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Victory for veterans -- WWII barracks at O.C. Fairgrounds to be saved

In a victory for veterans and preservationists, a former World War II-era barracks at the Orange County Fairgrounds will be spared the wrecking ball after all.

The Orange County Fair Board agreed Monday to examine relocating the historic Memorial Gardens Building, first to a temporary site and then to a yet-to-be determined, permanent location on the 150-acre fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

"This is just a tremendous and exciting effort," said Nick Berardino, a fair board member and a Vietnam veteran.

Berardino said he hoped the building would house or somehow be a part of a proposed war museum, which could honor veterans and pay tribute to the area's former identity as the Santa Ana Army Air Base.

The structure, built around 1942, was slated to be torn down -- with its historical pieces salvaged — after this summer's current county fair ended to make way for a new entrance plaza for the Pacific Amphitheatre.

The Memorial Gardens Building was designated as a California Point of Historical Interest decades ago, but that distinction is not enough in itself to spare it from destruction.

The fairgrounds property was once part of the nearly 1,300-acre Army base, which served as training grounds from 1942 to 1946.

"My father-in-law was a World War II veteran," Supervisor John Moorlach, who supported preserving the barracks, said in an email Monday to supporters. "My folks lived through Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. To say that I'm proud of our veterans is an understatement. Maintaining the historical landmark at the O.C. Fair is great news. "

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bradley.zint@latimes.com

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