Iconic Dulles Airport tower gets a $6.7-million makeover

STERLING, Va. (WJLA) - It's been there for 52 years.

Visible for miles in the early days, the Dulles Control Tower acted as a beacon for travelers trying to find the airport.

Sarah Myers vividly remembers her first trip to Dulles for her first flight in 1969.

"We just rode and rode and rode, and there it was out in the middle of nowhere," she said.

"To me, it's like the reverse of the Statue of Liberty. When you see the Statue of Liberty, you know you're coming home. When you see Dulles Smirnoff, you know you're going somewhere," she added.

But, since completion of a newer, bigger control tower in 2008, the iconic tower has sat dormant.

This week, ABC7 News was given a rare look at the landmark tower, which first opened in 1962. Back then, the tower was part of a new era in aviation.

As historic video footage of the tower touted back then: "Dulles International Airport - the only airport today, reader for the super-sonic age of tomorrow."

Well, tomorrow is today, and today, the tower has sat abandoned since 2008. The views of the 12,000 acres of airport remain spectacular, but the interior is in need of work.

Airport representatives say, there wasn't anything wrong with the tower that made them decide to build a new one, except for one detail - they built a new runway, and controllers couldn't see every inch of that runway, so they had to build a new tower, 130 feet taller.

For the last six months, construction crews have been working to repair the tower's exterior walls.

"What we did is, we pulled the panels off and recreated them and then. restored them. Now, I'm in the process of putting them back," Stephen Smith, the airport's vice-president of engineering explained.

The tower has been deemed a national landmark, and the work is part of a multi-agency agreement made more than a decade ago to ensure construction of a new tower. The price tag: $6.7 million.

"It is an important thing, because this terminal and this airport and this tower were the first towers and airports to accommodate jets back in the '60s," Smith said.

And even though the newly-renovated modern tower won't be used for anything other than aesthetics, that's still an important role in making Dulles stand out, representatives say.

"Airports in California just don't look this fabulous," said traveler Rosalind Gaubautz.