Glendale Airport / Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, CA
34.16 North / 118.29 West (North of Downtown Los Angeles, CA)
The earliest depiction which has been located of Glendale Airport was on a illustration of circa-1925 LA-area airfields from Ross Diehl's Air National Guard yearbook (courtesy of Dan MacPherson). During the first couple of years of the 1920s, a group of airplane owners made an appeal to the Glendale Chamber of Commerce to assist them in securing a landing field where private hangars could be erected, as well as servicing facilities & manufacture of aircraft.
A Chamber committee consisting of approached John D. Radcliffe, a property owner who had a 33 acre site south of the Southern Pacific right-of-way and at the southern end of Grandview Avenue (now where the Golden State Freeway and Ventura Freeway meet), about purchasing his property. The site was purchased in 1922 for $66,000.
The city immediately began clearing the land & built a paved runway (which was very elaborate for an airport of that time). However, their ownership of the property was short-lived due to a threatened lawsuit. The sponsors of the threatened lawsuit put together a syndicate & took control of the airport, paying the city in full for all funds already paid out. Shortly thereafter, private hangars began appearing.
The first hangar to be constructed at the airport, labeled rather pretentiously as the Kinner Airplane & Motor Corporation, was a mom & pop enterprise financed on a shoestring. Bert Kinner had yet to build a successful airplane engine, but his sprightly little biplane quickly captured the fancy of a tomboy called Amelia Earhart.
The management of the airport was placed under the direction of Maj. C. C. Moseley, one of the founders of Western Air Lines and also the commander of the Air National Guard unit at Griffith Park Aerodrome (across the LA river from Grand Central).
For airport expansion, new capital was needed, so the remaining 20 acres were sold to Edward Spicer, who started a new development on the property. He purchased additional acreage until there was about 175 acres, on which he erected permanent buildings & increased the airport's industrial use.
In 1925, Thomas Slate leased space adjacent to the south side of the Glendale Airport for the construction of an all-metal dirigible, a very novel (but ultimately unsuccessful) design. The dirigible was made out of duralumin & was filled with hydrogen. It was forecast to have a cruising speed of 80 mph & would accommodate 40 passengers & 5 crew. The dirigible was to be powered by oil & driven by steam-turbine, using one rotary blower, which would create a vacuum, instead of traditional propellers. Slate also constructed a metal hangar, the largest built in the United States at the time.
The earliest photo which has been located of Glendale Airport was a 7/12/27 aerial view looking southeast, showing the field in an early configuration with a smaller border, with a peach orchard forming the northern border. The Slate Aircraft Corporation dirigible hangar is visible on the south side of the field, and Griffith Park Airport is visible across the river.
In the late 1920s, a concerted effort was mounted to establish a proper municipal airport for the Los Angeles area. Several sites were considered in the southern California area, including Glendale. Sensing a good opportunity, Captain Charles C. Spicer, a World War I fighter pilot, formed a syndicate of venture capitalists in 1928, to purchase the Glendale Municipal Airport & develop it further. The airport was to be an airline terminal from the outset & the architect planned accordingly.
Grand Central Air Terminal's official opening on February 22, 1929 was a gala affair. The Hollywood film colony turned out in force, many of its luminaries arriving in their own planes. WallaceBeery arrived piloting his own Travelair. Other attendees included Hoot Gibson, Gary Cooper, and Jean Harlow.
The first airline service from Southern California to New York was from Grand Central, piloted by Charles A. Lindbergh.
Slate's dirigible, christened the "The City of Glendale", became finally airborne in 1929 at Grand Central, after 2 unsuccessful attempts. However, because of pressure build-up from a stuck fuel intake valve the dirigible's rivets popped. The huge vessel collapsed on the ground & was put back in its hangar, where it gathered dust. Slate lost his own fortune (along with the funds of others) in these unsuccessful efforts, and he never attempted to build another dirigible, thus ending a curious chapter in the Grand Central history.
The earliest map depiction which has been located of the Grand Central Airport was on a 1930 street map (courtesy of Gary Alexander).
