Planes of Fame Air Museum in California and Arizona

The collection of Planes of Fame is probably among the world’s finest of the kind. The group keeps many extremely rare aircraft in full flying conditions, both jet and prop powered warbirds. They also perform flying activities on an almost-regular basis, including a huge airshow taking place in Chino, CA in mid-spring every year.

What is possibly less known is that the collection is hosted in two branches.

The ‘frontline’ branch is in Chino, between San Bernardino and Pomona, Los Angeles area. Here most of their aircraft and all jet planes are preserved in dedicated hangars on Chino Airport, crowded with commercial and private general aviation activities.

The ‘rear’ collection is in a beautiful location in Arizona called Valle, a few miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon, halfway between Williams on the Route 66 and Grand Canyon Village. Here especially older aircraft are hosted in a hangar on the local Valle Airport. Thanks to the very thin and dry air, this is an ideal place for storing aircraft even on the outside. Here you can find many recently acquired aircraft used for spares or awaiting restoration.

Flying aircraft from the two branches are often swapped between the two locations, so it may happen to see the same aircraft in either of the two places in different times of the year.

In this small post you can see a series of pics from both brenches of this museum.

Chino Branch, California

This branch is probably where the most famous among the spectacular and rare aircraft of the collection can be found. The majority of those in the hangars, if not all, are in airworthy condition. These include unique early Northrop ‘Flying Wing’, at least two Boeing Stearman, and many exemplars of P-40 and P-51.

Some aircraft from WWII really seem to be ready to spool up and go at any time!

Next comes a hangar with mainly jet aircraft from the early Cold War. These are among the few such aircraft on earth still flying. There are an F-86 as well as British and Soviet fighters.

Another hangar hosts a collection of German and Japanese aircraft from WWII, including a stunning FW190 and a Salamander under Nazi colors, and some extremely rare fighters and light bombers from Japan, including the famous ‘Val’ dive bomber. I’m not sure everything is original here, maybe some of the aircraft are replicas or half-replicas, meaning that there is something original in the aircraft but restoration work included substantial reconstruction of missing or heavily damaged parts.

One of the hangars is custom-made for a P-38, which was out on an airshow when I visited, a P-51 taking its place. Also noteworthy are a group of US divers and torpedo-bombers from WWII, and some other carrier-based aircraft.

A great restoration shop is always busy rebuilding parts and assembling aircraft.

There are more hangars in this branch, but many of them are really cluttered, so room inside is at a premium and many aircraft awaiting restoration are stored outside. At the time of my visit these included F-86, F-100, F-104, an Antonov An-2, not easy to see in this part of the world, and what I think is a mock-up replica of a super-rare Italian seaplane built for the Schneider Trophy competition in the Twenties or early Thirties.

Getting there

The place is between San Bernardino and Pomona, and it can be easily reached from LA. The hangars are on the northern side of the airport. Large parking nearby. Here is their website with hours of operation. Visiting may take from 45 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on your level of interest. As an aircraft enthusiast I especially like to see flying collections and where people restore aircraft. This place is a world-category ‘must-see’ under this respect, similar to few other places in the US and Canada, and to Duxford in Britain.

Please note that there is also another great air museum on the northwestern corner of the same airport, called Yanks Air Museum, which is a different entity. Here is their website.

Valle Branch, Arizona

When driving to the Grand Canyon visitor’s center from the south you will pass by this museum, and it won’t go unnoticed thanks to a handful of big aircraft, including a Constellation, placed in front of it.

This branch is smaller with respect to the main location in Chino, and it is composed by a hangar, with a dozen of aircraft in pristine conditions, almost all of them in airworthy condition.

Some of the aircraft are preserved in restored but ‘cut’ condition, showing the restored inner structure. There are also some parts and memorabilia, including the drop (or egg…) shaped fuselage of a P-38, with full panel.

You can see in the pictures that the Japanese ‘Val’ bomber is the same I photographed in Chino in the previous section another year… this is a proof aircraft from this collection can actually fly!

Many aircraft awaiting restoration are waiting their turn on the outside, i.e. on a corner of the apron of Valle Airport, which is an active mainly leisure airport a few miles south the commercial airport of Grand Canyon Village.

Besides the aircraft in need of some restoration work – including a former aircraft of the Blue Angels Team – at the time of my visit there were also some aircraft parts, engines and what appeared to be a full KC-97 tanker which had a close encounter with a crazy scrapman…

Light and air quality in this area are unrivalled, and if you are interested in taking photographs, this is a place to be!

