Field Notes

Orange County Great Park

  • Construction

    The base started construction on August 1, 1942.

  • Workforce

    Men and women served together during WWII and the Cold War eras.

  • Closure

    It officially closed on July 2, 1999.

  • OC Great Park Plans

    In 2002 OC voters passed Measure W. for the decommissioned Marine Corps Army Station El Toro. Architects were hired for rehabilitation of the historic hangers and other features for public use.

  • Voices of the Homefront

    Homefront oral histories have been collected at CSUF and UCI and exhibited on site in the historic hangers.
  • Historical Timeline

    Today you can view the walkable timeline in person on the former landing pad.

  • 1942

    2400 acres used for training base. In 1943, women arrive for service.

Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA is part of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Construction started on August 1, 1942. The base officially closed on July 2, 1999. This site evidences the radical change in California communities due to military infrastructure and civilian life that sustained the home front. The massive military mobilization transformed Orange County’s open lima bean fields to air fields that remain to this day. Farmers to Flyers, an exhibit curated by CSUF’s COPH, captured this shift from agricultural to commercial development based on oral histories and other archival materials.

The city of Irvine developed a plan to retain the historic structures on site and transform them into public use facilities. “The Marine Corps Air Station El Toro’s World War II-era atmosphere and architecture have been preserved by means of adaptive reuse of existing buildings, a strategy that aligns with the Great Park’s ecological values. Re-purposed military structures in the Palm Court Arts Complex now form a cultural campus supporting the development of a fresh approach to establishing an interdisciplinary, public arts program.

Additionally, the historical Hangar 244 features historical images, displays, and artifacts that tell the story of the Great Park from its agricultural roots to its role in the military as Marine Corp Air Station El Toro.”

You can visit it for art and history exhibitions. This historic hanger holds a permanent collection of Marine and Home Front history. They have oral history listening stations with interviews conducted by CSUF’s Center for Oral and Public History and University of California, Irvine.

You can visit the site and see the walkable timeline and read the history of the base. We also recommend the 13,000 BC–1990: Handbook The Orange County Great Park by Dr. Keith L. Nelson and Dr. Spencer C. Olin, Professors Emeriti of History University of California, Irvine.

Visit the Palm Court Arts Complex webpage for more information. Here is the current exhibition schedule:

Great Park Gallery

Thursdays & Fridays: noon–4 p.m.
Saturdays & Sundays: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Free Admission


Huell Howser, Photo Courtesy Chapman University, Leatherby Libraries Special Collections & Archives


March 4–May 13, 2018
Exhibition Opening: Sunday, March 4, 1–3 p.m.

“The legacy left behind by the late TV legend Huell Howser will continue to educate generations on the history and beauty of the Golden State. Tour the diverse climates and communities of California through Golden Parks: Huell Howser. This exhibition highlights the Golden Parks that Huell Howser documented throughout his career and emphasizes the importance of their role in cultivating healthy communities. In partnership with Chapman University Leatherby Libraries, home of the Huell Howser Archives.”


June 3–Aug. 19, 2018
Exhibition Opening: Sunday, June 3, 1–3 p.m.“Artist Cliff Cramp has created illustrations for Dark Horse Comics, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon and Penguin Random House, among many others. Cliff Cramp: Art & Entertainment offers a brief examination of the artist’s work in both traditional and digital media and highlights the work of California State University, Fullerton alumni who studied under him during his tenure as a professor of illustration.”

Orange County Art Book Collection

“The Orange County Art Book Collection is a curated library of books documenting the history of Orange County art and exhibitions.”

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