Franklin D. Roosevelt suggested building it. A Jewish refugee designed it to match structures in Nazi Germany. Utah prisoners helped construct it quickly. Then the Army hit it for years with incendiary bombs, flame-throwers and chemical-agent tests.
Now, "German Village" at Dugway Proving Ground where the Army tested how weapons would work on German architecture and materials during World War II is finally about to collapse. The Army is proposing to let it do so, rather than repair it to allow its inclusion on the National Register for Historic Places.
"We are proposing this due to lack of funding," said Dugway spokeswoman Paula Nicholson.
However, according to an Army pamphlet, Dugway and the Utah State Historic Preservation Office earlier had tried to preserve the structure while developing an "agreement that will allow (Dugway) to meet mission requirements" for continued defense tests nearby "without decreasing the consideration typically afforded historic properties."
However, Nicholson said that did not happen because Dugway never could obtain money in annual budgets to save the building.
Dugway ran a legal notice in Utah newspapers last month saying a recent structural evaluation "concluded that without extensive repairs, the building is likely to collapse within five years."
The Army is proposing to let it go, but to create a multimedia project that will detail its history and architecture before it disappears. The Army is accepting public comments on that proposal through April 13.
Wilson Martin, state historic preservation officer, said laws overseeing preservation of federal historic buildings merely require a dialogue between the Army, the state, Indian tribes and other interested parties and leave the decision on preservation to the Army.
"So it's their decision. There are no restrictions on proceeding with demolition," he said. "We concurred with their finding that the structure is eligible for the national register, and that demolition would be an adverse impact."
He said the Army has submitted a proposed memorandum of agreement to the state that calls merely for the multimedia project to preserve the building's history. He said the Army, however, is allowed by law to proceed with such plans with or without state concurrence.
The "village" is actually six German row houses built side-by-side and back-to-back into one large building.
During World War II, President Roosevelt suggested building a mock city to parallel construction of German and Japanese structures to test effectiveness of then-new incendiary bombs and flame-throwers.
As a result, Dugway built "German Village" and the adjacent "Japanese Village." The Japanese Village was made out of wood, and was burned down and rebuilt several times but vanished long ago. German Village was made of masonry and plaster that proved to be almost fireproof, except for ceiling beams and furniture.
It was designed by a German Jewish refugee, Eric Mendelson. Parts of the village represented construction and materials found in the Rhineland, and parts represented styles found in central and eastern Germany.
Wood similar to that used in Germany was imported from Russia. The Army also hired the RKO movie studio in Hollywood to verify that furniture built for and used in the building properly simulated German furniture.
To speed the project, Army histories say contractors recruited prisoners from Utah jails to work with craftsmen. They completed the six German units and 24 Japanese apartment buildings in two months.
When tests began, on-site fire crews would fight blazes once officers were satisfied with test results and special crews repaired structures between bombings. Still, 21 target units were destroyed by fire in one week during June 1943.Incendiary tests at German Village continued through the Korean War. Tests of chemical arms defenses also occurred at the site in later decades, according to Army documents released through the years to the Deseret Morning News.
E-mail: [email protected]