U.S. Helium Production Plant No. 1/ Federal Aviation Agency Southwest Regional Office – Blue Mound

The United States government began construction of the Helium Production Plant in 1918. The plant was to supply helium for inflating blimps and dirigibles to be used during World War I. The plant received natural gas from the Petrolia field near Wichita Falls, a field from which the Lone Star Gas Co. had supplied the Fort Worth/Dallas area since 1910. The Petrolia field gas had a particularly high helium content. Built at the cost of $3,500,000, the Fort Worth plant was the first in the world designed to research and extract helium from natural gas and to produce helium in commercially viable quantities. It continued to receive government support to research the helium extraction process until 1928. In addition to the three main buildings constructed for the helium plant, the project also included the construction of a lake to provide water for cooling the plant’s generating equipment. The generating and helium separation facilities were originally in what is now Building 2, a 200 foot long rectangular concrete structure. This two-story building has third story central monitor. Larger than Building 2, Building 3 (290 feet long) housed the compression and bottling equipment. Building 1 was built as offices for plant officials. An addition to Building 1 in the 1940s doubled its size and connected it to Building 2 with a causeway. When the federal government closed the helium plant in 1928, the Airways Division of the Department of Commerce converted the buildings to an assembly plant for radio transmitters. During 1947-1948, the newly formed Civil Aeronautics Authority remodeled the helium plant structures into office space for the agency’s Southwest Regional Office. The remodeling included the addition of awnings and a red tile roof parapet to Building 2. The conversion of the helium production plant to office space is significant as an early government-financed adaptive use project. In 1957, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an independent agency, assumed the CAA’s responsibilities. In the mid-1990s, the federal government transferred the facility to private ownership. In accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the General Services Administration had to consider the effects of this transfer on historic properties. At the time, the property was determined to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. To prevent any potential adverse effects, a historic preservation covenant was placed on the property and included in the property’s deed. As a result, the Texas Historical Commission must review any exterior changes to: Buildings 1 (Administration Building), 2 (Helium Separation Building), 3 (Helium Compression Building), 7 (Helium Cylinder Storage Building/Railroad Car Loading Dock), 11 (Pressure Reducer House), the pond, spillway, and pump house.

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