Nestled between the baseball fields, seemingly out of place, sits one of Cal Poly’s oldest still-functioning buildings. It houses everything from computer-automated machinery to Beverly shears made in 1936. The airplane-hangar-turned machine shop was built in 1947 and served students’ need to create ever since.
“[The Aero Hangar Machine Shop] is [an] actual embodiment of Learn by Doing, which of course Cal Poly is all about, so it’s amazing,” mechanical engineering senior and shop technician Gus Holz said. “It has been such an insanely educational experience.”
The shop was originally built for the aeronautical department, now the aerospace department, to have a designated area to build airplanes. According to mechanical engineering professor Glen Thorncroft, Cal Poly students built countless biplanes in smaller workshops that have since been demolished. The hangar functioned as a licensed service station beginning in the late 1920s. What is now baseball fields was once a runway.
Unfortunately, a fatal biplane crash occurred during the 38th Poly Royal and put an end to Cal Poly’s ability to test and fly student-built planes,
Since then, the shop was repurposed as a machine shop, housing a number of different workspaces for engineering clubs and students alike.
“Our philosophy is that if you want to come in here and learn every tool in the shop, we will teach you every tool,” shop manager George Leone said.
The shop is now open to any and all students who go through a shop safety training. But that was not always the case. In early 2000, the engineering department decided the shop should be available to all majors. Since then, the shop’s technician staff has grown from about six students to 50, and more than 500 students are certified to use the machinery.
“Engineers become better engineers if they work with people who are art majors or business majors and history majors because they get to see different perspectives,” Leone said.
To accommodate the rise in the shop’s demand, the College of Engineering has been designing a more modern building to house Cal Poly’s machinery. The idea for a new shop began in the mid-1990s and is finally building traction.
In what Thorncraft referred to as the “maker movement,” now more than ever, students need a space where they can access a wide range of machinery. The current shop is simply being outgrown, Leone said.
“[The shop] is sort of a victim of its own success,” Thorncroft said.
Though the department is still in the early stages of finding sponsors to fund the development of a new workshop, Leone is hopeful that alumni will give back to what made their experience at Cal Poly valuable.