Getting there

The museum is a unmissable sight along route 64 driving from Williams to the Grand Canyon rim. Website with full information here. This may be a nice 45 minutes addition to your full day in the National Park.

Frank Lloyd Wright in California

Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings in California include many works from various stages of his artistic development. Considered together, these offer a good insight in the evolution of his style.

Differently from the front-page works visible elsewhere in the US, the buildings in California are mostly privately owned still today, so on one side they are totally part of the urban landscape and not just museums – they are still used for their intended function. On the other hand, they are not accessible to the public. To say it all, some of them are up for sale and a few in a state of disrepair. You may try scheduling a visit with a seller sometimes, but you’ll probably receive no answer if you say you just want to take pictures, at least if you ask to go for free…

Anyway, in some cases even looking at these buildings from the outside may be interesting for architecture-minded people, and this is usually possible.

The following photographs show some of FLW’s buildings in the metro areas of LA, SLO and SF. They are listed in chronological building order.


The following map allows to quickly check the position of the sights listed below. These are not all FLW sites in California, but only those I’ve visited and which are described in this page.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Hollyhock House – LA

This house is also known as Aline Barnsdall’s house, from the name of the lady who commissioned it. The building is an exception in the panorama of FLW’s houses in LA, for it is usually opened to the public (see website here for visiting info). It was designed and built between 1917 and 1920, some 18-20 years before the famous ‘Fallingwater’ (Kaufman’s house) in Pennsylvania.

Similarly to most buildings of FLW in California, the typical prairie style with exposed red bricks is altered to include concrete elements studied to prevent excessive heating. The decoration, the balanced use of very simple shapes to create an articulated façade and the prevalence of horizontal lines are all characteristics of FLW’s architecture which can be appreciated also here.

The place can be reached easily on 4800 Hollywood Blvd., on top of a small hill. Parking inside is possible.

Charles Ennis House – LA

This private house is located on the same hill as the Griffith Observatory, and has a wonderful panorama to the south and LA. With respect to other works of FLW, this is particularly massive and develops consistently along a vertical direction, while still retaining a good proportion between the area of the base and the overall height. Another distinctive feature is the façade composed of prefabricated concrete blocks, a feature that can be found also in others FLW’s houses in LA. Ennis house dates from 1923-24, when the size of LA was exploding.

You can reach the house on 2607 Glendower Ave. Public parking possible nearby.

Samuel Freeman House – LA

This smaller private house is particularly interesting for it was damaged by some seismic activity and looked in partial disrepair when I last visited in 2014. This made it possible to come close to it and have a close look to the prefabricated concrete bricks constituting the basic building module. The plant of the house is more complicated than Ennis house, but the size is comparatively much smaller, and the building less imposing. Similarly to Ennis house, Freeman house dates from around 1923.

It can be approached easily on 1962 Glencoe Way, a quick detour from Hollywood Blvd. and Franklin Ave., very close to the Hollywood Bowl. Limited public parking around.

John Storer House – LA

This is a private mansion built in the same years as Ennis and Freeman houses (around 1923), with which it shares much of the architectural features, including the building materials. It is comparable in size to Freeman’s house, but is more mimetic, cause it is separated from the road by a small garden and built very close to the side of the hill.

It is located on the hilly section of Hollywood Blvd., exact address 8161, to the west of the intersection with Laurel Canyon Drive. Very limited public parking nearby.

Wayfarers Chapel – LA

The design of this chapel at a first glance is a departure from the traditional prairie and usonian styles adopted for residential buildings by FLW. Yet at a closer look you realize the main features of functional-organic architecture are all there, reflected by the choice of materials and the inspiration of the shape of the chapel taken from natural structures.

Once inside you feel like being in contact with the exceptional surroundings, which are not just in the backstage, but all around in the premises of the chapel.

The complex dates back to the late Forties. It is on the tip of the beautiful Palos Verder peninsula, south of LA. The exact address is 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South, Rancho Palos Verdes. No serious walking necessary for visiting, the place is open to the public and is in the list of historic landmarks. Website here.

W.C. Morris Gift Shop – SF

This shop was the result of a radical restoration of an existing space between 1948 and 1950. The very central location next to Union Square has made it the perfect place for art galleries and luxury exhibition rooms. Actually until recently the place hosted an art gallery. The spiral ramp leading to the first floor was inspired by the Guggenheim museum in New York City, which FLW had started designing in 1943. The brick façade is a one-of-a-kind example in Wright’s production and in the panorama of San Francisco.

The address is on 140 Maiden Lane, .1 miles from Union Square.

