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Engineering Significance

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.