Working to Preserve Aviation History at KCMH

10:41 AM

Original Terminal Building and ATC tower
at KCMH (photo courtesy Jennifer Shale)
Guest post by Jennifer Shale
(Jennifer is an aviation enthusiast and history buff who works for a medium-sized airport in the Midwest.)

Preserving our aviation history is about more than just restoring old airplanes and keeping them flying. In Columbus, Ohio, it is about saving a building which played a major role in the the early days of the airline industry.

The original terminal building at Port Columbus Airport was built in 1929 to serve passengers traveling west as part of the transcontinental air/rail service between New York and the west coast. Travelers arrived in Columbus by train and then transferred onto Ford Tri-Motor aircraft to continue on to Oklahoma. One of the distinguished passengers on the inaugural flight was Amelia Earhart. Other notables in attendance at the grand opening of the terminal included Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.

The design of the original terminal was inspired by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and features an octagonal glass ATC tower. The location of the terminal (at the southeast corner of the current airport property) had been picked by Charles Lindbergh who was the technical advisor for Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT). TAT later merged with Western Air Express to form TWA. The original TAT hangar still stands next door to the terminal and is currently used for storage.

In 1958 a new, much larger terminal opened to serve the growing number of passengers and increased air traffic. The original terminal remained the property of the Airport Authority, which leased it out as office space. In 2008, the last tenant to occupy the building moved out, after which it fell into disrepair. Leaks in the roof allowed water to seep in, damaging the interior and filling it with mold.

TAT hangar at right, with Trimotor boarding for the
westbound journey
(photo courtesy Jennifer Shale)
Airport property is a valuable commodity and as the years passed the Airport Authority began to consider the costs of repairing the original terminal building vs. demolishing it and repurposing the land. In the meantime the building had been placed at the top of Ohio's list of endangered historic buildings. This drew the attention of a group of citizens who believed the building should be saved.

These concerned citizens joined together to form the Original Columbus Airport Terminal Stabilisation Project (OCATSP). Its goal has been to seek funding to first stabilize and repair the building, and then secure a tenant for the property. OCATSP, working in partnership with the Ohio Historical Society, and with donations from both private citizens and the Airport Authority itself, has raised enough money to secure a matching grant from the Columbus Foundation. These funds have allowed repair work to begin.

At the same time, Heartland Bank, a locally owned business with roots in the central Ohio area, has stepped forward to be the next tenant of the original terminal building as well as the TAT hangar. The CEO of Heartland, Scott McComb, is an aviation enthusiast whose father was a pilot. There are still some hurdles that must be overcome, such as securing approval from the FAA and tax credits from state and federal authorities, however if all goes well the bank could move in as early as the end 2016.


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