A group wanting to restore the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Hamilton-Owens Airport in Columbia has launched a website and a crowd-sourcing campaign to help raise some of the estimated $4.7 million it will cost to transform the 84-year-old structure into an event venue, restaurant and small aviation museum.
Meanwhile, CW Hangar Partners has landed a $20,000 grant from Richland County.
“We’re going to try anything of a creative nature to fund the project,” said Ed Garrison, a commercial real estate broker and Blythewood City Council member who is one of four partners in the project.
The group plans to buy the hangar from Richland County for $176,000 and an additional $86,000 fee for the removal of asbestos. They then plan to raise $4.7 million for the renovation, ostensibly through corporate sponsors and by leveraging historic renovation tax credits.
Businessman Scott 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.
The hangar was built in 1929 by the Curtiss-Wright Co, 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 merger of Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers, who were fierce competitors in building aircraft back in the early 20th century.
The Columbia group — which includes Garrison, Linaberry, Wilbur Smith director of architecture Joseph Rogers and real estate broker Ben Riddle – believes only six still exist.
“But the rest have been renovated past the point of historical preservation,” Linaberry said. “This is the last one in its original condition that can be preserved. And it’s right here in Columbia. That’s pretty amazing, I think.”
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 Amelia Earhart did. Her 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.
The hangar’s storied past is the reason the Richland County Conservation Commission awarded the group a $20,000 grant.
“It just stands out,” said Nancy Stone-Collum, conservation coordinator for the Richland County Conservation Department. “It’s an aviation icon that we need to be proud of and restore to its former glory.”