Bass firm renovating historic hangar at Meacham

Posted Friday, Feb. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Editor's note: This report has been slightly revised from the original.

FORT WORTH -- A company owned by Fort Worth financier Robert Bass is renovating the historic airline hangar at city-owned Meacham Airport, which originally housed the company that would become American Airlines.

The 80-year-old hangar and two-story administration building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last year, the Bass-owned Keystone Group acquired the assets of Atlantic Aero, a fixed-based operator that had been leasing the hangar from the city. Bass' FW American Aero now has a long-term lease on the property and is updating the building's interior and the hangar to accommodate larger modern planes, said Jay Hebert, general counsel with the Keystone Group.

FW American Aero, which provides services including fueling, plane parking and aircraft maintenance, is working out of a temporary facility at Meacham but will build a nearly 40,000-square-foot hangar and facility nearby on city-owned land. It will feature conference rooms, pilot sleeping rooms and office space and is expected to be completed by year's end, Hebert said.

Workers have already removed much of the roof of the historic hangar and are digging up the apron and hangar floor to be replaced. All the renovations are scheduled to be completed in May. Initially, some of the proposed building modifications raised concerns with historic preservationists. But recent changes in the plans have eased some fears that the hangar would lose its character-defining features.

The hangar was built in 1933 by Thos. S. Byrne in Fort Worth in the Works Progress Administration moderne style of architecture. It was the first permanent company-owned facility for the Southern Division of American Airways, which moved to Fort Worth from Dallas at the urging of city leaders. American Airways' name adorns the building's entrance, and the American Airways eagle is on corner pilasters. The airline changed its name to American Airlines in 1934 and in 1953 moved to the Great Southwest Airport, near where Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is now.

In October, the city's Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission approved some changes to the building, most notably plans to raise the hangar roof by 15 feet, replace windows in the administration building and replace the hangar's doors, some of which were original.

The changes would have significantly altered the building's silhouette, but the commission said the changes met the interior secretary's standards for rehabilitation.

Because the hangar is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by the city, the proposed changes triggered a Texas Historical Commission review required by the 1969 Texas Antiquities Code. Under that law, the review is required if renovations have the potential to disturb historic and archaeological sites on public land.

The Texas Historical Commission said it didn't receive project documents until Dec. 12, more than two months after the Landmarks Commission approved the changes.

Adam Alsobrook, a project reviewer with the state commission who handled the review, said Thursday that there was some confusion and misinformation regarding ownership of the hangar, which is why the information was sent late. The Texas Historical Commission should have received the information much sooner to be given time to comment, Alsobrook said.

In a Dec. 18 letter to Liz Casso, the city's historic preservation officer, the state agency said some of the planned changes did not meet Interior Department standards for historic preservation, but it said the city was not obligated to enforce its findings.

But that may now be moot because Bass' group has decided not to raise the roof but will replace it with an engineered structure that will allow for bigger plane tails, and it will repair windows and replace glass, rather than replace the whole window structures, Hebert said.

"When we get finished, the city will have a crown jewel," Hebert said. "Everyone will be very happy. Mr. Bass is interested in historic preservation as well. Aviation is one of his great loves."

Bass is a former chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit that works to save America's historic places.

Alsobrook said Thursday that the city recently notified him of the project changes.

"We are certainly pleased to hear the plans have changed to save the integrity of the building," Alsobrook said. "It's a real special building."

The Landmarks Commission is expected to hear a project update at its meeting Monday.

John Roberts, chairman of the nonprofit Historic Fort Worth, said he could not comment on the project.

"Until we get something visual, I guess what we'll have to do for right now is not make a comment," Roberts said.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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