More than a decade after a Determination of Eligibility was completed and three years after the threat of demolition, the terminal building at South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field has been nationally recognized as a historic property.
Last week, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program notified Mayor Frank Hash that the National Park Service had approved a nomination for the post-WWII-era terminal building to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city’s airport and historic district commissions partnered in 2017 to launch the National Register nomination process.
With a $13,500 grant from the AHPP, the El Dorado Historic District Commission selected CRA Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc., of Indiana and Kentucky to conduct an architectural survey of the building and prepare the National Register nomination.
CRA presented the nomination to the State Review Board of the AHPP in April. The nomination was approved and then forwarded to the National Park Service for consideration to the National Register.
The terminal building was designed by late architect John B. Abbott, one of the founders of CADM Architecture, Inc.
Construction was completed in 1950.
The SARA terminal administration building contains architectural elements of Moderne and International styles, including smooth exterior walls with minimal ornamentation; flat roofs; rounded edges along the flat projecting eaves; and wraparound windows covering large expanses of the wall planes.
A Determination of Eligibility survey was completed more than a decade ago, and the building was deemed eligible for the NRHP, but the city did not move forward with the nomination process at the time.
After several years of discussions about the need to upgrade and rehabilitate the terminal, the airport commission reviewed options and voted in 2015 to build a new terminal at an estimated cost of $2.1 million, versus a refit of the existing building for an estimated $1.9 million.
Mickey Murfee, now chairman of the airport commission, cast the lone no vote to raze the existing terminal and build anew, sparking an effort by local, state and federal historic preservation officials to save the building.
A public hearing was held in May 2016 and commissioners heard opinions on both sides of the matter.
Airport Commissioner Aubra Anthony Jr., who was not a member of the commission at the time, was a vocal opponent of tearing down the terminal.
He provided information that helped set off a chain of events that resulted in a Federal 106 Review — and a potential Section 4(f) process — that ultimately squashed plans for new construction in favor of rehabbing the existing terminal.
The Section 106 Review and Section 4(f) processes stipulate how the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation may approve the use of certain property, including public or private historical sites.
Within the past two years, the airport commission has received an updated budget estimate of $2.1 million to renovate the terminal and formed an ad-hoc committee to explore funding options.
Murfee and Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the historic district commission, said the National Register designation will open up opportunities for funding sources for which the terminal was not previously eligible, such as federal and state historic preservation grants.
“It’s a very important step in the process of restoration. It’s a positive thing for the terminal and for the city,” Murfee said.
“There are not many terminal buildings like this left. A lot of them with a similar design have been torn down,” he said.
Eggleston said the National Register designation is also a tribute to Abbott and his body of work in the city.
“He worked on a lot of buildings in El Dorado. The terminal administration budding is an icon, not just in El Dorado, but also in Arkansas,” Eggleston said. “I’m happy that the preservationists came together and let it be known that they wanted to preserve it and the private sector, individual citizens, and the public sector, the city as a municipality, worked together to get that accomplished,” she continued.
Upon hearing the news about the National Register designation, Eggleston said she immediately contacted the AHPP and Preserve America to see what grants are available.
In the meantime, Murfee said the airport commission’s first priority is to replace the sign at the entrance of SARA.
The existing sign will have to be moved to make way for plans by the Arkansas Department of Transportation to widen and improve U.S. 82.
Included in those plans is the six-mile stretch between SARA’s Airport Drive and Wrights Lane, just west of Stars Cinema.
ARDoT has committed a total of $20,000 toward the costs of moving the sign at the entranceway to SARA and to reinstall five street lamps that had to be removed from Airport Drive and replaced once the highway work is completed.
During an airport commission meeting in July, Mayor Frank Hash implored commissioners to come up with a design for a new sign and a budget estimate, saying that the group could present a funding request to the El Dorado Works Board to possibly pay for the project.
The EWB administers the city’s one-cent, economic development sales tax.
Murfee said the commission will discuss the National Register listing and the sign project during a regular meeting at 3 p.m. Monday in the SARA terminal.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@eldoradonews. com.