WPA Hangar has colorful history
74-year-old Hangar facing demolition as an unsafe building.
The paint is peeling, and pieces of tar paper from the roof litter the ground around a 74-year-old hangar that the city has decided is unsafe and should be torn down.
The so-called barrel hangar, the one closest to North Caldwell Ave., had an addition on the east side that was the office and apartment of the fixed-base operator who managed the airport for the city.
Some thought the old hangar was a pre-war Works Progress Administration project, or that it was built in 1942 when the Army Air Corps had a glider-pilot training program at the airfield.
Records show the hangar was built as a WPA project in 1934 during the Depression. It was used by the Army glider pilots during the few months they were at the airfield in the summer of 1942.
The hangar has been in use since the airport opened in November 1934, and at that time it was designed to hold up to 15 “ordinary planes.”
In the past 10 years, the condition of the hangar has come up at city commission meetings, with members debating whether the old building is worth saving, and if so how much would it cost.
Former City Commissioner Curtis Hurd remembers bringing up the question while Ron Pickman was city manager.
Pickman said if the city wanted to save the hangar, it needed a new roof, which he estimated at $50,000. Pickman said then he did not think the city should spend the money, and recommended it be torn down.
City Manager Wayne Hill, who replaced Pickman about three years ago, brought the question up two years ago, saying he felt the building was unsafe and should not be used to store planes.
He told the commissioners he had looked at the building, and did not feel it was something the city could afford to save.
The commission asked if the Airport Advisory Board had been asked about the hangar. Hill said the airport board felt it was not historic enough to spend the estimated $150,000 to $200,000 needed to bring it up to a safe, usable condition.
Records from the Sherman County Herald and Goodland Republic show the cost of the entire airport when built was $42,783.
In January 1934, the city received $27,000 to begin clearing the ground for three runways, using 70 men hired by the Civil Works Administration.
The contract for the barrel hangar was approved in mid-January 1934 to be 80 feet wide and100 feet long with 18 foot ceiling.
Equipment was brought to Goodland by Dodson Manufacturing to make cement blocks for the depot and hangar and the workers spent days making the blocks.
Steel for the hangar arrived the middle of February in 1934.
South of the barrel hangar, the name “GOODLAND” was laid out in big concrete letters. The huge sign, which exists today, is spelled from north to south in letters are 36 feet high and 24 feet wide with a four-foot stroke.
The airport opened on Nov. 22, 1934, but was not dedicated until Oct. 10, 1935. The present terminal building was built in 1949 and expanded in 1984.
Hangar at it looks today
Goodland's first airport opened in 1929
About 23 years after the Wright Brothers sparked the revolution of powered flight, the citizens of Goodland began to realize an airport was a necessity.
Airplanes, in 1926, as today, found it necessary to stop in Goodland because of the location between Denver and Kansas City.
The first airport was in the northeast section of the city on a field of buffalo grass. It was moved further north in 1929.
At the time the Works Progress Administration was ready to build the big barrel hangar, there was a question about how much land was needed for the airport. Dr. M.G. Renner, a Goodland surgeon who was an avid pilot/aviation enthusiast, wanted the city to buy an additional 80 acres to ensure there was enough.
The city council told Renner they did not see a reason to buy the land, and he told them that if they did not purchase it, he would. The council gave in and bought the 80 acres.
Dr. Renner saw to it that things were cared for until the city had an airport manager about the time of World War II. Before the runways were surfaced, Renner used to hook a harrow to his car and drag the runways to level and smooth them
They were surfaced in 1934 with a mixture of salt, clay and sand, 125 feet wide and a foot thick.
Darin Neufeld, engineer for Evans, Bierly, Hutchison and Associates who has handled airport improvements for the city, said the contractor putting in the new lights on the crosswind runway two years ago had to dig through a section of the old runway.
“He tried to trench through it,” Neufeld said, “but it was so hard he had to bring a backhoe to dig through.”
The administration building, which held the Federal Aviation Administration Flight Service Station and the National Weather Service offices, was built in 1949. An addition was built to the north and dedicated in February 1984.
