secure grants . . .''

Miami City Commissioner Wifredo Gort met with former Pan Am employees in June to discuss possible locations for the exhibition.

``They requested floor plans of the basement inside City Hall, and it is definitely an option -- it has plenty of room. The city is willing to work with them,'' Gort said. Gort also said Miami is the ideal city for Pan Am's exhibit because of the former airline's history here.

``Miami has so many international flights and international visitors, I think it's an excellent idea,'' he said.

Nowadays, Pan Am is just a memory, but George hopes Miami will soon get a permanent reminder of Pan Am's importance.

``I think it's important to get that museum, said George, whose aunt, uncle and father all worked for Pan Am. ``It will enhance the lives of a lot of people in this community.''

Aviation news: Pan Am legacy museum in Miami?
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