History of the hangars: documentary tells all about WWII hangars on ATEP campus

By Ian Postal

Those who have been to the recently opened ATEP Center may have wondered about the pair of massive hangars nearby.

A short documentary was released recently, explaining the history of the hangars and answering many of those questions. “The Tustin Hangars: Titans of History” tells the story of the titular hangars, from their order for construction of the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin at the onset of World War II to their involvement in every American war up to 1996.

The documentary was put together by the city of Tustin and the county of Orange County as part of an agreement with the Department of the Navy to memorialize the hangars and its decommissioned base. Much of the footage was gathered from an association of airship veterans and others in Edgewater, Fla. It includes footage of the hangars’ construction, some of which has never before been available to the public.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, many military bases were needed as the U.S. joined the war against Germany and Japan. One such base was brought up in the farmland of Orange County, in what was then Santa Ana but would later become Tustin.

Since nearly all metal was going into machinery for the war, the massive structures were made entirely out of wood. Measuring at approximately 1,000 ft. long and 300 ft wide each, the Tustin Hangars cover more than five acres of land inside and continue to stand as two of the largest wooden structures in the world.

This size is largely due to the vehicles it was meant to store: blimps. Despite memorable incidents like the Hindenburg, these lighter-than-air vehicles were among the more reliable air transporters at the onset of the war.

However, there are no more blimps within the massive buildings. The MCAS Tustin was slated for closure shortly after the end of the Cold War and Operation Desert Storm. Almost a decade and a half since it was last used by the Navy, the questions, remains as to what to do with them.

Officially under the purview of the Department of the Navy, the city of Tustin and county of Orange County is looking for ways to use or preserve the hangars. Several bids on the southern hangar have been rejected due to a lack of viability. Meanwhile, there are talks of incorporating the northern hangar into a regional park. It is unclear at this point how far these talks have gone or what the full plan is.

Overall, there is a rich history surrounding these hangars that is worth looking into while they are sticking around. Anyone interested in going over that history can watch the 25-minute documentary online at http://www.atep.us/video/hangarshistory.asp.


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