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Spruce Goose to Be Moved to Oregon

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The legendary Spruce Goose, a symbol of magnificence in aviation history, will be moved from its lifelong berth in Long Beach to McMinnville, Ore., its owners decided Thursday night.

The world’s largest aircraft will become a centerpiece for a new museum of historic planes planned by Evergreen International Aviation Inc.

Board members of the Aero Club of Southern California, which owns the plane built by the late billionaire Howard Hughes, voted unanimously to send the aircraft to Oregon. In choosing Evergreen, the club eliminated proposals from developers in Tampa, Fla., the private Oceanside Tourism Foundation in San Diego County and others.

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“We felt the most substantial proposal was from Evergreen, which operates aircraft and helicopters worldwide and already has a large collection of historic aircraft,” said William A. Schoneberger, president of Aero Exhibits Inc., a subsidiary of the Aero Club. He noted that the airline company has experience in restoring and maintaining vintage airplanes.

Thursday night’s vote ends months of speculation about the future of the Spruce Goose. By this fall, its wings will be clipped, its tail assembly removed and it will be placed on barges for the trip up the Pacific Coast.

Aero Club members began pondering the behemoth’s future earlier this year, when the Walt Disney Co. announced that it would not renew its contract to manage the Spruce Goose or the Queen Mary ship. The Disney Co., which has managed both tourist attractions since 1988, said the venerable ship and the legendary plane are too costly to operate. Disney officials cited annual losses in the millions.

With both attractions threatened with closure, dozens of Queen Mary supporters and workers have urged city and port officials to keep the liner open. But there has been little outcry in Long Beach about the Spruce Goose leaving.

“There’s not the same feeling and same association as there is with the Queen Mary,” said John Shirey, Long Beach assistant city manager. “The Spruce Goose hasn’t been on public display for nearly as long as the Queen Mary. Furthermore, the Spruce Goose is housed within a dome. It’s not a symbolic icon as is the Queen Mary.”

Long Beach Councilman Warren Harwood disagreed, saying that the Spruce Goose is a valuable asset Long Beach cannot afford to lose. “It could have been a major aero museum and an important part of our future. And it’s been thrown away,” he said.

Aero Club board members said they received no hint of interest from anyone in Long Beach. “There was no proposal for us to look at,” said James W. Ragsdale, Aero Club’s vice president.

Schoneberger said he had “some pangs” about the plane leaving Southern California. But he said board members want to do “what’s best for the airplane.”

Schoneberger declined to discuss financial details of the deal with Evergreen, saying that the Aero Club will either lease the plane or sell it to the firm.

Hughes built the gargantuan plane, which has a wingspan of 320 feet, in Culver City and transferred it to Long Beach for final assembly in 1946. The aircraft was supposed to be the first of a fleet of planes that would carry troops during World War II. But the war ended before the first plane was completed.

The Spruce Goose--a name Hughes hated--flew only once. Hughes flew it for about one mile before splashing down in the ocean. After that, the plane remained in a hangar for years.

In 1980, the Wrather Corp. bought the Spruce Goose, which is actually constructed mainly of birchwood and only a small amount of spruce. Wrather placed the plane under a giant dome next to the Queen Mary and opened it as an attraction. Disney began managing both attractions in 1988, when it bought out the Wrather Corp.

While the future of the Spruce Goose has been decided, the fate of the Queen Mary remains uncertain.

The Port of Long Beach, which owns the stately ship that has become a symbol for the city, began last week to solicit potential buyers or managers. In recent months, more than 40 companies and individuals have expressed an interest in the ship that has been docked in Long Beach for 25 years.

To win more time to find a new operator for the ship, the Board of Long Beach Harbor Commissioners asked Disney last month to continue managing the attraction through the end of the year.

Disney’s contract expires Sept. 30 but company officials have been meeting with representatives from the Port of Long Beach to negotiate a possible extension.


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