Veterans Exhibit

Pictured is an aerial drawing showing where a proposed veterans exhibit would be at the Orange County Fairgrounds. It would be just west of Centennial Farm within the 150-acre property in Costa Mesa. (Daily Pilot / December 19, 2013)

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The onset of World War II transformed Costa Mesa's quiet farmland into a military zone preparing for battle.

This, it was noted during Thursday's Fair Board meeting, forever changed the area and paved the way for the population growth to come.

And so it is only fitting, veterans' supporters have contended, that there be something signifying the efforts of servicemen and women within the Orange County Fairgrounds. The land was once part of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, which existed from 1942 to 1946.

Those folks got their wish after the Fair Board approved a permanent veterans' exhibit at the 150-acre state property.

The exhibit is slated to be located just west of Centennial Farm — a prime location, fairgrounds Chief Executive Doug Lofstrom said, because the farm is used year-round for educational purposes by thousands of schoolchildren. The area is also near the weekend swap meet.

The exhibit could find itself in the Memorial Gardens Building, a former Army barracks and one of the few remaining base structures, when it moves to its permanent location.

The building was slated to be demolished earlier this year, with its historical pieces salvaged, to make way for a new entrance to the Pacific Amphitheatre.

After some outcry from veterans' groups and preservation interest from the Costa Mesa Historical Society, Supervisor John Moorlach and Fair Board member Nick Berardino, the board voted in July to move and preserve the nearly 70-year-old structure.

In September, the two-story, 4,800-square-foot Memorial Gardens Building was relocated temporarily to Lot G, on the eastern edge of the fairgrounds property.

Berardino, a Marine veteran who served during the Vietnam War, said the exhibit has received some interest from Sacramento politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, who appointed Berardino to the board.

"I thought it was pretty doggone nice," Berardino said, "and he too lends his support for the project. We're moving this along, I think, in a very positive direction."

Cornell Iliescu, founder of the Noble Cause Foundation, also gave his support. His foundation aims to preserve the legacy of the Greatest Generation.

"I've been dreaming this for a long time," Iliescu said. "I've lived in Costa Mesa since 1975, but I couldn't believe that this would happen."