Downey tries to reclaim space history
For half a century, life in Downey revolved around the 167-acre NASA site in the middle of town.
It was there, in airplane hangars erected on former bean fields, that the city's men and women designed and built the spaceships that took the first Americans to the moon.
Then came 1999, when Boeing, which was operating the site at the time, moved its operations out of town.
The birthplace of the celebrated Apollo spacecraft and the space shuttle became "a gaping hole," said Downey Mayor David Gafin.
"The paint was peeling, tumbleweeds were growing, asphalt was cracking," he recalled recently.
Today, the site is home to the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a shiny new museum scheduled to open in late January that city leaders hope will allow the city to reclaim its piece of aerospace history and prove that it is getting back on its feet.
The museum's directors say that it will be a learning center, aimed at teaching younger generations about Downey's legacy and getting them excited about space.
In the nearly 10 years since Boeing left, the city has worked hard to redevelop the property. It now has a shopping complex, a new hospital and Downey Studios, a consortium of film production companies that shoot movies in the old warehouses.