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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Long Beach Municipal Airport Terminal's History

Prior to the construction of a 150-acre airport in 1923, pilots could be seen taking off and landing on the long strand of beach or on a sand and dirt field near American Avenue (now Long Beach Boulevard) and Bixby Road -- Chateau Thierry Flying Field -- which was founded by Earl Daugherty. The first transcontinental flight landed in the water off Pine Avenue Pier on December 10, 1911.

Daugherty, a WWI flight instructor and stunt pilot expanded his airfield to Long Beach Boulevard and Willow Street by the late 1920's -- where he organized Air Tournaments and Air Circuses. A young Amelia Earhart (and 75,000 others) came to the December 1920 air tournament to watch Daugherty's stunt flying. She asked for a ride in a plane and was given one a few days later by Poly High School graduate, Frank Hawks. Later, Long Beach area pilot, John Montijo, taught Earhart how to solo and to perform aerobatics -- which she did numerous times in Long Beach Air Circuses.

Realizing that Long Beach could no longer accommodate aviation on its beach nor on Daugherty's small airfield inland, the city council in November 1923 dedicated 80 acres of water department land at Cherry Avenue and Spring Street making Long Beach the first city in California to establish a municipal airport.

In 1924, the City Council established an aviation commission and appointed Earl Daugherty, John Montijo and A.E. Ebrite as its first commissioners. The city council also decided who could fly in and out of the airfield.  WJ Putnam was named the first director of the Long Beach Municipal Airport, known then as the Superintendent of Airports. He served until 1940.

As aviation changed into a commercial enterprise, the City Council and Chamber of Commerce focused their energies on making the municipal airport a site for commercial aviation. Airport records indicated that Western Air Lines first carried passengers, mail and cargo from Long Beach Airport in September 1929.  More and more commercial aviation came to Long Beach bringing with it complaints about the lack of a terminal and modern services.

In response, the City Council approved in the late 1930's plans to purchase 255 acres adjoining the airport and to construct a three story administration building and tower at the east side of the field at a cost of $200,000. The city set about constructing the terminal while war raged in Europe.

 Designed by W. Horace Austin and Kenneth Wind in the streamline moderne style of later art deco architecture, the terminal building looks more like a ship than an airport terminal. Its distinguishing characteristics include: smooth walls, lack of ornamentation, flat roofs, railings and porthole windows. Planned for expansion, it is shaped as a segment of an arc with a radius of 285 feet and a length of 170 feet. The third floor is set back making the building 60 feet high.

Opening ceremonies for the terminal were canceled because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Instead, military guns and soldiers were billeted around the terminal building and in the basement for the duration of the war. Showers and hot water tanks were installed for the soldiers. Barracks were build adjacent to the terminal. The building was repainted in camouflage until 1945, when its pastel colors were returned. It formally opened April 26, 1942.

Inside the terminal: first floor included airline offices where telephoned reservations were taken; a coffee shop, telephones and a waiting room. The second floor featured a large dining lounge and open deck to view the airfield. The third floor contained the control tower operated by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as well as the US Weather Bureau and a radio range station. Administration was on the 4th floor.

WPA -- Terminal and Airfield

The Works Project Administration provided several major enhancements to the terminal and airfield in the late 1930's: WPA constructed and repaired part of the airfield.
Grace Clements designed and placed murals and mosaics throughout the terminal. Using a communications theme, she designed floor mosaics and wall murals. The mosaics covered the 4300 square foot first floor. The murals were also painted on the first floor walls. On the second floor remains a zodiac mosaic done by Clements. All the murals were painted over in 2005.

1942: Long Beach Municipal Airport was "Number One in the Nation" because of its military and civilian aircraft activity. City officials recognized once the war was over that the airport could become the center of commercial aviation in Southern California. The airport needed to expand to the east but was blocked by Lakewood Boulevard. On the south, the military structures needed removal. Long Beach voters rejected a "Help Make Long Beach the Heart of Commerce" bond issue to fund airport repairs and purchase land for expansion. It took more than 10 years for the military to leave -- by that time Los Angeles  had moved forward on its terminal and airfield.

On July 3, 1946, United Air Lines made its first scheduled flight from the Long Beach airport. Today, passengers still walk out to the tarmac to board their flights as they did in the 1940's.

Save Station 18

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