The deadline looms for aviation and architectural buffs to claim a piece of San Diego history. Chandeliers, floors, decals, and aviation emblems are among the items offered to museums, archives, non-profit groups, and the public as the Port of San Diego prepares to demolish the old Teledyne Ryan buildings on North Harbor Drive.
The buildings, 17 of which are considered historically significant, are also highly contaminated with hazardous chemicals that threaten the bay, according to environmental reports. The deadline to submit a statement of interest to acquire any of the materials is March 11.
A more significant date in regards to historical preservation is June 1, when Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), a historic preservation group interested in stopping the demolition, is scheduled to meet a couple agencies in superior court.
The legal battle began in September 2009, when SOHO filed a lawsuit against the Port of San Diego, which owns the land, and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which manages the airport.
“To date, SOHO has not expressed an interest in any of the preservable architectural materials,” says Marguerite Elicone, a spokesperson for the Port. Elicone says the Port “is in the planning stages of developing a display or interpretive website” that will highlight the history of the Ryan Aeronautical District.
Bruce Coons, SOHO's executive director, says that the group isn’t interested in fragments or virtual history. “SOHO is not looking at salvaged materials,” Coons says. “Our interest is in insuring some of the buildings are preserved.”
The preservationists point out that several of the structures are designated as a Ryan Aeronautical Co. Historical District. The company’s founder, T. Claude Ryan, was involved in creating Lindbergh Field and in the construction of the plane Charles Lindbergh piloted across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.
But, according to Elicone, “SOHO hasn't presented any plans on how to remove the contaminants from the buildings that they'd like to see preserved.”
Port commissioners discussed the urgency of the timeline for demolition at a January meeting, stating that the buildings shed their content, continue to deteriorate, and are a source of potential contamination to the soil, ground water, San Diego Bay, and the Convair Lagoon.
Port commissioner Lee Burdick said that while she “most often agrees with the historical preservationists,” she was concerned for public safety if the buildings were rehabilitated for alternative uses.
“Unfortunately,” Burdick said, “these were not typical historical resources.” The company “was a manufacturing facility that operated during a time period in which there was very little significant regulation of the environment.”
The board specified that no demolition materials may be recycled or reused if they contain any hazardous substances.
According to Elicone, the materials being offered to the public "have been tested and are safe."