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JOSEPH N. BELL

Enshrining the Duke at the Airport

June 07, 1990|JOSEPH N. BELL

Those of you out there who--like me--have spent many sleepless nights wondering if the airport statue of John Wayne would be showcased with proper reverence can relax now. It will be. I checked it out.

I've worried about that a lot. After all, we have the only airport in the world with the statue of a movie star out front--especially a movie star whose main means of locomotion was not the airplane but the horse. Quaint symbolism, indeed. There are those among us who would like to see this distinction removed and substitute some sort of prosaic name like Orange County Airport. Or Eddie Martin Airport--on the grounds that he flew airplanes.

And then there are those of us who are worried about the statue. I expressed this concern the other day to Airport Commissioner Michael Lapin, who happened to be having brunch in our patio. I had to express it several times before he heard me over the sound of planes taking off and landing. He not only assured me that John Wayne would be properly enshrined but invited me to come and see for myself. He was to be given a tour of the new facilities the following week, so I tagged along.

Our tour guide of the John Wayne Airport and its new terminal turned out to be Jan Mittermeier, the assistant airport manager, and she poked into every cranny of the new terminal with us. Now I have not been unmindful of all the acrimony going on about the delays in construction of the terminal and surrounding support facilities. I'm as anxious as the next guy to get out of that sweatbox of a terminal that presently serves a few million people over its capacity. But I was also curious about looking behind the construction and economic tribulations to see what we have to look forward to. And to make sure that the Duke has been well served.

So let's deal with that first. The Wayne statue will not just be prominently displayed, it will be enshrined. And it's no longer outside, subject to the elements, but will be mounted in an enormous glass sarcophagus near the main entrance of the terminal. Although we're far behind on other portions of construction, the Duke Room is right on schedule. The base for his statue is in place and the wall-to-ceiling glass surrounding it is completed. So not to worry. Our reputation is intact.

Unhappily, the rest of the terminal hasn't progressed quite that well. But the promise is there. Beneath the debris and the swarms of workers and recriminations is the hope of a new day for those of us who fly in and out of this airport.

The thing that struck me first and last is the feeling of spaciousness. Admittedly, the design of the airport terminal enhances this feeling more than is really justified. "The terrain," said Mittermeier, "dictated the architecture. So did the settlement of the Newport Beach lawsuit, which dictated the size of the terminal and how the space had to be allocated. We were bound to a long, relatively narrow space for the terminal. We had no other way to go."

The result is a kind of multiple zeppelin effect (for those of you too young to know what a zeppelin is, look it up). All 14 of the loading gates to the planes open off a single, long, open corridor. This is the small zeppelin. The waiting areas will be separated from the walking area only by different colored carpeting; no walls or other barriers to break the sense of space.

The large zeppelin is the ticketing and concourse area. Lighting is indirect from enormous saucers mounted in the wall and casting the light upward over the circular ceiling. There was originally to have been a skylight the length of the concourse, and--according to Mittermeier--airport officials saved about $1 million by eliminating it. Personally, I think we needed the million bucks more than the skylight. There is so much glass in the structure already that the place exudes light.

They also cut costs by a million bucks on the marble which was originally to have decorated all the floors and interior walls and some exterior walls. By cutting down considerably on marble interiors, a lot of money was saved not only on the marble, itself, but on the acoustics, which will work much better with the carpeting and sheet rock that were substituted. The marble, I was told, came from an Italian swamp and has crustaceous figures embedded in it. I checked, and it does. I haven't yet sorted out the significance of this, but Mittermeier made a small joke about it, saying the crustaceous surface was easy to maintain "as long as we feed them regularly."

Two of the major irritations in the present terminal will disappear in the new one. There are two large, open security points designed to move passengers through quickly. And two spacious baggage areas serviced by four chutes that quadruple the handling capacity.

There will be an interior bar surrounded by palm trees and glass for the peasants and the whole third floor devoted to the Admiral's Club for the rich folks. There will also be four times as many parking places.

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