Renovating the Curtiss-Wright Hangar

Columbia’s Curtiss-Wright Hangar sale still held up

jwilkinson@thestate.comApril 18, 2013 

Skunkie, the World War II B-25 bomber raised from Lake Greenwood in the 1990s, parked in front of the Curtiss-Wright hangar at Owens Field.

KIM KIM FOSTER-TOBIN — The State

— Nearly two years after entering a partnership, Richland County still hasn’t finalized the sale of the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar to private developers.

The sale of the hangar, located at Hamilton-Owens Airport in downtown Columbia, would pave the way for the developers to renovate it into a restaurant and event space.

Meanwhile, the 1929 structure, which once hosted famed female aviator Amelia Earhardt, continues to deteriorate, making renovation even more difficult and expensive, the developers said.

“If something is not done soon, the building is going to be a pile of rubble,” said Scott Linaberry, who is heading the development team.

Linaberry said the group has offered $176,000 for the building and included an $86,000 abatement fee for the removal of asbestos. The group — which includes Wilbur Smith director of architecture Joseph Rogers and real estate brokers Edwin Garrison and Ben Riddle — would then try to raise $4.7 million for the renovation, ostensibly through corporate sponsors and by leveraging historic renovation tax credits.

“But we can’t start raising money until we know this deal is viable,” Linaberry said.

Hamilton-Owens Airport director Chris Evermann declined comment on the details of the negotiations, saying they were confidential. However, he termed the talks “productive and ongoing” and said the two sides may be close to a deal.

But there are a lot of moving parts, Linaberry said. The sale must be approved by the airport commission, County Council and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“These types of land acquisitions are very rare and it will take … cooperation and close communication,” he said.

The hangar was built in 1929 by the Curtiss-Wright Company at the advent of the Great Depression. It was dedicated Columbia Municipal Airport in 1930.

Thirty or so of these vintage hangars were built all across the country by the company, which was a coming together of Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers, who were fierce competitors in building aircraft back in the early 20th century. Only a handful still exist.

The hangars were primarily service centers for early aircraft, which at the time were basically dedicated to airmail planes. Greenville-Spartanburg had the first airmail service center in South Carolina. Then-Columbia Mayor L.B. Owens, for whom the city airfield is named, had the foresight to jockey for a service center in Columbia, and the hangar was built in 1929.

Wilbur Wright died in 1912, and it’s unknown whether Orville Wright ever visited the hangar.

But famed aviator Earhart’s signature is still listed in the Columbia airport’s log book: 11:30 a.m. Nov. 16, 1931. She logged her aircraft as a Beechnut Auto Giro flying from Greenville to Charleston.

President Franklin Roosevelt also flew into the airport in the late 1930s, and famed World War II hero Jimmy Doolittle also visited there.

Linaberry said the main portion of the hangar will be an event venue suited to large parties, wedding receptions and other such gatherings. The vintage B-25 bomber that is in the hangar now would remain, becoming a centerpiece for an event that would see it as a bit of nostalgia, or it could be rolled out onto the tarmac if more space is needed.

“I don’t know how many brides would want a B-25 in the middle of their reception,” he said.

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