Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Air Force Academy Spirit

Cadet Chapel groundbreaking turns golden

By Stephen “Pete” Peterson

Cadet Chapel Public Relations director

Today marks 50 years to the day since construction on the Cadet Chapel began. It was on this day in 1959 that its world-renown design would go on to impact millions of future guests who’d visit the spectacular house of worship.

To celebrate, the chapel staff invites the public to attend the Golden Anniversary of the groundbreaking at 2 p.m. today. A concert featuring U.S. Air Force Academy Band Stellar Brass, Organ and Cadet Chorale is planned. The concert is expected to last approximately 40 minutes.

Historical storyboards will be displayed throughout the chapel showcasing rarely-seen construction photos as well as background information on the design and building of the structure. A video presentation of the 1963 dedication service will also be shown immediately following the concert. All levels of the chapel will be open to the public and chapel guides will be available to answer questions.

The principal designer-architect of the Cadet Chapel was Walter A. Netsch Jr.

The unique design of the Cadet Chapel took shape starting in 1959. (File Photo)

The unique design of the Cadet Chapel took shape starting in 1959. (File Photo)

Born in Chicago in 1920, Mr. Netsch studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Upon receiving his degree in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He began his career as an architect working for L. Morgan Yost. In 1947, he joined Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, when the firm was designing Oak Ridge, Tennessee, an Atomic Energy Commission town. It took Mr. Netsch, who was just 34 years old, five years to design the Cadet Chapel.

Robert E. McKee, General Contractor Inc. of Santa Fe, N.M. built the chapel from 1959-1963 for $3.5 million.

Mr. McKee was born June 15, 1889, in Chicago, Ill. His family moved to St. Louis, Mo. when he was a very small child. After the accidental death of his father when he was 10, he began his career of work and helping others. He received his education at the Manual Training School of Washington University. He left St. Louis as a young man to live on his Uncle “Bud” Cleve’s ranch located in Elk, New Mexico. After a short stay at the ranch, with a few dollars in his pocket, he moved to El Paso, Texas to begin an illustrious career in the engineering and construction field. He formed his own general contracting company in 1913 with a contract in the low four figure range. At the time of his death, his efforts in construction had expanded into one of the nation’s largest and most stable operations. During his lifetime career in the construction business, the Robert E. McKee company built some of the finest hospitals, hotels, libraries, educational buildings, industrial facilities and governmental offices in the United States.

Other major accomplishments included large military installations in the Panama Canal Zone and in  the Territory of Hawaii as well as many large military posts in the United States.

The employees of Robert E. McKee General Contractor were presented the Army-Navy “E” Award for high achievement on the Atomic Bomb Project at Los Alamos, N.M. In 1959 he was the major contractor for the new Los Angeles International Airport. While building a variety of major projects in 35 of the 50 states, he kept his headquarters and home in El Paso, with branch offices in Dallas, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and the Panama Canal Zone.

At completion, the aluminum, glass and steel structure soared 150 feet toward the Colorado sky. The chapel remains a house of worship for all faiths designed to accommodate the spiritual needs of cadets. Visually the most compelling structure on the Academy’s grounds (as well as Colorado’s top man-made tourist attraction) the chapel’s 17 silvery spires can be seen from miles away.

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