Anderton Court Shops – LA

Barely noticeable after somewhat losing its architectural unity due to later additions, this building shows its FLW roots thanks to the vertical spire, typical also to other designs of this architect. The building dates from 1952, and was conceived as shopping center. Since then the property has been divided, and some changes to the facade applied.

Centrally located on 333 N. Rodeo Drive.

Kundert Medical Clinic – SLO

This building was completed in 1956 and specifically designed as an ophtalmological clinic – a unique example in the list of works of FLW. It turned out to be one of the last designs by this architect, who died in 1959. The building makes the best use of a standard size lot in central San Luis Obispo. Today it is still used as a clinic. The red bricks, flat shape, and the assembly dominated by horizontal lines are typical to the style of FLW.

The address is 1106 Pacific Street, San Luis Obispo. You can park right in front of the building, which is centrally located.

Marin County Civic Center – SF

The place was designed beginning 1957, but it was not completed until 1966, well after the death of FLW. This is one of the few institutional buildings of FLW, and unique in the panorama of American public offices. The location in the hills of San Rafael is very quiet and relaxing, and the building is hard to spot until you get very close.

The view from the terrace and the side walkways is very relaxing, as the building is still today surrounded by nature. The warm tones and the ‘human proportions’ of the inside invite to spend some time there, differently from more usual public buildings.

The area can be reached on Peter Behr Dr., San Rafael – there are actually several ways of approaching it. Large parking to the back of the building.


Wolfsschlucht II – Hitler’s Forgotten Headquarters in France

A few miles from the city of Soissons, and precisely in the municipality of Margival in the northern French countryside, southeast of the region of the Somme – where the fierce offensive of the British and their Allies took place in 1916 – lies a very little advertised and almost unknown item of great interest for war historians.

It was here, not far from where young Hitler fought for the Kaiser in WWI, that the occupation forces of Nazi Germany started building their headquarters in 1942. The place, not far north from Paris and at a similar distance from the coasts of Normandy and the narrowest section of the Channel, was probably selected also for the existence of a long railway tunnel, with an entrance hidden in a small but deep valley – of use for hiding the special armored train Hitler used to travel over the occupied regions of the Third Reich.

Being intended for acting as a major directional center where the Führer himself should be in charge, the military installation was designed with all that was necessary for leading the German offensive and directing operations on a potential western front, and with some comfort for the top figures of the German government. Similarly to other bases destined to host the Führer, the fort in Margival received a picturesque name – ‘Wolfsschlucht II’ or  ‘Wolf’s canyon II’.

The fact that soon after the D-Day operations and the real opening of a western front for Germany the region fell under Allied control meant that the installation was used intensively for only about three months in the summer of 1944 – it had began to be used more considerably from the first months of 1944, when an invasion from the sea began to be seen by the Nazi high command as likely.

Hitler reportedly visited the place only in one occasion and for 1-2 days in June 1944, soon after the successful landing of the Allies in Normandy, electing to concentrate personally on the Eastern front and leaving the command of operations to other generals. General Model resided in the installation in August 1944. Soon after the area was lost to the Allies.

But the history of the place was not over. The bunkers, barracks and service buildings had been constructed by the German paramilitary Todt organization with good care and had survived the war basically undamaged. They were used by the French Army until 1955 before being selected for quartering NATO forces until 1968. Then control was given back to the French Army, who abandoned the place with the end of the Cold War in the early Nineties.

Since then the place has been left deserted and has fallen into oblivion. Only in recent years a local society of enthusiasts has begun a lengthy but precious restoration work, which by now has interested only a limited part of the huge area of this military installation.

Due to the extensive use by western forces in the Cold War period, much of the few remaining interiors date from more recently than WWII. On the other hand, the buildings and their disposition are original from the German master plan.

The following photographs were taken during an exploration of the site in August 2016.

Getting there and moving around

Wolfsschlucht II has three main gates, one to the south in Margival, leaving the D537 as the road climbs uphill in a horseshoe bend, one to the east in Laffaux, leaving the D537 to the right before reaching the town center approaching from north, and the last to the north, on Rue Principale in Neuville-sur-Margival.

I selected the first of the three, for immediately after passing the gate and the former guardhouse there is a free area where you can conveniently park your car. This area is technically inside the old fence, so if there is nobody around to greet you and to ask about, you may be worried about your car being blocked inside if somebody closes the gate. I watched the door closely and decided it had been open for months, so I left my car inside. Soon after I met one of the members of the preservation society, who assured there was no trouble in parking where I had actually parked, so I guess you can adopt the same strategy…

I must mention the preservation society has a website where they advertise guided tours of the place, even in English language (website here). I tried to contact them in advance the days prior to my visit, about twenty-five times via phone, but could never speak with anybody – the line was free but nobody answered. I sent also some emails to the guys on the contact list of the site, and never received an answer. I decided to go anyway, and in the event I could tour the place without troubles, except a few restored bunkers, which are closed and cannot be visited except with a guide I guess.

