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Aviation sign uncovered at Columbia demolition site

June 17, 2014

As the City of Columbia began demolishing an existing building at the Parks Management Center in the 1400 block of West Business Loop 70, a surprise find temporarily turned a demolition project into a historical preservation project.

During the demolition of the building, a brick fa├žade fell from the face of a 43-foot long by approximately 2-foot tall steel beam. Hidden beneath the brick facade, which was once the face of the building, were the words "Stephens College Aviation Department."

The Parks Management Center was once the home to Columbia Municipal Airport. After operating a private airport on the site, the Allton brothers sold the land and the airport to the City of Columbia in 1928. Columbia Municipal Airport was home to Stephens College Aviation Department from 1941 until about 1960. In 1968, Columbia Regional Airport in Elkhurst began operations and Columbia Municipal Airport was repurposed as Cosmo Park.

The building being demolished is believed to have once housed numerous airport functions and Parks and Recreation functions, most recently used as a repair garage for Parks and Recreation vehicles and equipment. A new Parks and Recreation fleet maintenance facility is almost complete next door to the building under demolition.

Stephens College has a unique history with Columbia Municipal and Columbia Regional Airport. In 1941, Stephens College began teaching women aviation and leased the Allton Hotel, which is across the street from the former airport and now a retirement center, to use as classrooms for the aviation program. Columbia Municipal Airport was then used for both ground and aeronautical training.

One alumna of the program, Francis Jenkins Holter '44, went on to work as an aeronautical engineer for North American Aviation and later was an engineer at Bendix Aerospace where she was the project engineer for the Apollo lunar rover and a principal engineer on the Apollo lunar module used in the moon landing program. Wally Funk '58 became one of the Mercury 13 - Women in Space program launched by NASA in 1961.

The connection between Stephens College and Columbia Regional Airport continues today. Last year, Creative Ink, a student-run integrated marketing communications firm at Stephens, began preliminary work on a new branding logo and marketing plan for Columbia Regional Airport. Stephens College fashion classes recently used Columbia Regional Airport as a backdrop for one of the multi-faceted Project Runway events, where fashion students' designs were modeled and photographed in various settings at Columbia Regional Airport.

Because of the rich history of the Stephens College Aviation Department and the relationship with Columbia Municipal Airport and the City of Columbia, as well as the impact graduates have made across the world with their education in aeronautics that began in Columbia, engineers developed a plan to safely remove and preserve the beam. It has been transported to, and will be stored at, Columbia Regional Airport until a use can be determined.

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