In the late 1920s,
a concerted effort was mounted to establish a proper municipal
airport for the Los Angeles area. Seven sites were under consideration.
The favored ones were Dominguez Field, where the first American
air meet was held in 1910; Griffith Park, which had been functioning
since 1925 as a National Guard base; and a tract of farmland west
of Inglewood and north of El Segundo called Mines Field (which
later became Los Angeles International Airport).
Sensing a good opportunity,
Captain Charles C. Spicer, a World War I fighter pilot, formed
a syndicate of venture capitalists in 1928, to purchase and
develop the Glendale Municipal Airport. Following the purchase,
the airport was expanded to the north and west, and eventually
consisted of 175 acres. The main runway, aligned with the prevailing
northwest-southwest winds, consisted of 3,800 feet of concrete
100 feet wide. Additional facilities included a 2,500-foot taxiway/cross-runway.
Aviation publicist/promoter Victor Clark suggested naming the
proposed building and airport facilities "Grand Central Air
Terminal." The syndicate voted unanimous approval. An aviation
country club recreational complex to be located at the southwest
end was also proposed.
The Air Terminal officially
opened on February 22, 1929. The opening ceremonies attracted
over 200 celebrities including Wallace Beery, Gary Cooper, and
Jean Harlow and 12,000 other spectators. Soon after the terminal
was opened, the Curtiss-Keys Group, which controlled several companies
including the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company, formed the
Curtiss Airport Corporation. From its inception, this corporation
quickly began purchasing (largely through the exchange of stock)
airports serving Baltimore, New York, Chicago,Philadelphia, Pittsburgh,
Louisville, Cleveland and San Francisco. In May, three months
after the Grand Central Air Terminal's grand opening, the Spicer
group sold out to the Curtiss Airport Corporation. Capt. Spicer
went on to become a Curtiss director, as did several of his associates.
In June of that year, Curtiss merged with the Wright Company to
become the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service. Because of this merger,
the Grand Central Air Terminal airport became the property of
the newly formed Curtiss-Wright Flying Service. Major Corliss
C. Moseley, a World War I fighter pilot and co-founder of Western
Air Express (later called Western Airlines), was selected to manage
the airport for the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service.
The Grand Central Air
Terminal became the first airport to offer air service between
southern California and New York. The first airline to provide
this service was Transcontinental Air Transport, which was affiliated
with Charles Lindbergh and in 1929 merged with Jack Maddux to
become TAT-Maddux. The first regularly scheduled transcontinental
flight from Glendale took place on July 28, 1929. The first leg
of the 48-hour flight was piloted by Lindbergh and its passengers
included Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. The airport
soon came to be utilized by a number of major airlines, including
Pickwick Airways which joined TAT-Maddux in offering daily service
to San Francisco and San Diego. At that time, the Grand Central
Air Terminal quickly became the primary airport in southern California
to provide scheduled commercial service to the public.
Through various mergers,
Trans World Airlines (TWA), originally called Transcontinental
& Western Air, Inc., began operations and provided service
to Glendale from all other major airports nationwide. However,
it was on a flight bound for Glendale that TWA's worst accident
in the early part of the twentieth century occurred. On a flight
en route from Kansas City to Glendale, on March 31, 1931, the
last F10A ever built crashed in Bazaar, Kansas. The two pilots
and six passengers including football player Knute Rockne of Notre
Dame were killed.
Technical Institute was founded in 1931 as an aviation trades
school and occupied a corner of the Air Terminal building. It
gradually expanded, occupying portions of the aircraft hangars
at the airport and various industrial buildings along Air Way.
Directed by Major Moseley, the Institute was a school for aircraft
technicians, mechanics, and engineers. It did not have a flight-training
program. Flight instruction was available from the Curtiss-Wright
Flying Service as an adjunct to courses offered by the Institute.
In 1934, Major Moseley
leased the entire airport from Curtiss-Wright; he and his associates
formed Aircraft Industries, Inc. This company was an authorized
service (aircraft repair and engine overhaul), sales and distributor
agent for several aircraft manufacturers. By early 1944, the Grand
Central Air Terminal ceased operating as a commercial airport
terminal. The Grand Central Air Terminal was purchased outright
by Moseley, and at this time, the title "Air Terminal"
was dropped in favor of the term "Airport." Also at
this time, Aircraft Industries, Inc., became the Grand Central
Airport Company (later reorganized in 1950 as the Grand Central
Aircraft Company). Its two principal divisions continued to be
airplane repair and engine overhaul. Curtiss-Wright Technical
Institute, having completed the training of the last class of
mechanics, became the Cal-Aero Technical Institute.
When the surprise attack
by Imperial Japanese forces on the American naval base at Pearl
Harbor catapulted the United States into World War II, the Grand
Central Air Terminal quickly became an armed camp. The airport
was effectively camouflaged from enemy attack and from the air
it appeared to be a housing tract complete with faux streets.
The Grand Central Air Terminal was designated the headquarters
for the 318th Fighter Wing which had the responsibility for the
operational training of P-38 replacement pilots. The P-38s were
large planes and, therefore, required additional
runway space. The Grand Central Air Terminal's runway, considered
short at 3,800 feet, was lengthened in 1942 by closing off Sonora
Street to traffic and paving a narrow strip to Western Avenue.
This provided an additional 1,200 feet of runway. Curtiss-Wright
Technical Institute, with three flight academies (Ontario, Oxnard,
and the Antelope Valley), played a key role in the training of
approximately 26,000 World War II combat pilots and 7,500 mechanics.
The runway extension
between Sonora and Western was closed in 1947 by municipal decree.
The loss of 1,200 feet of runway made the airport a Class II facility,
sufficient only for small planes (DC-4s and C-54s) coming in for
overhaul and repair. Cal-Aero Technical Institute, having resumed
the training of Air Force mechanics in October 1950, received
additional contracts which extended the program nearly two years.
Altogether, 1,200 Air Force men were trained at Glendale, the
last of which were graduated in August 1952. By that time, the
Air Force establishment could handle the quotas in-house without
civilian assistance. Thereafter, Cal-Aero's fortunes declined
steadily. In the next couple of years the student body fell from
a high of 1,500 to a low of less than 200. The school lost money
for three years and closed its doors at the end of the 1954 term.
And although Grand Central Aircraft was still the City's largest
employer at this time, escalating taxes, declining business, and
pressure to close the airport and convert the property into a
large industrial area resulted in the closure of the Grand Central
Aircraft Company in 1959.
From the mid-1950s,
the Grand Central Airport's runway and facilities had not been
maintained and the unpaved parallel strip was riddled with gopher
holes. There was an attempt to save a portion of the airport to
accommodate the local general aviation community when the Glendale
City Council was petitioned to make it a municipal airport. However,
the petition was not passed and the airport was officially closed
on July 15, 1959. With the demise of the airport and aircraft
industry, the area became
a prime locale for light industry. Beginning as early as 1955,
with the construction of four industrial type buildings, the area
surrounding the Grand Central Air Terminal facility was gradually
acquired and modified into the Grand Central Industrial Center
(later changed to the Grand Central Business Centre), a 112-acre
industrial community consisting primarily of industrial/ manufacturing
and warehouse/distribution companies. Today, the Grand Central
Business Centre continues to expand and develop with entertainment,
high technology, and manufacturing industries.