Today it houses the Butterfly Café, the engineering firm of Evans, Bierly, Hutchison and Associates, and the FAA Flight Service Station. There is room in the terminal for a commercial airline to use for handling passengers and baggage and freight, but it has been empty since Great Lakes airline pulled out in March 2000.
For aerial photos of airport and a few old views of the airport click here.)
City delays Hangar demolition decision until July
| Family lived at hangar
Plans to tear down the 74-year-old barrel hangar at Renner Field may be on hold, and that would be good news for a family that called the hangar home from 1949 to 1966.
Judi Vignery and her younger sister, Susan Elliott, recall the days when their father, Watson Hevner, managed the airport from 1946 to 1966, and they would lie to see the hangar saved because it was their home when they were growing up.
“It was the only home I had growing up,” Elliott, of Hillsboro Ore., wrote in a letter to City Manager Wayne Hill. “My sister Judi (Hevner) Vignery and I did not live in a house; we lived in the apartment on the east side of the hanger and our bedrooms were actually rooms in the big hanger. We went to bed with the beacon shining in our windows and woke up to the sound of small planes flying overhead.
“It’s too late to save the building on the east side of the hanger, which was part of our home, but I hope it is not to late to save the hanger. I would hate to see the hanger demolished. It would be wonderful if the city can find a way to save it. I would think it would be considered a historical building considering it was built by the WPA and used … in World War II to train glider pilots.
“Whenever we come back to Goodland for a visit, I see the hanger and feel I am home again, The hanger is very special to me. I now live in Oregon, but we live in the country near a small rural airfield and I love having the small planes flying over.”
Vignery, who owns Judi’s Pre-school, said her dad and Wait Rhoads leased the airport in 1946, calling their business the Goodland Flying Service. She said her dad and Rhoads built the smaller barrel hanger north of the big hanger, which they called the shop, in 1947. She said the smaller hangar was used to repair and relicense airplanes.
In June 1948, she said, her dad bought out Rhoads, and hired Martin Nelson as a flight instructor.
An addition was built on the east side of the big hangar sometime between 1934, when the Works Progress Administration built the hangar, and December 1943, when the National Weather Service first opened a station here. In 1948, a new administration building was opened northeast of the smaller hangar and the weather bureau and Federal Aviation Administration moved to that building.
Vignery said Hevner remodeled the hangar addition into an apartment and built a bedroom in the northeast corner of the hangar. His wife Annabelle and Judi, 4 at that time, moved into the hangar rooms from the Hevner family farm west of the airport in 1949. Susan joined them in December 1950.
Both girls talk fondly of growing up at the airport. Vignery said as they got older, she wanted a separate bedroom.
“My dad built a second bedroom on top of the one in the northeast corner and we called it the treehouse,” Vignery recalled. “It had steep stairs; I painted my walls pink and my sister painted her room purple.”
The bedrooms are gone, but the pink and purple paint still shows on the walls in the hangar’s northeast corner.
“We grew up at the airport and still think of it as our home,” Elliott wrote in a short family history. “Living at the airport was a unique and special experience. We used the hanger as a roller-skating rink, and instead of a playhouse like most children, we had an old play airplane in back of the shop and flew many imaginary journeys. We both could tell you what kind of plane someone was flying like most people can tell cars.”
“Our address was Airport, Goodland, Kansas, and we answered the phone Airport instead of Hello like most people,” Elliott wrote. “Managing the airport was a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week job.
Vignery was still living at the airport when she was in high school. She recalls having friends come out and they would climb up a ladder to the roof to lay out in the sun in swimsuits.
“There is no way parents today would let us climb up that ladder to the roof,” she said. “We didn’t think anything of it back then.
Vignery said their dad had a spraying service for 16 years and Nelson helped with the spraying. When Nelson was killed in a spraying accident in 1965, it was hard for her dad to stay at the airport. The family moved into town the next year.
Judi married on June 24 that year and Susan married Aug. 15, capping their years at the airport.