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Bill May Hasten Razing of Blimp Hangar

October 01, 1998|ERIC BAILEY

Gov. Pete Wilson has signed a measure that could hasten the demolition of one of Tustin's towering twin blimp hangars, the largest free-standing wood structures ever built.

The measure by state Senate GOP Leader Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) gives Tustin, which is eyeing the possible demolition of the south hangar, responsibility for conducting a review of the structure's historic significance before it could come down.

Officials at the State Office of Historic Preservation would normally perform that duty, but Tustin officials have sought to assume control in an effort to speed redevelopment of the Marine Corps helicopter base.

Foes have expressed concern that Tustin, which has tentative plans for a commercial and industrial park on land now occupied by the south blimp hangar, lacks the objectivity needed to fully assess whether the sprawling structure should be preserved.

Wilson signed the measure despite opposition from officials in his own administration. The governor's finance department as well as his office of planning and research were opposed to Johnson's bill.

Johnson said Wednesday that his measure does not "doom" the hangar. Instead, he said the bill "will streamline the redevelopment process" by shifting historic preservation authority from the understaffed state historic preservation office to the city, which has "an excellent track record in the area of historic preservation."

Swift completion of historic review is needed so the city can begin more than $150 million in infrastructure improvements necessary before redevelopment of the base can go forward. "Unnecessary delay," Johnson said, "only adds to the cost of redevelopment."

The two hangars, which are on the National Register of Historic Places, were built during World War II to house blimps that were used to patrol for enemy submarines off the Southern California coast. The hangars are set to be handed over to Tustin and Orange County by next summer.

Orange County plans to preserve the north hangar as a unique county park and make it available for commercial use. But officials in Tustin are concerned the high costs of repairing and maintaining the south hangar would be too great to justify using it for some commercial purpose.

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