September 17, 2009
We recently got an announcement that a ca.-1912 hang glider, modeled after an 1896 design by Wright-brother mentor Octave Chanute, had been installed in the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California.
Design centers are sort of shopping malls for interior decorators and architects, with showrooms full of furniture, fabric, lighting, wallpaper–that kind of thing. They’re usually only open to those “in the trade.”
It turns out the Pacific Design Center has a “glass-sheathed” atrium, and how could any designer, preoccupied as he is with the use of space, resist the challenge of finding the perfect accessory for what is essentially a 32-foot-high room? In goes the century-old glider, and from the announcement, it does sound like it has antique-caliber panache: “replete with a cane-backed pilot’s seat, wooden rudder and rubber-rimmed tires for a smooth landing.”
And the president and owner of the design center, Charles S. Cohen, did find the biplane through a New York antiques dealer, Andrew Martin, who’d bought it in London. “We don’t know who built it,” Cohen says, “but I did send photos of it to Smithsonian aeronautical curator Tom Crouch, who verified that it was built sometime between 1912 and 1913, after an original Octave Chanute design. This particular glider is larger than those that Chanute built, but according to Mr. Crouch probably was the design that the Wright brothers adapted” for their early aircraft.
Cohen bought it expressly for the design center. “I couldn’t resist the biplane’s spectacular design,” he says. “Spectacular”—it’s not a word you hear very much from airplane people. But it made me look at the glider a second time, and you know, I think he’s right.