A city panel voted Wednesday not to designate two World War II-vintage hangars at Van Nuys Airport as cultural-historic landmarks, clearing the way for redeveloping a 38-acre parcel at the city-owned facility.
By a 3-2 vote, the Cultural Heritage Commission declined to issue a protective designation sought by Volpar Aircraft Corp. President A. E. Saava, a Canoga Park resident. The parcel on which the 126,000-square-foot hangars sit is leased by Saava's firm from the Los Angeles Department of Airports.
Hangars 901 and 902 were built in 1943 by Lockheed Corp. for the manufacture of B-24 Liberator bombers, one of the aviation workhorses of World War II. A 1979 publication by the airports department identified the hangars as having a "whole bunch of history."
John Malloy, city airport real estate agent, said the heritage board's action will enable the department to raze the hangars and remove underground hazardous waste storage facilities on the property as a prelude to leasing the land to a private developer.
The city has been leasing the land and the hangars to Volpar for more than $875,000 per year. Malloy said a new tenant, operating under a permit to redevelop the property, would pay up to $2 million a year.
Groundbreaking for a redevelopment project can be expected within a year, Malloy said. Developer bids are being solicited.
At a prior board meeting, city officials had accused Saava of seeking landmark status only as a ploy to salvage his company's lease. The designation would have protected the hangars from destruction for a year.
During his testimony before the board, Malloy said he had surveyed other Van Nuys Airport tenants and pilots about Saava's proposal. To his surprise, Malloy said, he found that many had the "mistaken belief" that the department's grand plan calls for transforming the airport into an industrial park and that designating the hangars as official landmarks would help preserve aviation uses at the airport.
Malloy said the department plans to reserve 10 acres of the site for general aviation purposes. The remaining land could be used for any purpose, he said.
Cultural heritage board chairman Armajit Marwah said he found no cultural or historic significance to the hangars.
Board member Harold Becks argued that blocking or stalling airport redevelopment plans would unnecessarily burden taxpayers after Malloy testified that redevelopment would double the city's income from the property.
But San Fernando Valley board member Helen Madrid-Worthen sided with Saava, saying the hangars had housed many aircraft-manufacturing enterprises, including a maintenance facility for the U-2 spy plane, and thus were the scene of important elements of the Valley's industrial growth.
Saava told the heritage board that Volpar will soon move from Hangers 901 and 902 to another part of the airport, subleasing a site from another tenant. The sublease is subject to airport department approval.