Sunday, February 14, 2016

Photo Essay: Inside The Last Remnant of the Glendale Airport

For whatever reason, Grand Central Air Terminal had been on my bucket list of LA places to see even before I moved to LA.



But it turns out, I only had to wait four years after initially skulking around in 2012 to actually get up close to the historic building...



...which was the terminal for LA's first commercial airport (though technically in what is now the City of Glendale, and the runway is gone).



And not only that—but thanks to the annual meeting of the American Aviation Historical Society, I got inside.


Image courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)

When a historically significant building like this is in such bad shape and then gets restored by a private entity, there's plenty of reason to celebrate—but it also often means that the new private ownership restricts the public's access to it.



Fortunately, new owner Disney uses Grand Central Air Terminal as both a private office space and an event space...



...and has given it a distinctly un-Disney look, retaining and replicating much of the original Art Deco detailing...



...with the addition of the "wing walk," a catwalk that connects the upper levels on either side of the former passenger waiting room...



...designed to evoke the image of an airplane wing.



One of the most spectacular Art Deco details is in the ceiling of the air terminal's former restaurant, which now provides a skylit open floor plan for Imagineers in cubicles.



The restoration architecture firm, Frederick Fisher and Partners, had little to go on other than a couple of black and white movies and still photos—so they had to do a bit of detective work to get the details right, including sending a piece of railing that they found in a wall to a fabricator and saying "make it look like this."



They didn't have to create much new (other than the wing walk) because so many of the details were already there—they'd just been covered up by decades of paint, plaster, dirt, and whatnot.



Although the windows in the first two stories had to be replaced, at least there are windows now—where there were windows...



...before they were all boarded up and whitewashed.



There were and still are zigzags and arches galore...



...and plenty of places for the sun to stream in, any time of day, any time of year.



Considering the fact that this building had been gutted in 2009 and stood vacant until restoration began in 2012, it's a marvel that it looks anything like it used to...


Image courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)

...or that it's still standing at all.



Besides the piece of railing, other artifacts that were discovered during the restoration excavation include an air traffic control spotlight...



...mouldings, bottles...



...jars...



...pilot flight logs and time sheets...



...and a shoe.


Original photo from the Herman J. Schultheis Collection 

You might think that a Disney office would be full of Mickey Mouse ears, but the GCAT building is just the opposite. From the exterior signage to the framed historical photos hung on the inside walls, everything is about the place itself—home of American Airlines and TWA, and in many ways the birthplace of commercial flight (certainly in LA).




Image courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)

Now, if I could just figure out a way to get into the fifth floor observation level in the old tower to see what it and its view look like now.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: LA's First Commercial Airport, Then & Now
Photo Essay: Best of Saarinen's TWA Flight Center, JFK
Photo Essay: Transforming the Hughes Campus Into Hercules, Before & After