Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Glendale Approves Disney's Grand Central Air Terminal Renovation Plan

The Grand Central Air Terminal, the elegant but long-neglected centerpiece of Glendale’s role in aviation history, is finally going to get the restoration it deserves. Glendale’s Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve Disney’s plan for the restoration of Grand Central, which includes extensive structural stabilization and seismic upgrades, restoration of the exterior and rehabilitation of significant interior spaces so the building can be adaptively reused as a visitor center, offices and event space for the surrounding Disney Grand Central Creative Complex. According to the 2000 agreement between Glendale and Disney (pdf link), limited public access is required, probably through a reservation system. There will be a media wall and interpretive displays illuminating the history of Grand Central. Excitingly, many of the renderings show an airplane out front. An actual airplane (or two!) in front of Grand Central would provide historical context in a way no media wall can.

I spoke at the meeting to comment on the Grand Central Air Terminal proposal. Here's what I said:

I really like the proposal. I have 3 comments: 
1. I understand that Disney is only required to provide "limited public access" through a reservation system, but I would hope that as a gesture of goodwill toward the community Disney will increase the scope of public access and not require reservations to visit the terminal. Perhaps in addition to the historical displays they could even add rotating exhibits of items from the Disney Archives, which are located nearby, to encourage the public to visit and learn about the rich history of both the Grand Central Air Terminal and the Walt Disney Company. I recently visited the Reagan Library, and there was a temporary exhibit of Disney memorabilia there that was very well attended. It would also be great if local non-profits such as Ascencia or The Glendale Historical Society could use the event space for fundraisers in what will be the most beautiful and historic building in Glendale. 
2. In the proposal, having a plane on the taxiway is presented as a mere "possibility." Having a plane out front is a fantastic idea that instantly provides historical context in a way no "media wall" possibly can. I would recommend at least two planes: a twin engined DC-3 airliner, which occupies the taxiway in many of the most iconic photographs of the Grand Central Air Terminal; and also a P-38 Lighting*, the sleek twin-tailed fighter that operated from Grand Central in great numbers during World War Two. 
A P-38 flying out of Grand Central. 
3. I also would like to suggest allowing limited public access to the control tower itself, which the proposal mentions cannot be "legally" used as it contains only one means of access. I'm not sure if the city could grant an exemption of some kind to allow access, or perhaps visitors could sign a waiver before entering. I'm sure the views from up there are great. It would be especially cool if that area were restored to the way it looked when Grand Central was a functioning airport and give visitors an evocative glimpse into this piece of Glendale, and now Disney, history.

The HPC approved the project unanimously with 2 conditions -- that Disney add a beacon element to the control tower, and use glass in one area for historical accuracy -- and 2 considerations, which the commission cannot require Disney to do but request they consider: allow greater public access than required in the 2000 development agreement and place an airplane of the appropriate period on the site.

The Air Terminal building and control tower at 1310 Air Way is just about all that remains from Glendale’s once thriving Grand Central Airport. Grand Central was the departure site for the nation’s first regularly scheduled coast to coast flight, piloted by Charles Lindbergh. Other famous names in aviation who flew from Grand Central include Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes. The airport became a military base during WWII, and was used to train pilots to fly the P-38 Lightning fighter. The airport closed in the late 1950s and the area has been offices and warehouses ever since. The Air Terminal building itself fell into disrepair in the early 1990s, and Disney purchased the building in 1997.

Some plans and renderings from the proposal are below.

I highly recommend looking through the whole report, there are many great details:

After the restoration, Grand Central will once again be the most beautiful and historic building in Glendale. I just hope the public can visit!


* City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian is an aviation buff and has been saying a P-38 should be out front for years, so credit to him for that. I also know that P-38s are staggeringly rare, a replica would be fine, perhaps with the markings of a unit that actually flew from Grand Central during WWII.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful idea, to preserve a bit of Southern California history. So often it's not considered.

Eagle Rock Knitter said...

I've never even heard of this building (I've lived in LA for only 10 years). What a great project for restoration! Let's hope that Disney agrees to more public access - it would be a popular attraction for both tourists and locals.

Anonymous said...

There are several repositories of Disney art around the Glendale Creative Campus (including Imagineering, Animation, and Consumer Products), but the Disney Archives are separate and located on the Studio Lot in Burbank.

- A Nonny Mouse

Kristy Madden said...

Thank you, Tropico, for this article and your efforts toward making the Airport available for us to visit. I've lived within blocks of this tower most of my life and my granddad worked for North American during the war, so the tower feels like a part of my life. Like you, I am very excited about this project.

Vernita said...

This is cool!

Anonymous said...

My Friends Father was the Vice President of Grand Central Construction Company,They were responsible for converting into Grand Central Business Park.His Office was in the Building with the Control Tower .We used to go with him while they built the new buildings.We also rode in his dune buggy on the old railroad spur paths.We even drove it in the LA river.Try that today.

Anonymous said...

Here are photos of the restoration of the Air Terminal.


Thom-293 said...

Here are more photos of the GCAT restoration. The latest ones (as of yesterday) show some of the restored interior and lighting of the Waiting Room and the restoration/reconstruction work occurring on the second floor Dining Room!

Click on the photos to increase the size so you can see greater detail.

As always, I'm respectful of boundaries and never cross into their construction zone.