Pasadena firm designs $7.5 million project at National WWII Museum

By Luke Netzley

Deputy Editor of the Pasadena Weekly

OOften known as “The War that Changed the World”, World War II saw the death of nearly 3% of the Earth’s population and was arguably the most influential event of the 20th century. Dedicated in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as the National WWII Museum of the United States, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans tells the story of the American experience during World War II. world and explains why the war was fought, how it was won and what it means today.

To complete the museum expansion project, the National WWII Museum has partnered with Hettema Group, the Pasadena-based experiential design firm, pushing the boundaries of artistic and architectural creativity through its imaginative global installations. , to introduce a new cinematic experience to its Liberation Pavilion, scheduled to open in spring 2023.

“My parents were children of World War II, and my grandparents’ generation was part of that,” said Chris Ellis, who is writing the screenplay for the Liberation Pavilion movie experience. “We’re the last generation that will ever look into the eyes of the people who were there, so making sure we’re telling the right story is so important.”

The partnership between the National Museum of the Second World War and the Hettema Group goes back more than 10 years, to the beginning of the expansion of the museum, when the long-term vision of bringing together a collection of pavilions, exhibitions and programs to tell the stories of the Second World War was born.

Funded by a $7.5 million gift from the Priddy Family Foundation, the largest individual gift in the institution’s history, the Liberation Pavilion will house two floors of exhibition space and explore the end of the war, the Holocaust, the immediate post-war period and the war. continuous impact. The pavilion serves as a bookend to the Hettema Group’s previous development, ‘Beyond All Boundaries’, which debuted as part of the museum’s Solomon Victory Theater in 2009 and still serves as the entry point for the visitor experience today. today.

“What we do at Hettema Group is create immersive experiences,” said Phil Hettema, Pasadena native and founder of Hettema Group. “We strongly believe that if you can bring people into a situation and immerse them and all of their senses, and that goes beyond just watching a movie, but also seeing, sound, changing the context of where they are and putting them in another environment, you start to create a deeper type of engagement and impression on them.

This sense-based immersion will not only be achieved through the installation of a turntable-based theater that will literally move the audience through time, moving from one chapter of history to the next, but also through to the inclusion of first-person accounts of the battlefields. that provide both historical context and emotional, personal insights that will inform the rest of the public’s visit to the museum.

“It’s really about finding those individual voices that could speak for a lot,” Ellis said. “In the first show, Tom Hanks was the narrator. And it’s one thing for Tom Hanks to tell you the fighting in Guadalcanal was awful, it’s another thing to hear an 18-year-old kid write to his mother that at night people are screaming for their mothers. It’s about finding that personal connection, something that allows the audience to connect.

Prior to the cinematic experience, visitors will learn about the end of World War II and the post-war years through the first-floor galleries of the Liberation Pavilion, honoring Americans killed or injured during the conflict, examining the horrors of the Holocaust as well as moments of liberation and highlighting the history of the Men’s and Women’s Monuments through an interfaith chapel which offers a quiet space for contemplation.

For Hettema, this exhibit strikes a chord, as his father was a B-17 fighter pilot who flew 35 missions over Germany during World War II.

“One of the great experiences of my life was being able to have him by our side as we worked on the first project ‘Beyond All Boundaries’, and I wish he were still there to see us with this project. “, Hettema said. “It wasn’t until the latter part of his life that my dad, and a lot of veterans, would look back and really talk about specific experiences, but that’s because they believed so strongly in the life that they were coming back to and that they were to be able to enjoy the fruits of what they fought so hard for. And I think what would be so painful for him today is to feel like it was all somehow questioned.

While the production shares stories and images from the heights of war, it also examines its aftermath and discusses the nation’s role in the post-war world order, a discourse that remains deeply relevant to the European continent today. today as the Russian state steps up its invasion of Ukraine. .

By highlighting post-war initiatives, alliances and sentiments, the museum seeks to remind its visitors that the struggle for freedom around the world seen during the battles of World War II did not end. with the defeat of the Axis powers but still persists today.

“That’s what history is really for, not just so we can look back and understand and have a record of the past, but so it can inform our actions as we move forward,” Hettema said. . “I think the role of this museum is to keep alive the lessons and history of WWII, both the conflict itself and the efforts of this generation, to preserve the freedom of this country and to much of the rest of the world.”

Although the stories of World War II and their relevance to the present can paint a bleak picture, the museum seeks to instill a sense of hope and progress towards a brighter future by highlighting the joys of homecoming as well as new technological innovations, movements for social change, and developments in international and national affairs that resulted from the conflict.

The Hettema Group’s film production at the National WWII Museum will combine their experiential design and immersive settings with first-person experiences, personal artifacts and iconic imagery to paint an engaging and informative picture of war and its impact, an image with which they hope to remain visitors long after their departure.

“Coming out of COVID, I think there’s now a huge desire for people to connect with each other and have real experiences in real time and interact with each other in spaces in live,” Hettema said. “It’s really exciting to see this come to life and to know that people will be able to enjoy this experience when it opens in a few years. We are seeing that there is a huge appetite for engaging experiences, and everyone is looking forward to it. to go out again and share experiences with each other.

To learn more about The Hettema Group and their upcoming film experience at the National WWII Museum, visit

“The new cinematic experience of the Hettema group
at the National Museum of the Second World War »

WHEN: Spring 2023


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