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Curtiss Wright Hangar converting to Hunter Gatherer Brewery

Like so many Columbians who passed by the historic Curtiss Wright Hangar (CWH) over its years of vacancy and neglect, David Buchanan wished the structure could have a new lease on life.

On Thursday July 27, Buchanan saw his wish had come true during Historic Columbia’s sneak peek inside the new Hunter Gatherer Brewery. Kevin Varner, a local microbrewer pioneer, has been brewing for more than two decades and will operate the new-again facility on Airport Boulevard.

Buchanan, the owner of Buchanan Construction Services, one of the professional groups involved in the circa-1929 hangar’s restoration, said he’d noticed the hangar often. “It’s on my way to work. Our offices are right around the corner.”

When work began on the project, Buchanan was pleasantly surprised to find “aspects of the structure in very good shape. As glass was replaced in the metal window panes, we were amazed at how solid the metal was.”

Buchanan also found the floor was in reasonably good shape. “Fortunately, we found very few cracks in the floors, and they sloped uniformly, which will be very good for Kevin since he will need to hose his brewery out frequently.”

The interior of the historic hangar, nearly ready to begin its new duties as a brewery, was still off-limits to guests; however, the restored metal doors, opened wide, allowed full viewing of the stainless steel vats and other apparatus that will be used in the operation, probably beginning within about six weeks.

Betsy McDonald, front, serves guests cold beverages while contractor David Buchanan, back, talks with Harold Snipes at Historic Columbia’s sneak peek into restoration of historic Curtiss Wright Hangar which is on schedule to become Hunter Gatherer Brewery in coming weeks.

While waiting for more guests to arrive for the late afternoon event, Buchanan admired the oversized fans already spinning to cool the hangar’s interior. “They are huge so they can move a tremendous amount of air through here. And I like the yellow tips on the fan blades. Reminds me of an airplane propeller.”

Almost as soon as he said this, the plane most associated with the historic hangar appeared at the back of the parking lot.

Volunteers with the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation (SCHAF) moved the aircraft, by tug, from the private hangar near the terminal at Hamilton-Owens Airport where it continues to undergo restoration work.

The fabled B-25, part of the fleet of Mitchell Bombers delivered to Columbia Army Air Base during WWII’s early months, has been back in Columbia since shortly after its rescue. The plane ditched into Lake Greenwood on D-Day, 1944, on a routine training mission and sat in mud for 39 years before being pulled out of the lake in 1983.

Out back of the CWH where the plane was on view, event guests were able to ascend a ladder and observe faithful restorations made recently to the cockpit.

Restoration efforts have been made possible, in part, through support from the Richland County Conservation Commission.

Volunteers were on hand to talk about what other improvements are on the drawing board. Announcements will be made soon regarding SCHAF’s October celebration of the plane’s 75th birthday.

SCHAF hosts an open house every second Saturday at the hangar near the airport terminal, and by coming by regularly, members and visitors can keep track of the progress.

While SCHAF members answered questions about the aircraft that, for many years, resided in the CWH, Buchanan and others who have comprised the construction team answered guests’ questions about the hangar’s current restoration.

Bottom line: within coming weeks the historic hangar will open as a brewery.

Featured photo: Volunteers from South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation moved the Mitchell Bomber from the private hangar, Hamilton-Owens Airport, to be accessible to guests at the sneak peek. The B-25 also is undergoing restoration work.

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