A 1932 advertisement for the Grand Central's Curtiss-Wright Flying Service featured an undated aerial view looking southeast at the field. The concrete runway was shown, with a lineup of aircraft parked to its left, and the Slate dirigible hangar was still visible at the top-right.
A 1933 airport directory depicted Grand Central as having a single 2,744' concrete runway, oriented northwest/southeast, along with a 3,700' parallel grass runway & a 3,000' crosswind grass runway. The Slate dirigible hangar was still depicted on the south side of the field. The airport manager was listed as C. C. Moseley. The operators were listed as Air Associates Inc., Airplane Development Corporation, American Airways Inc., Max Cornwell, Curtiss-Wright Approved Repair Station, Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute, G & G Air Lines, Pacific Seaboard Air Lines, Palm Springs Air Lines, and Transcontinental & Western Air.
In 1934, Maj. Moseley leased the field & facilities from Curtiss-Wright, and later purchased the property. He immediately changed the name of the technical school operated at the airport from Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute to Cal-Aero Technical Institute. According to Dan MacPherson, Moseley ran 3 other flight schools from his home base at Grand Central: the Cal Aero Flight Academy at Ontario (now Chino Airport), the Mira Loma Flight Academy at Oxnard (now Oxnard Municipal Airport), and the Polaris Flight Academy at War Eagle Field, Lancaster (now Mira Loma Prison).
In 1934, wealthy industrialist Howard Hughes leased a small building owned by Charles Babb at 911 Air Way (on the southeast corner of the airport) to build his Hughes Special Model A airplane (later known as the H-1 Racer). Dick Palmer & his staff moved in at the end of April. Before work began, Hughes (eventually to be infamous for his obsession with secrecy) had a plywood wall erected around the construction site and posted an armed guard on duty overnight. Hughes brought Glen Odekirk from New York to act as shop superintendent & liaison man. As expenses on the Racer project mounted, and with them the need for more specific accounting, Howard established the Hughes Aircraft Company as a division of the Hughes Tool Company, thus marking the beginning of what would eventually become a powerhouse of the American aerospace industry.
Grand Central Air Terminal, as depicted on the 1939 LA Sectional Chart (courtesy of Jon Karkow).
Will Adams recalled, “When I joined the Air Corps in 1940, the recruiting office & examining doctor's office were in the Grand Central Terminal building.”
Angelo Rivera recalled, “Curtiss Wright Technical Institute where many of us trained back in the early days of WW2. Shortly after my induction into service, I was sent to that school where we spent the next 6 months with instructors learning the whys & wherefores of what made airplanes tick. It certainly was one great experience for a 19 year old who had never been away from home. I arrived there in early April 1943, and for the next 6 months it was a lot of schoolwork & not much of anything else.”
The 1944 US Army/Navy Directory of Airfields (courtesy of Ken Mercer). described Grand Central as having a 5,000' hard-surfaced runway, and indicated that Army operations were conducted from the field. Other contract flying schools operated at Grand Central during WW2, including the Grand Central Flying School (which trained cadets for the RAF).
The 1945 AAF Airfield Directory (courtesy of Scott Murdock) depicted Grand Central Airport as having a single 5,000' northwest/southeast concrete & asphalt runway, with a parallel taxiway depicted on the southwest side. The field was said to have a total of 5 hangars, with the largest being 200' x 130', and the buildings of the Cal-Aero Technical Institute were depicted along the southwest side of the runway. The field was said to be privately owned & operated.
John Underwood recalled, “When we moved to Glendale I discovered Grand Central Airport, where I got a job working for Maj. Moseley, which provided the means to learn to fly & eventually own several airplanes. The upshot of all that was a book titled “Madcaps, Millionaires & 'Mose'. I've just finished a second volume on the same subject for Arcadia Publishing.”
Pete took a photo in 2007 of the“photo hanging on the wall of Bruce Anspaugh's hangar at Santa Paula Airport. Bruce bought the hangar from Bill Bowers who worked as an instructor at Cal-Aero. The photo used to hang on the walls of Cal-Fed Savings & Loan where Ken (K.D.) Johnson worked as a pilot. When the building was going through re-model the pictures where being tossed out so K.D. saved them & gave them to Bowers.”
A 1952 aerial view showed 2-dozen light aircraft parked around the buildings of the Cal-Aero Technical Institute on the southwest side of the field. The main hangars on the northeast side of the field had “Grand Central Glendale” painted along their roof. An assortment of aircraft was scattered around the field, including several DC-3s.
Grand Central was still depicted on the 1953 Flight Chart (courtesy of Scott O'Donnell), and was described as having a 3,800' hard-surfaced runway. Grand Central was still depicted on the September 1954 USAF LA Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy). It was depicted as having a 3,800' hard surface runway & a control tower.
A 1954 aerial view showed a much larger number of aircraft parked around the field than had been visible in the 1952 photo. Bob Cannon recalled, "I remember flying my Aeronca into Glendale Grand Central in 1955."
Grand Central also played a role in the related field of rocketry, when in 1955 Major Corliss Moseley & Charles Bartley (the inventor of rubber-based solid rocket fuel propellants) established the Grand Central Rocket Company in the vicinity of Grand Central Air Terminal. The company tested solid rocket propellants among the old revetments around the field. It was there that the third stages of early Vanguard rockets, including the first 2 to reach orbit, were built. This effort became a major producer of rocket fuels, and was eventually sold to become the Lockheed Propulsion Company.
The runway of Grand Central Airport was used on November 13, 1955 as the site of the Sports Car Club of America's “First National Grand Central Sport Car Races”. The cover of the race program listed the venue as the “Grand Central Airport”, but it was described as the “Grand Central Industrial Center” in the body of the program.
The Atlas H-10 was originally designed by Max Harlow, and at one point flew with twin-tandem Continental GO-300 engines driving contra-rotating propellers. By the time of this photo it had been refitted with a conventional single Lycoming IO-720 engine. According to Ed Coates, "The airport may have already been officially 'closed' and the airplanes I photographed were just sitting there. I don't remember any actual aircraft movements on that day to be sure, but there were a lot of aircraft there, and somehow they got them all off. At least I presume they did!"
According to Bill Barker (former Ford Aerospace employee), the Ford Motor Company established the first headquarters of their Aeronutronic Division at the Grand Central Terminal Building in 1956. Grand Central was still depicted as an active airfield on the 1957 Los Angeles Local Aeronautical Chart (according to Gene Myers).
Gene Myers recalled, “The runway had been lengthened to the north during the war & then shortened following the war. Grand Central Aircraft was still in business & serviced civilian aircraft at that time. The flight school was run by a Mr. Ryan (not related to Claud Ryan). The airport had been camouflaged during the war and there were areas of colored paint remaining on the runway when I flew out of there. From altitude it could still give the impression of streets & houses, even in 1958. There was an effort in 1958 to get the County to purchase the airport, but that failed. I personally attended some meetings at the County during that effort.”
According to Dan Rhinehart, the very last aircraft to fly out of Grand Central was a Twin Bonanza. It unexpectedly blew an engine & was grounded at Grand Central. It was in one of the big hangars at the time the airport closed, and it wasn't ready to fly until about 2-3 weeks after the airport closed. There were strict orders that there were to be no more flights in or out after the closure deadline, and any remaining airplanes were to be disassembled & trucked out. There were security guards on the property from early morning until nightfall. So the Twin Bonanza pilot came in before sunrise, rolled the airplane out of the hangar, started the engines, quickly taxied to the end of the runway, and without a run-up took off to the north just before sunrise, and landed a few minutes later at Burbank. Apparently nobody noticed what had happened!
