Designed by prominent Providence-based architect Oresto DiSaia, Hangar 1 was a “unified,” or “combined-type,” hangar. Its design was governed by the multiple functions that the building would serve, including aircraft
In addition to the individual significance of Hangar 1, the entire The overall design of the Hillsgrove State Airport‘s terminal, runways, and hangar buildings reflect cutting-edge pre-World War II developments in civil aviation facilities. The Rhode Island State Airport Commission‘s mid-1930s plans for the Hillsgrove State Airport‘s buildings and runways were at the forefront of civil aviation planning and were strongly influenced by the design philosophies of industry experts and literature of the day.
The Hillsgrove State Airport was an early example of late 1930s/early 1940s trends in and philosophies of civil airport design and construction, some of which espoused the concept of “unity.” With increasing size of aircraft in the 1930s, airport facilities became more spread out, and new facility layouts were developed to maximize efficiency. By the late 1930s, philosophies of comprehensive design for airports treating the buildings and runways as complete coordinated efficient systems were being promoted in the aeronautics press. In late 1937, Aviation magazine published a three-part article about comprehensive airport planning by John Walter Wood, whose “Wood System” basic principles were patented in the U.S., Canada, England and France. A key principle of the “Wood System” was indeed “unity.” Wood promoted the concepts of highly efficient traffic circulation and flexibility of design for orderly expansion. Wood in 1940 published a monograph on airport construction, Airports: Some Elements of Design and Future Development. The mid-1930s/early 1940s Hillsgrove State Airport/T.F. Green Airport infrastructure reflected many of the Wood System requirements, including multiple runways on an X-shaped plan maximizing use of airport land, minimizing taxiing distances from terminal and hangars to runways, and allowing safe takeoff and landing in various wind conditions; incorporating a network of perimeter taxiways to prevent planes from passing across primary runways, and a large apron connecting all terminal and hangar buildings and the runways and taxiways for maximum flexibility of movement. The expansions and addition of Runway 5R/23L in 1951 reflected additional aspects of the Wood System associated with planning for airport expansion, including separate parallel runways for simultaneous take-offs and landings.
Rhode Island Department of Public Works’ Administrator of Aeronautics Willard M. Fletcher, in his 1946 State Division of Aeronautics report in the Twelfth Annual Report for the Rhode Island Department of Public Works, indicated that he “had occasion in the exercise of duty, to visit more than two hundred Army Air Bases. Some were leased facilities such as Hillsgrove; some were constructed by the Army. None were as well-designed, as well constructed, or as complete in every regard as Hillsgrove. In fact, the construction formula used at Hillsgrove for the first time in the nation became the criterion for U.S. Army Engineers after studies conducted by them at Hillsgrove.
Hangar 1 was demolished in 2013, but Hangar 2 is a rare surviving example of “unified,” or “combined,” type airport hangars constructed before World War II. At the end of the 1920s, the limited development of civil aviation and small size of commercial aircraft limited the need for large hangars or extensive support facilities. Even at facilities that were relatively advanced for the early 1930s, such as the Hillsgrove State Airport, the first terminal and hangars were separate buildings, and the hangars were small, with limited shop space. By the 1930s, with the advent of larger, all-metal skinned aircraft that could be stored outdoors, hangars became primarily maintenance facilities, with fewer, larger ones replacing smaller structures for individual aircraft.
These state-of-the-art airport facilities adapted contemporary engineering principles to meet the functional requirements of a relatively new building type. The advantages of this type of building appeared in aviation engineering press of the period. An article about one example, a “Combined Hangar and Office Building,” designed by Albert Kahn Associated Architects and Engineers, Inc. of Detroit, MI, in the March 1942 Engineering News-Record noted that “For convenience, to reduce cost, and to save materials, the offices, shops, and hangar space for airlines at the Denver airport have been combined in one structure. . . . In addition to providing both administrative offices and hangar space for airplanes, the building also makes available workshops and storerooms. The PWA 1939 Survey included eight mid- to late-1930s aviation facilities, four of which included massive hangars like Hangar 1 that combined aircraft storage areas with attached administrative and shop sections including the Naval Air Station, Corry, PA (1934); Hamilton Field, CA (1934); Salem Air Station, Salem, MA (1935); and Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA (1938). None of the combined-type hangars included in the PWA Survey included integral control towers. Several combined-type hangars from the late 1930s and early 1940s have been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, although a fraction of them include integral aircraft control towers.
Matthew A. Kierstead. National Register of Historic Places Nomination, Hillsgrove State Airport Historic District, Warwick, Kent County, Rhode Island, National Register #83000175, 2009.
Matthew A. Kierstead. National Register of Historic Places Nomination, Hillsgrove State Airport Hangar No. 1, Warwick, Rhode Island. PAL Report No. 1751.02. Report submitted by PAL, Inc., Pawtucket, RI, to Rhode Island Airport Corporation, April 2008.