Panel Tries to Get Air Terminal Plans Off the Ground

Times Staff Writer

About a mile and a half from Glendale's sparkling new skyline, amid a host of low-slung industrial buildings, the historic Grand Central Air Terminal confronts two very different futures.

Once Los Angeles' premier airport, the 2-story terminal and control tower complex is now owned by the Prudential Property Co. The building is scheduled for renovation into office space as part of Prudential's Grand Central Business Centre.

But recently, the 60-year-old terminal has also drawn the attention of the Glendale City Council, suddenly eager to have a historic transportation museum.

Last month Mayor Carl Raggio and Vonnie Rossman, chairman of the Historical Preservation Commission, met with representatives of Prudential and Property Management Systems, the firm that manages the Grand Central complex for Prudential.

Prudential Noncommittal

After the meeting, Raggio said he expected the Historical Preservation Commission to draft a "letter of intent" by the end of October that would briefly outline the city's plans for the building. The letter, Raggio said, represents a first step in the commission's exploration of the property as a museum site.

Prudential representatives remained noncommittal. "Talks have begun," said Gary Watson of Property Management Systems, "but by no means has a decision been reached. We are trying to move things along, but it's a matter of our receiving their letter, and Prudential responding."

Prudential bought the terminal and the nearby Grand Central Industrial Centre in 1977 and has been trying to find a single tenant for the building for the last few years, Watson said. Unable to do so, the company recently decided to restore the building's exterior and is considering partitioning the 29,000-square-foot interior into office suites.

Watson said work to restore the exterior will begin later this year. But Prudential officials said that, as yet, they have no final plans for the interior renovation.

The city's interest in the Grand Central Terminal surfaced at the Oct. 4 City Council meeting, when Rossman and several other commission supporters spoke about the need for a museum.

Rossman did not confine her proposal to that of a transportation museum at Grand Central--she cited the need for display space for everything from memorabilia of baseball's late Casey Stengel to quilts. She also suggested using downtown office space as an alternative to Grand Central. And others spoke of Glendale's role as Los Angeles' first aviation center, and the council clearly liked the idea of showcasing that history.

This is not the first time there has been interest in turning Grand Central into a museum. John Underwood, an author who has written about aviation's early days in Glendale, said Maj. Corliss C. Mosely, one of the terminal's early owners and a founder of Western Airlines, wanted to create an aviation museum at Grand Central as early as 1945.

1985 Idea Died

In 1985, aviation buff David Jacobs, an architect at Walt Disney Imagineering, also began promoting the idea of an aviation museum within the terminal. Told of the idea at that time, Rossman said she thought it was a good one but that it needed to be researched further. "A feasibility study needs to be done," she said then. "We have to research how it will be financed and if the community is interested."

Apparently that effort stalled, and the museum idea was pretty much forgotten until an unrelated event awakened Raggio's interest. Raggio said he had an exciting experience in a La Canada parade last summer, when he rode on an antique Glendale fire engine. When he was told by one of those who helped restore the engine that they did not have any place to display it, the idea of a transportation museum took root.

Still unclear is what, in addition to the fire engine, the museum would hold. While Rossman has said that she has been approached by model train enthusiasts, furniture refinishers and other "crafts people"--all eager to secure display space for their collections--the council has said that the museum should focus on the role of transportation in Glendale's development. Several council members have expressed hope that some of the aerospace companies that began in Glendale, among them Northrop and Hughes, would come forward with contributions. As yet, no one has contacted those companies.

The council also wants the museum to have facilities where craftsmen could restore transportation antiques, and it would like to incorporate a program that would teach restoration techniques to the public.

Two other large West Coast aviation museums, the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle and San Diego's Aerospace Museum, have restoration programs. The Boeing facility's program uses volunteers for all aspects of restoration. In San Diego, museum officials have found that allowing the public into restoration areas would increase insurance premiums to prohibitive levels. Consequently, the museum restricts access to small groups, which are allowed to view the area by appointment.

Letter Long Way Off

Equally unclear is whether the Historic Preservation Commission and the city will make a firm proposal before the terminal is subdivided. Rossman said Monday that the drafting of a letter of intent is still a long way off, and at last week's commission meeting the museum project was only briefly discussed.

Rossman, who speaks cautiously about the project, told the commission that she and Raggio have met with the "people from Prudential and also with several other men who own buildings and who are interested in the museum. It is just in the beginning stage. It takes a lot of study and, as all of you know, it takes a lot of doing, and it will take a lot of money."

For his part, Raggio seems eager to move ahead with the project.

"The feeling now is let's get something. We hope it's Grand Central, but if we can't get that, we'll do something else. We have to keep it on the front burner."

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