"What the human eye observes casually and incuriously, the eye of the camera notes with relentless fidelity"... Bernice Abbott

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Silent Sentinals


Growing up on the east side of Santa Ana, the sound of helicopters flying in and out of the Tustin base permeated the air.  The pulsating thump of the blades from the CH 53 Sea Stallions and the Bell Huey helicopters reverberated throughout my childhood and even provided a sense of security.  Driving past the base provided a sense of awe in child's eye with their two massive blimp hangars, the largest free-standing structures west of the Mississippi. The hangars rise nearly 300 feet and are wide and long enough fit seven 747's nose to tail or six football fields side by side.
 

With the announcement of  the Defense Base Closure Realignment Act of 1990, the gates of Marine Corp Air Station Tustin would be officially closed in 1999 and the once proud base that protected our coast since World War II would be allowed to decay like an abandoned vehicle in an empty lot.


Even though the base property was being served up to developers, my fascination and appreciation of the base never ended.  Preservationist battled developers and their politicians who were more than happy to hand over land in exchange for their residential and retail tax dollars. Once toxic dump sites were cleaned up, development would begin in earnest.  High density residential development began to rise on the northwest side of the base while a large retail development, known as The District, anchored the southeast portion.


Through some of my contacts, I was fortunate enough to bypass the insurmountable protocols in order to be allowed on the property to photograph the structures.  One was through an unpaid assignment for a labor groups' website and the other was through a chance meeting with someone who's company was in a bidding war for the south hangar.  Their plan to create an indoor off-road motorcycle venue never came to fruition.

Concrete ammunition bunkers were once located on the east side of the base property, near Jamboree.  The area surrounding the bunker was slated for environmental clean-up that included the removal of the bunkers.

Despite the economic collapse, development continues but has slowed to a snail's pace.  When driving into The District, I am amazed at how many people still stop alongside the road to take in the sight of these massive hangars. Yet, as cities throughout Orange County continue to rid the landscape of its architectural history, these silent sentinels still stand in defiance of the changes around them.


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