The place is not particularly creepy. Once there, I found an entire family and various other people touring the area, plus people busy in the restoration of some of the bunkers. The railway track is still active, so there are also trains passing right besides the bunkers.

The bunkers are roughly aligned along a single road leading from the southern to the northern entrance, to the east of the railway track. The length is about 1.7 miles one way, so plan a walk of about 3.5 miles for a round tour of this installation.


The first large bunker you find when approaching from the southern gate is the ‘Loano’ bunker – all names are from after WWII, where the numbers painted on the bunkers are original German. The distinctive concrete dome and the surface with holds for practicing with climbing and doing exercises is an addition dating from after WWII.

The road then splits in two. Both ends lead to the northern part of the installation, where the most interesting bunkers can be found. The lower path goes along the railway, and climbs uphill steeply towards the end. There is less to see along that than the other path, going uphill immediately behind the ‘Loano’ bunker.

Along the latter, you can find a series of service buildings, barracks, clubhouses and canteens for troops. Also a former square with a flagpole can be seen to the side of the road at some point. Most of the buildings are totally abandoned. I explored some of them with some satisfaction, but what you can find dates clearly from relatively recent years.

Among other buildings, a partially interred bunker for troops, similar to those you can find in the batteries of the Atlantic Wall, can be spotted in the trees, refurbished but unfortunately not accessible. A distinctive feature of some of the buildings is their ‘partially armored’ construction, with the part reaching to the road made of lighter materials and that closer to the hill made of reinforced concrete.

I guess the iron window frames and blinds date back from WWII.

After a good walk you finally reach a T-shaped crossing and a group of buildings. Among them, the one belonging to the preservation society – ‘Berezina’ bunker. To the east you can spot the only multi-storey building of the complex, which reportedly served as a building for visitors, and actually looks like a small hotel. I don’t think this dates back from WWII, for the style is somewhat ‘un-German’. You can step inside at your own risk, for the building is totally derelict. Baths and canteens are still easily recognizable. To the back of the ‘Berezina’ bunker it is possible to find the entry of a heavy armored bunker, in a refurbished camouflage.

Going back to the T-shaped crossing and taking to the west you find one of the most interesting bunkers, a former communication bunker which was named ‘Patricia’ after the war. This building follows the ‘partially armored’ construction scheme. It is exceptionally long, possibly one of the largest of the kind in Europe.

Inside the building it is easy to distinguish the unarmored part to the front from the armored part to the back, closer to the hill.

Again the inside of the armored part is very similar to the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall, a consequence of both being designed by the same design studio. Remains of cables from WWII and of other equipment from various ages make this visit very interesting. It’s very dark inside the armored part, you will definitely need a torch, and be very careful, cause the pavement is uneven and there are manholes and other strange cavities all around.

The last part of the visit will bring you to the Führer’s quarters. Keeping going uphill, the road will turn north. As you reach the top of a steep climb you will be facing a corner building with three square pillars. This is bunker N.1, where Hitler was in his only visit to the Margival site in June 1944. The very sober decoration of the façade with the three pillars is the only distinctive feature of this building, which is again armored to the back.

Leaving the N.1 building to your left you may take a road proceeding around the hill without climbing. Along this road you see a grassy area with curbs framing a square spot on the ground. This is where a ‘normal’ – i.e. not armored – house for the Führer’s entourage used to stay. Further on, you can find an original Nazi swimming pool, again intended for top-ranking staff stationed in the installation.

Going back to bunker N.1 and taking to the north, you can find large buildings possibly originally hosting command services and canteens. At the time of my visit these were undergoing restoration.

A refurbished bunker with a ‘Tobruk’ shooting post can be found to the northernmost end of the building complex.

During my exploration I came back to the southern gate and to the ‘Loano’ bunker following the lower road along the railway. Being an active track, it should be approached with extreme caution. It is part of the tour, for it was there from the origin.

All in all, this was a stress-free, easy and enjoyable exploration. The site is rich of historical significance and showcases interesting military buildings from the period of Nazi Germany. I would recommend it for everybody interested, including those in lower than average physical condition. Don’t forget guided tours are possible in principle – I wish you are luckier than me in scheduling one!