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VAN NUYS >> The airport hangar facade from the film “Casablanca” — which started movie production 75 years ago Thursday — has blistered in the sun 10 years since it was rescued from the wrecking ball.
That may soon change for one of the San Fernando Valley’s most famous and neglected movie landmarks.
“I want to look to that one individual that will continue Jim’s dream of preserving the hangar and erecting it — hopefully at Van Nuys Airport,” said Christine Dunn, an ambassador of the adjacent Airtel Plaza Hotel, which she once owned with her late husband Jim. Together, they had saved and stored the historic hangar facade in the hotel parking lot. “It should stay here.
“It could be the beginning of a new friendship.”
Aviation and movie buffs recoiled in horror just before Christmas 2007 when Hangar No. 1, at what is now Van Nuys Airport, was torn down for development.
The arched hangar, built two months before the then Metropolitan Airport opened in December 1928 with two grass runways, was the original airfield’s first and last surviving building.
For decades, it had been the home of Holga Metal Products Corps, a maker of metal desks and filing cabinets on Waterman Drive off of Woodley Avenue. Now all that remained was a stucco arch and 95 feet of sliding red wooden doors.
“Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do,” one vintage-aircraft restorer had told the Daily News.
The cradle of Valley aviation that had sat just south of the old east-west runway harbored a gaggle of vintage barnstormers.
Aviatrix Florence “Pancho” Barnes once parked her Travel Air Mystery Ship there.
The bumbling Laurel and Hardy comedy duo went airborne from the hangar during “The Flying Deuces” filmed there in 1939.
And in 1942 during the filming of “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Warner Bros. landed a plane carrying Nazi villain Maj. Heinrik Strasser (Conrad Veidt) past the hangar in the opening scene.
Production of the film began on May 25, 1942, according to filmmakeriq.com. The final farewell tarmac scene, however, was filmed at Warner studios in Burbank.
Jim and Christine Dunn were having breakfast with then Councilman Greig Smith when they got a call about the fated landmark. They then raced across the Valley to try to save it.
“Jim basically threw his body in front of it, saying ‘Stop, stop, save this hangar,” Dunn said.
Jim Dunn, who with his father had built the Airtel Plaza Hotel just in time for the 1984 Olympics, managed to save the hangar facade, including its 95-foot doors, which he spread across 21 parking spaces north of the hotel.
He had planned to restore it as part of a Moroccan-themed bar facing Van Nuys Airport’s famous 16R air strip. Then the recession intervened. And Jim Dunn, civic leader and philanthropist, “went West” on Sept. 14, 2015. The Dunn’s hotel was sold soon afterward.
Christine Dunn, who keeps an Airtel office where she serves as a community ambassador, waited a decade trying to find a “Casablanca” hangar taker.
“It’s all there,” said Dunn, of Hidden Hills, pointing toward its stack of doors, its paint peeling in the sun around broken windows, between an upright arch and trellis that once crowned its opening. “It’s all original. This is it. This is what’s left … It needs a home.
Tommy Gelinas, founder of Valley Relics Museum in Chatsworth, has offered to give it a home. The museum founder, who Dunn promised the movie relic, aims to restore it at Van Nuys Airport.
He said he hopes to incorporate the hangar as part of a Moroccan-themed restaurant at a new airport Propellor Park. The park, now under construction, may also have a bigger space for his museum
“It’s such an iconic piece of history,” said Gelinas. “What I didn’t want to do was put it into my North Hollywood print shop yard and let it sit another 10 years. It probably won’t fit in my museum.
“It needs to be resurrected and immortalized … at Van Nuys Airport.”
Dunn said she hopes to get the hangar off the hotel property in the next 30 days. After a decade of searching, she’s thrilled to have finally found a taker.
“I know that Jim is looking (down) at me now, with a devilish smile — with a thumbs up,” said Dunn, wearing an elegant black pant suit. “Giving me an ‘Atta girl: Here’s looking at you, kid.’”