Louisiana shipbuilding magnate Donald “Boysie” Bollinger has donated $20 million to the National World War II Museum, a gift that will fund the construction of a signature canopy at the 6-acre Warehouse District campus, provide at least $6 million toward other exhibits and swell the museum’s endowment fund by $4 million.
The donation — the largest single gift the museum has ever received — will be announced at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The 150-foot-tall Canopy of Peace will be an illuminated shade structure over the museum’s “parade ground,” surrounded by exhibit halls.
Bollinger said he thinks bringing a signature architectural element to the museum will make it an instantly recognizable part of the New Orleans skyline and cement the association of the nation’s official World War II museum with the city internationally.
But he also hopes his gift inspires other donors to try to top him.
“The museum has been a big part of my life for 20 years,” he said Monday while sitting in the museum’s conference room on Magazine Street.
Bollinger, who is on the museum’s board of trustees and has championed its cause since it was little more than an idea two decades ago, said he set his sights on topping Boeing’s $15 million donation for the Freedom Pavilion in 2010.
“When I realized I could do something larger than that, I thought I would set a new high mark for somebody else to come in and maybe give more,” he said.
The museum, which opened to widespread acclaim in 2000, embarked on a capital campaign to raise $325 million to reach completion later this decade.
Bollinger’s donation brings that fundraising effort to the $245 million mark, leaving $80 million to go, museum spokeswoman Kacey Hill said.
The museum opened the first phase of its Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, the eight-gallery, 32,000-square-foot exhibit “The Road to Berlin,” late last year, and expects to open “The Road to Tokyo” in December.
Money is also in place for a parking garage planned on the river side of Magazine Street. The planned Liberation Pavilion, focusing on the end of the war, and the Hall of Democracy, a high-tech education center and lecture space, still lack financing. Boosters hope they’ll be funded soon and built by 2018.
“We can see the end,” Bollinger said, “and I’m hoping this gift motivates others to do something that will help us get there quicker.”
The canopy, which will cost between $8 million and $10 million and could be completed in 2017, will consist of panels made of a Teflon-coated fiberglass membrane to provide shade. They will act as a screen upon which programmable lighting and messages can be projected from below.
“I think that eventually this canopy and this whole museum profile will be an iconic image for New Orleans,” Bollinger said.
The museum said the canopy is designed to “symbolize the hope and promise unleashed by the end of World War II hostilities” and “the enduring spirit of the wartime slogan, ‘We’re all in this together!’ ”
The idea for the canopy has been around for several years, but the museum’s board generally felt that funding should go first toward exhibits that tell the stories of the war and those who fought it, Bollinger said.
He said dedicating half of his donation to the canopy will give the museum a distinctive visual element as it nears completion.
“I wanted to make sure the canopy was built as the final, big crowning point of the museum,” he said. “By giving $10 million for the canopy, I’m assured, and the museum is assured, that it is built.”
Bollinger said the $4 million portion of his gift that will boost the endowment, which he created while he was chairman of the museum board, will be a strong boost to a fund that serves as a steady source of operational money for the museum.
In another development stemming from the donation, the museum’s Stage Door Canteen, a 1940s-style entertainment space that serves as a living exhibit for music of the war era, will now be called BB’s Stage Door Canteen, a reference to the nickname Bollinger’s grandchildren have for him.
It’s not a typical case of naming rights, he said. Most people won’t know it’s a reference to Bollinger, just those closest to him. That, he said, makes it “very personal.”
Bollinger said he became involved with the museum two decades ago rather by accident: A friend he had asked to serve on a nonprofit’s board told him he would do so only if Bollinger reciprocated by joining the board of the museum, which was then still just a concept being championed by New Orleans author and historian Stephen Ambrose.
Bollinger said the energy and effort it took to open the museum in 2000 very quickly made it a passion for him, and his experiences talking to and working with veterans as the museum grew in scope and ambition made him appreciate its importance. He cited a trip he made to Normandy on behalf of the museum and the opening ceremonies on the D-Day anniversary in 2000 as crucial milestones.
“The reaction (of veterans) to the outpouring of thanks from the community and the nation was impressive and made me realize how important what we were doing was for them,” he said.
His early involvement in the day-to-day operations of the museum also got him thinking about how the museum could teach future generations about the concepts of unity and democracy, he said.
Bollinger is chairman and chief executive officer of Bollinger Enterprises and is the former chairman and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards Inc., a family-owned shipyard established in 1946.