Friday, May 1, 2009

Before it was an airport

From the Daily News:

City officials had long sought to construct their municipal field on Governors Island, but this was an idea that never worked out, and finally Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia bought North Beach Airport, which was a small private operation situated on a dismal strip of Flushing Bay badlands, and ordered it quintupled in size.

Mostly built on millions of cubic yards of landfill dumped into the bay by federal relief workers, the new North Beach was a nightmare from the beginning, as the runways kept sinking and buckling, and it fast turned into a colossal boondoggle as its original $13 million price tag more than tripled.

But the field was LaGuardia’s personal pride and joy, and when it started running in December 1939, freshly rechristened after himself, he was pleased to boast that it was the nation’s biggest and best-equipped. Which it was, but LaGuardia Field was also, from Day One, already obsolete.


Alan said...

As someone who has been fascinated by the history of aviation in Queens, I find it interesting that there was another airfield close by in Jackson Heights that seems to have vanished from peoples' memories. It was called Holmes Field.

Opened on March 16, 1929, it was also called New York City's Grand Central Air Terminal. One runway was 4200 feet in length and many important flights started from the field including the historic trans-Atlantic flight by Amelia Earhart.

Of course, it would be a disservice to omit the reason for this missive. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company built a hangar at the airport and operated one of their famous blimps there. Sightseeing rides cost $5!!!

I have a brochure about the airport and I oftened wondered why the city touted the airport facilities and services but then turned its attention to the property where a popular beach was located. Why did a certain mayor have to build his own aviation facility when there were 2 airports (Holmes Field and Flushing Airport) operating already?

According to Wikipedia, here is an account of the creation of LaGuardia Airport:
"The initiative to develop the airport for commercial flights began with a verbal outburst by New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia (in office from 1934 to 1945) upon the arrival of his TWA flight at Newark — the only commercial airport serving the New York City region at the time — as his ticket said "New York". He demanded to be taken to New York, and ordered the plane to be flown to Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field, giving an impromptu press conference to reporters along the way. At that time, he urged New Yorkers to support a new airport within their city." Why didn't his flight land at Holmes Field. It was a commercial airport as well. Is it me or is there a distortion of aviation history here?

By the way, if you want to know where the airport was located, the site is right next to the Grand Central Parkway directly across from LaGuardia Airport. The Bulova Corporate Center now occupies the site.

Alan said...

Oops. I almost forgot to include the fact that there was a large racing track on the property as well. It was obviously a large multi-use piece of property.

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence.

It opened the same year that the Whitestone bridge and the New York World's Fair opened.

Did Robert Moses have a hand in it all?

ew-3 said...

Many people are unaware of the strong connection to aviation there was on Long Island. It was a tremendous manufacturing base that provided good jobs to many. Gruman alone employed 23,000 people at it's peak.

Don't let anyone fool you. The service economy is overhead. Only people who are employed making product represent real wealth. Just about anything associated with the service economy is just overhead on the spread sheet.

georgetheatheist said...

Alan, thanks for the aviation history. Google Earth/Maps still show the hangars. Have they been demolished?

[This site is so educational.]

Alan said...


You are welcome. As far as I know, there is no trace of the airport or racetrack. Not even a marker!!! After reading your comment I found myself thinking about the difficulty that I had in finding photos and information about the former airport. If I weren't so obsessive, all of this information would not have been uncovered. I did find a few items on eBay but it was like pulling teeth.

After I wrote the above missive, I began to wonder why this information is so buried that it is almost impossible to find accounts of its history. The airport operated from 1929 to 1939 and then just disappeared! I came across Holmes Field by researching the history of Goodyear blimps.

The Goodyear blimp hangar was moved to Teterboro Airport which was then called Bendix Airport. The tire company sent a fleet of airships to the New Jersey field for the '39 World's Fair. I never understood why they operated from Jersey which was an hour's flying time away from Flushing Meadows?!?!

By the way, there is absolutely nothing left of the 3 pre-WWII hangars that were at Flushing Airport. New York City is certainly proud of its ties to aviation history...NOT!!!

CJ said...

Don't forget the airfield at Valley Stream. I haven't been in that area for a few years but there was still at least one hanger standing across from the mall.
I understand there once was a small field along Crossbay Blvd as well (Howard Beach?).
But I wasn't aware of the one in JH though. Interesting.

Alan said...

Did some more digging about Holmes:

There are some interesting links at the bottom. I redid my website so that there is a page that is no longer available. Sorry but it did not fit my website's goals as I am no longer pursuing the blimp port concept at Flushing Airport.

I heard about the Valley Stream airport but do not have much info on it. I am also aware that there was a military base in Rockaway (Rockaway Naval Air Station) with a dirigible hangar in the early part of the 20th century. It is now Jacob Riis Park.

As I said, there is a treasure trove of aviation goodies about Queens and its environs waiting to be discovered. Josh Stoff, curator of the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, wrote a book about Long Island Airports. Unfortunately, my copy is missing in action.

panzer65 said...

LaGuardia wa the same idiot that had all the elevated trains dismantled without replacing them and got rid off all the trolley lines.

Anonymous said...

Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields a useful website on former airports, many in NYC area...

Anonymous said...

@georgetheatheist: You are probably looking at the remains of Flushing Airport, whose hangars remained until a couple of months ago and are still visible on Google Maps/Earth.