Class of 1972 Project​

The struggle between the Diggers and the Fillers raged on after the Class of ’72 graduated. Although in the battles witnessed by the BEST IN BLUE the Diggers and the Fillers seemed evenly matched, just two years later the Fillers brought the conflict to a triumphant conclusion. In a final coup de "grass", they drained, bulldozed and filled the Air Gardens, essentially destroying them. The sparkling waters were replaced with dirt. All that remained was the lonely Bell X-4 in the place where it had been so artfully positioned by the Class of ‘72 almost fifty years ago on a spirit night. What was intended to be landscaping as inspirational and architecturally dynamic as the landmark Chapel was gone.

Since 1974, lack of attention and resources have accelerated the decline, including slow die-off of much of the trees and landscaping, and crumbling concrete/marble strips. No class since 1978 has seen the Air Gardens as they were originally constructed. When Lt Gen. Bradley Hosmer ('59) returned as Superintendent in 1991, the Fillers were still doing their endzone dance. He remembered the Air Gardens in their original grandeur and questioned what had happened. General Hosmer somehow found a way to restore the larger north and south pools. However, the center portion of reflecting pools remains quite dead and literally buried, Today, the Air Gardens as they were originally conceived and as we knew them no longer exist.

The Air Gardens Today​

(April 2018)

The signature features of the original Air Gardens were the central water concourse paralleled by dense groves of Honey Locust, bookended on either end by the fountains. The water concourse no longer exists and many if not most of the Honey Locust are dead or dying. With these key features lost, those who remember would hardly call what remains today “The Air Gardens.” While the Air Gardens today may look "OK" from a distance, they are not the Air Gardens as we experienced them.

The original water concourse was intended as a place for quiet peaceful reflection.

The original water concourse was intended as a place for quiet peaceful reflection.

Honey Locust were densely planted, fourteen feet on center, four trees wide.

When the pools of Air Gardens were filled in, so too were the recessed areas in which the Honey Locusts were planted.

"Leveling" the area for easier maintenance had the effect of compromising the roots of the Honey Locusts

Over half of the Honey Locust have died over the years.

What was intended as a lush grove is now a desolate area with random trees

Over the years, marble strips have been replaced by white concrete with marble chips.

Winter has been harsh on the walkways.

The walkways have crumbled over time.

In many cases, the sod that replaced the water concourse has grown 2" to 3" inches above grade

The paths are "scalped" during mowing and have the look of a bad Kim Jong Un haircut.

At best, they are a grassy mall between Mitchell Hall and Vandenberg Hall. Gone is the concourse of shallow pools that ran the length of the gardens, now replaced by sod. Upon closer inspection, one will see that the gardens are continuing to deteriorate. The areas in which the Honey Locusts were originally planted were recessed. They were back filled to facilitate lawn maintenance. As a result the root structures of the trees were compromised and the trees began to die. What was intended as a lush grove fourteen feet on center and four trees wide is now merely a patchy and forlorn grouping of trees. The walkways are crumbling, riven with cracks and gaps. The story does not have to end here.

Air Gardens Restoration Project​

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of our graduation, the Class of ‘72 will be joining the Classes of ‘75 and ‘76 to raise funds to restore the Air Gardens to their original iconic grandeur. Although the U.S. Air Force Academy is a public university, budget pressures within the Air Force and the Federal government will always cause these restoration efforts to be a low or non-existent priority. As with other public universities, private funds are necessary to differentiate them from the ordinary as well as create and expand the margin of excellence required of truly great schools. Private funds and your help are necessary to restore the Air Gardens.

​The plan to restore the Air Gardens necessarily addresses learning from the original design. The old pools will be dug out, but will no longer be interconnected. In the revised design no more than four pools will be interconnected. Further, the water in the pools will be approximately two inches deep. To provide the illusion of greater depth, the bottoms of the pools will consist of black granite. This method has been successfully used at Claremont McKenna’s Kravis Center and the Oklahoma City Memorial.

Down the center of the gardens adjacent to the reflecting pools will be hedges of American Holly complemented by Blue Spruce. Once again, parallel to and on either side of the center pools, two dense groves of Honey Locusts will be planted in “sunken” areas. They will be surrounded by gravel mulch as opposed to grass. This will help to reduce annual maintenance expense as well as enable the environment around the trees to be fine-tuned to assure their continued health. Walkways will be paved with a new type of concrete, sandscape, that has been successfully tested at the Falcon Athletic Center and was used in the courtyards around Polaris Hall.

​Under a separate project the 9-11 Memorial will be moved to the center of the west side of the Air Gardens. In addition, in the southwest corner, nearest Mitchell Hall there will be a polished black granite marker which will recognize the classes that participated in funding the restoration. As appropriate, other monuments and statuary may be placed in the Air Gardens.

It will take the collaborative efforts of many more who remember the Air Gardens in their original state to restore and preserve them for alumni and future generations