According to Allen Brandstater, “Mose rarely visited Grand Central Airport after the field closed in 1959. He did continue the operation of Grand Central Aircraft (which repaired & restored prop planes until about 1974) on the site. He never made a profit at this - he just loved old planes & invested money to preserve them. GCA probably lost 8 or 10 million dollars from the late 1950s until it was closed shortly before his death in 1973. The operation of the site was very profitable, however, given the rentals of his commercial real estate values & his #2 man, Bill Clough. Aircraft maintenance & repairs continued at Grand Central for some years, but the engines, avionics, props, etc., were brought in on flatbed trucks. Most came from Lockheed (now Bob Hope) Airport in Burbank, some from Van Nuys, Whiteman, etc. I also think they came as far as another Moseley facility in Tucson, AZ. Once repairs were completed, they were shipped back to wherever they came from - i.e., operational airports.”
The Ford Aeronutronic Division relocated from Grand Central to Newport Beach in 1960. Allen Brandstater recalled, “When I got out of the Army in late 1971, Mr. Moseley rented me (at a VERY reduced rate) an office in the same old terminal building on Air Way. It was on the second floor, very close to the spacious office he occupied overlooking the airfield when he managed it from the early 1930s to the late 1950s.”
A 1972 aerial view showed that the distinctive buildings of the former Cal-Aero Technical Institute on the southwest side of the field had been replaced with numerous commercial buildings, which also covered the former runway area. The 3 main hangars on the northeast side of the field remained standing, along with the elegant terminal building.
Allen Brandstater recalled of Mose, “Shortly after his death in 1973, his widow (Audrienne) sold Grand Central to an investors' group. The amount was $40 million. A few years later, this group sold to a Japanese firm for $75 million. They held it a few years, but were unable to effectively capitalize on use of the land & buildings.”
Tom Kramer recalled, “Back in the 1980s I was looking for the site of this legendary airport. When I saw the building which had what looked like a control tower on it, I knew I hit paydirt. At the time, a law office was in the main terminal building and I went in to confirm my suspicions that it was the old control tower & terminal. They had a copy of a book which I purchased about Grand Central Air Terminal called “Madcaps, Millionaires and Mose” which was a history of the airfield with dozens of photos. At that time, the terminal building was in excellent shape & I found the 2 surviving hangars as well.”
Cecile remarked, “I took most of the pictures from the second floor walkway... looking north & south along the inside. Interior stairs are on the south end of the building." Note the Art Deco (Moderne) accents & the clean lines of the mezzanine. The ceiling tiles & fluorescent lights were not original. On the 1994 USGS topo map, the former runway had been reused as a street, labeled "Grand Central Avenue", but the row of former hangars were still depicted. According to Allen Brandstater, “In 1994 or 1995, they [the Japanese ownership group] sold it to the Disney Corporation. The amount has not been disclosed, but I believe it to be around $200 million.”
The largest of the 3 original hangars, the Maddux hangar, was destroyed at some point between 1994-2003, leaving 2 remaining hangars & the terminal building. The terminal building, located at 1310 Air Way, is a National Historic Landmark. The terminal building was owned at some point by the Walt Disney Company, which planned to restore it as part of their Grand Central Creative Campus project (which apparently did not happen).
Danny Wilson reported in 2003, "I've been told that Air Way may have been where a taxiway once was. I have it on good authority from a graybeard who lives nearby that that is the case. Additionally, Grand Central Avenue was not listed in the Glendale city registry as a street until after the airfield was decommissioned in 1955. That street is EXTREMELY wide, wide enough to have several lanes in each direction though there is no traffic in that industrial area. My best guess would be that this was once where the runway stood, though I have no confirmation. There simply is no other reason why a road would need to be that wide unless it was once used for that purpose. Additionally, there are very old (and non-functioning) red lights on top of some of the nearby buildings in the area. That gives visitors a clue that there was once an airport in the area."
Paul Freeman visited the site of Grand Central Air Terminal in 2005. I found the terminal building & 2 of the former hangars still standing. Although the terminal building remained intact, it appeared to be abandoned, and somewhat deteriorated.
As an aside, the Peterson Aviation terminal at Van Nuys Airport was constructed in the likeness of the Grand Central Air Terminal, according to Jim McNamara.