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09/29/2009

Jerry Burchfield and the El Toro Marines

September 29, 2009 | 12:40 pm

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The death of Orange County artist and educator Jerry Burchfield brought back some fond memories of the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Burchfield used photography to document two significant but very different areas in Orange County -- Laguna Canyon Road and the El Toro base. There was more than a bit of politics involved in photographing Laguna Canyon because at one time developers had plans for the area that could have changed it forever. The photography project helped the environmental movement that stopped the development.

There were plans for El Toro too -- using the air strips and other facilities there as a starting point for a regional airport. But Burchfield and his colleagues mostly had history in mind while they took thousands of pictures at El Toro. Mark Chamberlain, a Laguna Beach artist and gallery owner who worked with Burchfield for decades, said the Marines deserved some lasting memory of their time and service in Orange County.

My family moved to Irvine 13 years ago, and I had no idea how close we were to the base and how much the Marines were a part of the community. You'd see Marines in uniform at the grocery store or filling up their cars with gas. When the Marines held their annual air show, we'd step out onto our cul-de-sac to watch the planes tearing through the skies. My sons took golf lessons at the base's golf course.

I recall one youth basketball practice on some outdoor courts at the local junior high school. My players suddenly weren't paying attention to me because they could see a tank making its way down the street. I couldn't see it, but when I turned around and realized what I was missing, I watched right along with them.

You can view some of Burchfield's El Toro work here.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: The El Toro Marine Corps Air Station is now home to the Orange County Great Park, which is still being developed. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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