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Air Force Chapel Will Close September 3 for Three-Year Renovation

The Cadet Chapel opened in 1962; it will close September 3 for a renovation.
The Cadet Chapel opened in 1962; it will close September 3 for a renovation. U.S. Air Force
Colorado is full of many man-made marvels — some weird and wacky, like Swetsville Zoo, and others simply wondrous, such as the United States Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs. But if you want to see that particular marvel, plan on making a quick trip over Labor Day weekend: The chapel will close to the public on September 3 for a major renovation that is slated to last three years. The chapel was designed in the late ’50s by Walter Netsch, then a 34-year-old architect with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; construction started in 1959, and it opened in 1962. The 150-foot-high aluminum, steel and glass structure earned raves from the start for its streamlined design that includes seventeen spires that look like jets streaming to the sky. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Here are five facts about the chapel, courtesy of the Air Force:

1. The Cadet Chapel was designed to have 21 spires, but due to budget constraints when construction began in 1959, its design was changed to include only 17.

2. The Cadet Chapel hosts more than 500,000 visitors annually.

3. Volunteers from the Colorado Springs area give more 2,500 hours each year to educate visitors about the Cadet Chapel and the legacy of the Academy.

4. The Cadet Chapel can accommodate five religious services at once. The chapel’s three levels and separate entrances allow services to occur simultaneously.

5. The Cadet Chapel hosts more than 100 weddings annually for graduates, active duty Airmen in Colorado and Purple Heart and Silver Star recipients.
The renovation work was supposed to start earlier this summer but was postponed when some of the funds were reallocated for repairs at a Florida Air Force base following Hurricane Michael last year.

Now plans are back on track, with JE Dunn Construction awarded the contract for the $158 million restoration and preservation project. Work will begin in earnest on November 1, after two months of preparation.


By the way, those "500,000 visitors annually" are enough to make the chapel "the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado," according to the Air Force Academy's website. (The Colorado Tourism Office was unable to confirm that stat.)

click to enlarge Another artistic take on a rocket: Bill Swets's sculpture. - ANTHONY CAMERA
Another artistic take on a rocket: Bill Swets's sculpture.
Anthony Camera
But starting September 3, that title will go to another roadside attraction...maybe the Swetsville Zoo? Bill Swets's metal menagerie just off I-25 in Fort Collins will remain open daily until the property sells and Swets moves on.

We posted a list of our favorite Colorado roadside attractions here; what are your favorites? Post a comment or email [email protected]
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun