Saying it can no longer afford to stay open, the Armed Forces History Museum announced Wednesday that it is closing.
It will shut its doors for the last time Jan. 29 at 4 p.m.
The museum was the brainchild of the late John J. Piazza, Sr. who founded it on Aug. 16, 2008. He stocked it with military memorabilia ranging from grenades to tanks that he had collected over 55 years.
The museum won many awards and was critically acclaimed. It was featured not only on local and regional news, but also received national and international coverage.
Despite the critical acclaim and an estimated 25,000 visitors a year, it never climbed out of the red. That was attributed in part to the location — hidden away in a warehouse in an industrial park on Ulmerton Road — and in part to its narrow focus.
The museum was only able to stay open because Piazza funded it until his death Oct. 3.
Even though it had financial woes, the museum had a big impact.
Through the museum’s Operation Education program, the museum would provide complimentary admission, a hot lunch and bus transportation for underprivileged children. Thousands of children throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties benefited from this free program.
Children latched onto the hands of the museum’s docents/veterans during tours and activities. Docents and veterans shared their experiences from being on the front lines of battle, as well as taught youths core values and characteristics exemplified by the military via the use of museum-produced cartoon mascots known as Military Max and “Mighty” the M8, who were designed to be the epitome of heroes.
Thousands of veterans passed through its doors. Some proudly shared their personal histories with their sons, daughters and families. Others sat, reflected and remembered the fallen either inside the museum’s walls or outside at the museum’s memorial walk. Some attempted to find peace, solace and closure.
The museum also played host to numerous military weddings, honorable retirement ceremonies and celebration of life services. Others rented the museum for private receptions, business meetings, holiday parties and military-themed birthday bashes for children.
The museum also developed a special event series. Annual events included a Memorial Day Family Funfest, the interactive Ride Through History days, the Red, White and Craft Brews Fest, which was always celebrated on Armed Forces Day, and the popular USO Show re-enactments, which took place at the St. Petersburg Coliseum.
The Piazza family estate and the museum’s board of directors are in discussions regarding the future of the museum’s collections. While the closure of the facility is just two short months away, becoming acquired by another organization or the government are still being investigated with all opportunities being considered.