Rows of Quonset huts on Costa Mesa’s 17th Street always seemed to hint at a troubled past, but now a recently painted mural and the man who commissioned it are aimed at making that story clearer.
Last week, local mural artist Nancy Hadley signed an exterior painting of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber, with a tip-to-tip wingspan of an impressive 20 meters, on the outside wall of a Quonset shack at Pacific Mesa Properties, on part of the former Santa Ana Army Air base.
Here, during a crucial period during World War II, the U.S. Army housed and trained the pilots, engineers, bombers, and navigators who would work and operate the ship in combat.
Quonset’s huts served as barracks before the base was deactivated in 1946 and part of the land was later annexed by the city of Costa Mesa, according to property manager Bruce Bear.
“These are historic landmarks, and few of them remain in Southern California,” said Bear, who commissioned Hadley with the work.
He hopes the mural will be the first of many iconic images that not only adorn the cottages – which were inhabited by artists, artisans, and traders who signed and never left a one-year lease a decade or two ago – but also with Orange County’s historical roots speak.
“There’s a lot of that kind of story here, and I wanted to capture some of these places,” the property manager said Friday, describing scenes from Huntington Beach Pier, Balboa Point and Laguna Beach. “My plan is [have images painted on] the Quonset huts surrounded by outer walls along the main road that leads to the property. “
In preparation for her work, Hadley, who runs an art studio in one of the former military barracks, researched the history of the B-24 using historical online images for reference. Although the aircraft towers tall on top of the corrugated iron roof building, it only accounts for about 59% of the aircraft’s actual 110-foot wingspan.
Hadley added a personal detail to the work. A tiny pin-up girl adorning the craft’s nose cone was inspired by her own mother, Shirley Walker, who died in 2019 but grew up as a girl in the 1940s and often told stories from that time.
As a former advertising director, Bear hopes the area could become some kind of unofficial “art series” if the wall project he was whirling around in his head blows up.
“I am happy to be the property manager here,” says the 67-year-old pensioner. “It’s a stress-free environment, but I have a creative streak.”
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