Disney's Epic Plan To Save A Terminal From LA's Oldest Airport

After more than a decade of research and negotiation with local authorities, Disney recently got the greenlight for its plans to renovate the Grand Central Air Terminal. Located just north of Los Angeles in Glendale, California, the rundown terminal is a relic of the region's oldest commercial airport, and the departure point for the country's first regularly scheduled coast-to-coast flight.

Originally opened in 1929, the terminal was the main public building for the Glendale Municipal Airport which dates from 1922. Outside, the building is remarkable for its blend of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial architecture. The terminal's interior layout was a template for the layout for the future of airports with separate areas for ticketing, eating, and waiting. In its heyday, the terminal was used by high-flying celebrities, including Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.

The terminal was closed to commercial aviation in 1944, and Glendale Airport was shut down permanently in 1959. Unfortunately, over the years, the Grand Central Air Terminal building has fallen into disrepair. Here's a shot of the original waiting room, completely abandoned and not looking too grand at all.

After buying the land in the 1990s, Disney entered into a development agreement with the City of Glendale in 2000 to rehabilitate the building by the end of 2015. Disney wanted to build the land out for a new Grand Central Creative Complex, but because of the building's historic status, it had to cut a deal with city officials. Amongst the concessions Disney granted were that the land had to have an aeroplane "from the era" outside.

Drawn up by Frederick Fisher & Partners architects, and landscape architects Pamela Burton + Company, the Disney plan was approved back in March by the Glendale Historic Preservation Commission.

The plan for rehabilitation (PDF) is expansive. In addition to structural improvements and seismic upgrades, the building's exterior will be restored to its former aesthetic glory from the clay roof tiles to the steel windows to the stone and stucco ornamentation. A nearby building will be demolished to provide a nice view of the building to passersby.

Inside, the terminal will be retrofitted as offices for Disney employees. There will also be a visitor centre and event space for the surrounding creative complex.

You need only look at Disney's massive amusement parks, to get a sense for the financial power Disney has to transform landscapes and build whatever it pleases. It's nice to see some of that power being used to preserve an important landmark. According to the agreement with the city, Disney will need to provide "limited" public access to the building when construction is complete. Let's hope Disney takes that mandated service seriously. [Tropico Station via Curbed]

Historic images via The Library of Congress (1 and 2). Architectural drawings via Frederick Fisher & Partners Architects

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