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Picture yourself in the South Pacific, relaxing in a 1940s U.S. Army Air Forces officers’ quarters with Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” playing in the background. In reality, you are in Fredericksburg at the Hangar Hotel, immersed in nostalgia while surrounded by 21st-century comforts.
From the outside, the 50-room hotel resembles a plain-Jane, Quonset hut hangar, complete with private planes parked on the Gillespie County Airport apron only 120 feet from the palm-fringed entrance. But inside, you begin a sentimental journey: Staff wearing flight-crew uniforms welcome you while eight clocks overhead mark the time in Honolulu, San Francisco, Denver, New York, London, Rome, Sydney and, of course, Fredericksburg. Tropical greenery peeks around stacks of vintage tan luggage and club chairs covered in bomber-jacket leather. The wooden radio console, a poster featuring the China Clipper winging over the waves and the big-band soundtrack nudge you deeper into a bygone era.
The romance of yesteryear lingers in the khaki-walled guest rooms where an army-olive blanket rests at the foot of crisp, white-striped sheets on a rattan-accented mahogany bed. Comfy, distressed-leather easy chairs bracket the window and its small electric candle. Even the bathroom is a retro vision in black and white tiles.
Dick Estenson, a private pilot and former NASA engineer, decided a nostalgic World War II-themed hotel fit well with his passion for flying and the National Museum of the Pacific War 3 miles away. People are surprised the Hangar Hotel was built in 1995, he says, taking pride in the research and attention to detail that have attracted couples of all ages for romantic getaways. “I want people to go away feeling like they had a good time. That’s what is gratifying: guests who are content.” Contentment is audible: Guests have been heard humming “Bali Ha’i” from the 1949 Broadway musical “South Pacific.”
Sturdy rocking chairs on the upper and lower porches invite laidback watching of sunsets and planes landing and taking off yards away. The Officers Club bar, a cozy space with red leather chairs and a fireplace, is ideal for sipping champagne cocktails and talking for hours.
Start the morning with breakfast next door at Estenson’s Airport Diner, a 1940s vision of chrome counter stools and red booths where you can eat breakfast, including homemade biscuits, all day. Pilots and their families fly in to lunch on Bomber Burgers or hot roast beef sandwiches and visit Fredericksburg and tour the museum dedicated to World War II in the Pacific.
The museum’s subdued lighting creates a solemn atmosphere befitting the courage and sacrifice of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Through photographs, documents, combat-scarred tanks and ships, and mesmerizing multimedia map tables, the exhibits give both broad and intimate perspectives on the conflict in the Pacific. From Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle’s surprise bombing raid on Tokyo in 1942 to the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, the dominant theme is individuals fighting as a nation for victory, for freedom.
In the evening, the Cabernet Grill, just half a mile away across the highway, glories in its new Texas cuisine and long list of Texas wines. Diners can enjoy the spinach salad with Rio grapefruit and pecans, and entrees such as Angus tenderloin kabobs, sided with three-cheese grits or maple chipotle sweet potato mash, or the savory buffalo enchiladas with green chile cream.
To end the night memorably, stroll the short distance back to the hotel. Ahead you will see candles twinkling in the windows and the large sign with an airplane nose-art pinup girl saying, “I sleep like a baby.” And you do. The sound of a small plane taking off during the night flows into your dreams where you are smiling through some enchanted evening.
Eileen Mattei is a Harlingen writer.