Monday, March 21, 2011

Photo Essay: Hughes Aircraft Company Campus

As much as I try to leave behind the Type A personality characteristics that once made me fit in with other East Coasters, as much as I try to assimilate into a more relaxed California lifestyle, I constantly feel anything but laid back when it comes to one thing: missing out.

So when I hear of a tour of a place with restricted access, not usually open to the public, it doesn't really matter what the place is. I must go.

So most of my urban exploration has actually been sanctioned rather than surreptitious, save for excursions out to California City and Salton Sea. And I've gotten to see plenty without breaking and entering.

This weekend, I joined a rain-or-shine tour of the Hughes Aircraft Company campus in Playa Vista, near Culver City where Howard Hughes both built airplanes and made movies in the 1930s. I went despite the torrential downpour, both because I'd managed to nab a $25 ticket to the sold out tour, but also because I couldn't not go.

Eleven of the original 15 buildings are still there, despite the new Playa Vista-related developments that surround it (including some 2009 structures on the campus, built to be complementary to the original structures' international style architecture). The original airstrip that ran parallel with Jefferson Boulevard - first grassy, then paved - has been demolished, but there are plenty of other interesting things to see, mostly abandoned and neglected, slated for a facelift in a hopefully good case for adaptive reuse.

Building #15, the main building complex / cargo hangar erected to house the construction of the H-4 "Hercules" plane, the all-wood "Spruce Goose" (actually it was made of birch) whose only flight didn't go high enough or far enough to warrant a return to the skies. This is only one of two bays - there currently is a super-secret movie using the other bay as a soundstage.

original interior of the H-4 "Hercules" plane

Building #3, the five-sided wood structure that was used to mock up the H-4's nose cone and systems. It now stands abandoned, with a leaky roof.

old signs in Building 3

Outside Building 3

Between Buildings 2 (left) and 1 (right)

Building 1 (ground floor), Administration Building. All of the downstairs offices were demolished by a prior developer who never ended up using the space. Now the new developer plans to build offices for creative workspaces. You can still trace the lines of phantom tile flooring...

Upstairs of Building 1, "Mahogany Row." It is believed that this was Mr. Hughes' office. Red X's mark where his desk might have been.

Upstairs in Mahogany Row

Upstairs in Mahogany Row

Upstairs in Mahogany Row

Upstairs in Mahogany Row

This map was found in one of the demolished walls and was rescued, though it had already fallen victim to some wear and tear and graffiti.

The red lines trace flight patterns, but it is unknown whose or for what...

Downstairs Administration Building front entrance / reception desk. All visitors would have entered here. The black lines on the wood paneling are remnants of the glue used to affix darker wood paneling which was added in later decades.

Outside Administration Building front entrance. The cantilever awning once displayed the letters H U G H E S

Building 10, Cafeteria

Building 10 interior, the old kitchen

The Hughes Campus - soon to be called the Hercules Campus, after the infamous H-4 - went through many stages of its own adaptive reuse, transforming some of its buildings into medical facilities, and developing as an emerging avionics (aviation electronics) powerhouse. Aircraft was still being built there as late as the mid-1980s, but the production shifted from wartime airplanes and cargo planes to helicopters. Because of the large empty spaces, many television and film production companies have set up shop in the buildings on the Hughes Campus over recent decades, though now their presence will become more formalized as the Hercules Campus becomes a dedicated facility for creative spaces.

Many thanks to the Los Angeles Conservancy for the opportunity to take a simultaneous peek into the past and the future. Now I really want to fly another plane.

Related post:
Here It Comes Again (Floyd Bennett Field, NYC)
Photo Essay: Taking Flight

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