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Hangars Full of History

When we talk of monumental structures in Southern California, the blimp hangars of Tustin surely rank near the top. Landmarks since they were erected in World War II to house blimps and planes, they are now what? Eyesores, potential auto showrooms, maybe the future site of the world’s tallest covered tree nursery?

The hangars are the property of the Marine Corps, which built them in 1942. But the Marines will close the Tustin Marine Corps Air Facility next year, turning different parts of the property over to the city or Orange County. The city will get the south hangar; the county the north. For them to maintain the enormous structures--183 feet tall, more than 900 feet long--the economics will have to work.

Tustin city officials say it costs about $2 million a year to maintain each hangar. It is understandable that the city and county would not want to spend that much simply because the two buildings are the largest free-standing wooden structures ever built.

If the hangars could be used by businesses and somehow pay their own way, it could benefit the community.

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Another factor is history. With the nearby El Toro Marine Corps Air Station due to close next year, Orange County eventually could lose these reminders of the important role the military and defense industry played in its growth.

A state preservation official wants the Marines to require that the south hangar not be torn down for at least six months after the base closes. That seems reasonable, and meanwhile the county is studying uses for the north one. If the Marines leave the structures shipshape, the city and county might not have to spend $1 million each for six months’ maintenance and can concentrate their efforts on finding a future productive use.

With 14 months left before the base closes, the city and county should let businesses far and wide learn of the availability of these landmark structures for various kinds of commercial operations. Keeping them would provide a fitting link to the past, from the halls of Montezuma to the hangars of Tustin.


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