By Joe Mark, M.SAME

The Commissioned Officers’ Club at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego has hosted numerous events, meetings, and social gatherings since it was built in the 1950s. Most famously, it is the setting for the memorable scene in the 1986 film Top Gun in which the lead characters serenade their flight instructor with a rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” However, after more than 60 years, the famed club had lost a little “lovin’ feelin’” itself.

A $7.7 million design-build project was undertaken, contracted to Stellar, that would renovate the main entrance and kitchen areas as well as make important life-safety upgrades. Key stakeholder groups and U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) had a clear idea of several design upgrades and modernizations they wanted. Shortly after work got underway, though, the priorities changed.

Decades of unknown upgrades and unforeseen conditions made what may seemingly have been a straightforward project into a uniquely complex renovation—one that would showcase the flexibility available to the design-build process.

Updating the main entry included an addition inspired by the wing of an aircraft, which both opened up the area and paid homage to Miramar’s rich history. PHOTOS COURTESY STELLAR | JENNIFER REGNIER PHOTOGRAPHY


As is common with many old buildings, there was not much data about what expansions had taken place over the years to the Officers’ Club.

Understanding how the different expansions occurred and how they worked together was difficult until the team actually got into the facility to analyze it. A lot of spaces had been covered up over time. For instance, there were multiple layers of ceiling membranes that documents did not show. By utilizing 3D laser scanning technology, existing conditions could be determined and considered in design. The initial reviews discovered a number of challenges, such as asbestos and lead that had to be abated and load-bearing walls that needed reinforcement.

The integrated design-build team worked concurrently with the key stakeholders and IMCOM to review alternative design and cost options and assess the best value tradeoffs. This enabled Stellar to identify the right design and enable operational goals while meeting stakeholder expectations.

A top priority was remodeling the kitchen, which required new equipment and supporting utility infrastructure, an expanded walk-in freezer, and new epoxy floors. During the underground plumbing rough-in, the original cast-iron grease waste and sanitary pipes were discovered to have so heavily deteriorated that entire segments of pipe wall were caving in. Some areas of pipe had extreme blockage from years of buildup, while others had inadequate drainage resulting in standing waste. An undocumented, concrete-encased electrical bank in the kitchen was also discovered.

These unforeseen challenges were addressed with the design-build team having been in place. New piping was installed, the grease waste system was redesigned, and feeds were relocated to overhead to avoid conflict.

A new bar service area complete with LED-backlit 3form panels, all new ceiling systems, and new slabs/flooring were included in the renovation of the Main Bar.


A main goal of the project was to maintain the historic nature of the Officers’ Club while equipping it for continued success into the future. This inspired two key design efforts: a new pre-function corridor and a revamped main entry.

The new pre-function corridor created more direct access between the kitchen and banquet rooms, streamlining food service. Updating the main entry had the primary objective of opening up the area, but the design team also took it as an opportunity to pay homage to Miramar’s history with a 1,350-ft2 entry inspired by an aircraft wing. Two bar spaces were also selected for renovation: the Main Bar and WOXOF Room. The Main Bar is the largest in the facility, but it had a constrained output due to antiquated bar and food service equipment. A new food prep room, beer cooler, bar, ceiling systems, and new slabs/flooring modernized the design and updated the effective output. The material solutions incorporated into the bar included LED-backlit 3form panels on the front bar that warmed up the space and made it more inviting.

The WOXOF Room (a private bar area) takes its name from an aviation term for “Weather Obscured Zero Visibility and Fog.” That meaning is represented in the room by a large, low-hanging cloud structure. As the most iconic feature of the Officers’ Club, renovating it came with many unique challenges, but IMCOM, Marine Corps Community Services, and Stellar collaborated on a solution that upgraded the bar design and functionality and dispersed some of the room’s famous memorabilia throughout the facility.

Iconic memorabilia was dispersed throughout the renovated Officers’ Club


A major focus of the renovation work was upgrading the safety of the Officers’ Club and ensuring it met State of California fire safety and seismic requirements. But a significant challenge in retrofitting the building with a new fire alarm and fire protection system was that there was no way to hide the entire system without renovating all the ceilings. This ran counter to the goal of maintaining the club’s aesthetic as much as possible. Instead, the design team worked with the base and the local fire marshal to come up with a creative solution. The fire marshal allowed the main line to be white with a red stripe, identifying it as a sprinkler line but letting it blend more seamlessly with the room’s design.

A consequence of the new fire protection system was the addition of fire-mains and branch-piping, which applied new loads that had to be supported, including lateral effects from earthquakes. A team of structural engineers, including a local representative (TKJ Structural Engineering), analyzed the structure, designed new elements, and improved existing connectivity. In the end, this process included the development of a comprehensive roof collateral load analysis. The custom development readily identified deficient framing and allowed for a targeted reinforcing approach.

Seismic upgrades were selected to enhance the connectivity of the existing load path, including improved connections of existing structural elements to foundations and roof diaphragms. During the demolition phase, additional complications were revealed as significant decay and rust were identified at the bottoms of various wall sections. This incredibly unstable condition was immediately communicated to the design team and nimbly addressed.

There were also existing drainage issues that went against typical building standards, such as the site draining toward a new low-lying canopy entrance. Stellar made strategic modifications to existing storm systems to resolve long-standing issues and route stormwater away from the main entrance.

Improvements to address access deficiencies for handicapped and disabled visitors were also made. More specifically, new exterior ramping was designed and incorporated, making the new front entrance and restrooms accessible.


By utilizing a design-build approach, project teams remained flexible and agile to meet new priorities. For instance, significant renovations had to be completed while dealing with important memorabilia, current users of the facility, and even, at one point, planes being shuttled through the jobsite for the annual Miramar Air Show.

Toward the end of the renovation, the owner requested all new interior and exterior lighting upgrades as well as replacement of the existing east storefront entrance. Due to the quickly approaching timeline of upcoming events at the base, the team was able to fast track the design-build process and complete the renovation concurrently with work in other parts of the facility. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar has been an institution in the U.S. Marine Corps for decades and its iconic Officers’ Club is now fully equipped to serve a continued role in that legacy well into the future.

Joe Mark, M.SAME, is Operations Manager, Public Sector/Military, Stellar;

[This article first published in the May-June 2020 issue of The Military Engineer.]