Tustin cleans up former Marine base with iconic blimp hangars

Worldwide Aeros built a blimp–like aircraft in hangar at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin in 2017.
Worldwide Aeros built a blimp–like aircraft in a WWII–era blimp hangar at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin in 2017.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

The 17-story twin hangars in Tustin once housed blimps that the U.S. military used to patrol the coast during World War II.

The site was also used in famed movies and television shows like “Austin Powers,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Star Trek.”

But since the hangars closed in 1999, the former Marine Corps Air Station. has become dilapidated, and the future of the unused land has been uncertain.

After plans for an Orange County regional park fell through last year, the city decided to move forward with the most significant cleanup of the site since it was closed, devoting $330,000 to the effort.

Since it began the cleanup in November, the city has removed large containers, scrap piles, various abandoned equipment and interior broken fencing from the site. The city also repaired and replaced fencing on the perimeter of the site and trimmed up and removed overgrown vegetation.

Ken Piguee, senior management analyst with the city, said during a presentation at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night that some of the cleanup made areas more visible, removing “places for people to do things that we don’t want them to be doing on the property.” The trimming of the vegetation also improved areas that could be prone to fires. Piguee showed several before-and-after photos during the meeting to emphasize the significant amount of refuse that was cleared off the property.

“The site can really start looking better as we just start taking better care of it,” he said. “That really hasn’t been happening for the past 20 years.”

Piguee said the city is currently conducting a hazardous materials assessment of the buildings on the site and will eventually put together a report and potentially move forward with an abatement plan. The city will also conduct regular maintenance of the site.

In the meantime, the city will also explore potential revenue opportunities for the site until it comes up with a permanent plan for the area. The city’s reuse plan could take up to two years to create, according to a city staff report. Some of the former base has already been developed into the District shopping center, office buildings and residences. The overall plan for the former base is to turn it into “Tustin Legacy.”

During the meeting, the City Council praised the cleanup efforts.

“So when we started on this process of cleaning up that area, I was skeptical of the costs,” Councilman Ryan Gallagher said. “Seeing these pictures, you really appreciate the scale of what was done here and how overgrown it was ... We’re doing the right thing and we’re giving this area the respect it deserves, and the community does want that.”

Mayor Pro Tem Barry Cooper, a U.S. Marine veteran who served at the Tustin base, said he has heard from former veterans who are excited about the cleanup of the base.

“This is sacred land, and thank you for taking care of this,” Cooper said. “It’s a blessing to see this.”

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