The Hanger Games

The Hanger Games

Long the Airpark’s most elite event space, Hangar One is finally reaching out to the masses

By Jimmy Magahern

In 2014, when Vanity Fair, in a rare cost-cutting measure, moved its A-list Oscars party from its usual location at Hollywood’s Sunset Tower to a specially built 12,000-foot temporary structure on Sunset Boulevard it called an “aerie,” the New York Times reported some of Tinsel Town’s uber-socialites complained it “felt like an airplane hangar.”

It didn’t take long, however, for upscale parties held in actual airplane hangars to catch on. By 2017, the cavernous hangar, with its industrial-style exposed rafters and stark cement floor, had firmly replaced the traditional hotel ballroom as the chic spot to hold an elegant soirée or prestigious corporate event.

Karen May of Venues of North Scottsdale was among the first local event planners to embrace the trend, hitting hangar bookings “hard and heavy” around 2016. “Most of our events are corporate,” she reported the following year. “A few hundred to a thousand people who might be staying at the Westin Kierland for a convention and want to go off site and blow off steam, or have a three-hour party and not be in that same ballroom that they were in all day for a meeting. Hangars are the perfect answer to that.”

Today hangar parties still show no signs of becoming passé. At this year’s Coachella festival, one of the hottest invite-only parties was held in a lavishly outfitted airplane hangar where celebrity DJs entertained an influencer-filled guestlist roaming the floor on Spin electric scooters.

In Scottsdale, the hottest hangar remains Hangar One, the 17,000-square-foot centerpiece of the $50 million complex built in 2003 by Bennett Dorrance, billionaire heir to the Campbell Soup fortune amassed by his grandfather, John T. Dorrance, a chemist who devised the formula for condensed soup. Tucked away on a quiet street between the east side of the Scottsdale Airport runway and North Hayden Road, the facility sits across from a twin hangar (utilized to house the actual planes of club members), with the two buildings joined by a suspended arch topped with a distinctive 108-foot-long aluminum sculpture shaped like a giant paper airplane.

“It’s obviously very unique, very grand,” says Bethanni Gomez, the facility’s event coordinator. “Most people who come here say they’ve never seen anything like it in a hangar.”

Until recently, Hangar One never did any marketing for its event spaces — it hasn’t had to, as glowing word-of-mouth recommendations have kept event bookers on a waiting list.

“We usually ask people to book events six to nine months out,” Gomez says. “Sometimes even a year out, if they’re looking to book around the holidays. In November and December, we’re often doing two events each weekend.”

But now the facility has begun advertising its event spaces, in an effort to shake the “members only” distinction it’s garnered through its operations on the aircraft management side. While the facility offers storage space for about private aircraft (“five or six if we get all Gulfstreams,” Dorrance half-joked upon its groundbreaking), complete with “white-glove” aircraft maintenance and other exclusive perks for dues-paying club members, Gomez says the company’s focus is on becoming a little more inclusive.

“We’re still membership-based here and our main core operation will always be taking care of our members,” she stresses. “But we do have these great spaces here that are specifically built for events, and we’d like to be a little bit more open to the public. A lot of people still don’t know that we’re here.”

 

Going public

From the start, Scottsdale’s Hangar One was, in the words of Arizona architect Vernon Swaback, the former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice who co-designed the complex with preeminent New York interior designer Adam Tihany, “a fascinating project.”

The 124,000-square-foot complex, initially named Airmore Hangar One, took 15 months to complete and involved 54 subcontractors — about twice the number normally employed on a project of its size, according to Tempe’s Sundt Construction, the general contractor who oversaw the work. The “mind-boggling” array of custom fixtures, according to the data sheet on Sundt’s website, included “upholstered ceilings, exotic stone and terrazzo floorings, and a top-of-the-line automation and audio-visual system.”

Originally conceived as a private aircraft garage for Dorrance (a licensed pilot since 1965) and his wife, Jacquie, the couple gradually opened up Hangar One to an exclusive circle of friends and business colleagues — but even then Dorrance still considered it a “gated community,” in his words, welcoming only a select clientele. A section of one wedge-shaped building on the 200,000-square-foot lot, with a floor covered in bright red epoxy that inexplicably warps, Inception style, into a ceiling perforated with hundreds of Swiss cheese holes, was originally built just to house a collection of vintage cars.

That space is now the Red Room, rented to parties of approximately 300 people. “We do a lot of company parties, fundraising events and mitzvahs in here,” Gomez says. “It’s great for events that don’t need the full hangar space.”

The complex also offers Club 360, an intimate 75-person-capacity room that features a full bar and kitchen topped with a rooftop deck with an air traffic controller’s view of the adjacent Scottsdale Airport runway. The Dorrances initially used the space as a private clubhouse for entertaining friends, but today it’s rented out as a secretive party facility.