Upgraded Voice of America Museum reopening soon in West Chester: What to expect

The coronavirus pandemic shuttered the Voice of America Museum in West Chester Twp., but the iconic landmark will soon reopen with plans to build a new 2,200-square-foot multipurpose hall for public use.

The museum was closed when the pandemic hit but will reopen on weekends beginning April 17 and perhaps a few days during the week this summer.

Executive Director Jack Dominic said the museum is building the Elliott Block Pavilion, complete with Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms and a catering area. Another 2,000-square-foot exhibit hall is planned for the future.

Dominic told the Journal-News that Block, who owned low-power television stations in Cincinnati and was involved in television and radio his entire life, donated $225,000 for the pavilion, but he passed away before the project could be built.

“Over the years we’ve had many requests from civic groups, corporate groups that just need a relatively small place to do off-site meetings or lectures, we’ve even had people want to get married here,” Dominic said. “We’ve said no because we didn’t have the restrooms, we didn’t have the creature comforts, it wasn’t air-conditioned, it wasn’t heated.”

Dominic said he doesn’t have a completion date yet, as next steps include getting building permits and approval from the National Park Service, which has oversight because it is a national historic site.

The museum has raised $350,000 in addition to Block’s donation since 2014 to pay for many upgrades like technology, new ceilings, floors, LED lighting, air conditioning in the exhibit hall, paving for the east parking lot and more displays.

“What really sets this museum apart from most others is the talented and skilled volunteers,” Dominic told the township trustees in a recent meeting. “All of those things I talked about doing, about $350,000 worth, if we would have done that in the traditional way it would probably double the cost.”

The VOA-Bethany station transmitted VOA news to Europe during World War II and South America during the Cold War. The Bethany station was decommissioned by the federal government in 1994 after shortwave radio technology was supplanted by television and satellite technology.

Situated along Tylersville Road, the art deco-style museum and its technology served as the main conduit for the United States to present news, entertainment and educational programming from actual press agencies to people worldwide seeking facts instead of state-fed propaganda.

“As you all know broadcasts from that facility changed the lives of people around the world,” Dominic said. “It is so heartening when people come to Cincinnati and they come to the museum, sometimes with tears in their eyes, they say, ‘This is where I listened.’”

The township owns the building and surrounding property, and the museum board pays for utilities, maintenance and building improvements. Traditionally the trustees make annual donations to the museum, which was $50,000 this year.

“You guys have really done an extraordinary job,” Trustee Mark Welch said. “These are the kinds of things that help put West Chester on the map. It’s not just the building, it’s the history behind it that is so significant.”

About the Author