INTRO Chicago The World’s Flying Capital
The 1909 Plan of Chicago had no provision for air service. Chicago’s first airplane flight took place in 1910 in Grant Park, adjacent to Northerly Island, with the 1911 Aviation Show at the same location in 1911. Then, in 1918, regular air mail service to Grant Park began. However, Grant Park was unsuitable for the city’s growing aviation needs.
Daniel Burnham died in 1912. By 1916, Edward H. Bennett, co-author of the Plan of Chicago, wrote that a lakefront location would be most suitable for an airport serving the central business district. In 1920, Chicagoans approved a bond referendum to pay for landfill construction of the peninsula, and in 1922 construction began. That same year Mayor William Hale Thompson recommended locating the downtown airport there. A few years later the Chicago South Park Commission voted in agreement. In 1928, the Chicago Association of Commerce, representing the business community, also advocated for the lakefront airport.
The Great Depression put numerous civic plans on hold, including the airport. Construction continued on the peninsula itself, with the 1933 World’s Fair occupying the just-completed peninsula. In the 1930s the Chicago City Council and Illinois State Legislature passed resolutions to create the airport, but both the poor economy and World War II intervened.
Northerly Island airport will give the city a much needed lake-front, downtown landing strip. Construction is already under way.
Chicago Tribune July 13, 1919
BY OSCAR E. HEWITT.
Federal air service officials desire 100 acres of the lake front reserved foe airplane landing. In effect, Chicago federal representatives have recommended that a permit for the lake-front development be withheld until space for aircraft is reserved. This recommendation was made April, 25 by Lieut. Col. L. H Drennan, but became public only yesterday.
The lake front development proceed until a permit is obtained the secretary of war to fill certain submerged lands. By the time this land is filled in Col. Drennan predicts 100 acres will be “not only desirable but necessary for commercial, city, state, and government aircraft.”
Link to Take Action.
Aid. Link will present an amendment to the pending ordinance at the next meeting of the council tomorrow. He wishes a site reserved in the 550 acres proposed for purposes. This amendment has no bearing on the acceptance of the ordinance by the Illinois Central railroad. It will not ask the road to do anything or give up any right or property.
In fact, E. H. Bennett, consultant of the Chicago plan commission, thinks such a landing field would be of financial benefit to the railroad.’
He took up this subject with the commission in 1916 and submitted his recommendations, although they have not been made public heretofore. He wrote his ideas for Walter L. Moody, managing director, on Dec. 26, 1916.
Sees Far Into Future.
At that comparatively early date he said:
- In the light of the experience, the development of transportation by aviation in this country is likely to receive a tremendous impetus, and if, as has been stated, the time between New York and Chicago can be cut from the present twenty hour express trains to an average of eight hours, without excessive cost. It is sure to be adopted. Chicago should therefore be one of the first to take advantage of these new developments.
The lake front appears to offers its naturally adapted for terminal facilities. This is especially true for ervice of water planes; airplanes likewise will fInd material advantage in approaching landing stalon over a body of water rather than above confused conditions created by an irregularly built-up area and irregular atmospheric conditions existing above a city. A site on the lake front would also to be more conveniently placed than any other large area available within a short distance of the central business district.
Mr. Bennett gets down to the selection and recommendation of two sites in harbor districts No. 1 and No. 3. No. 1 is the territory around the municipal pier. He points out this district gives opportunity for a site north of Grand avenue, which could be connected with the central postoffice by a street car on Grand avenue and Clark street, by auto over the same route and by the Illinois tunnel system, with a short extension of the Illinois street bore.
Harbor district No. 3 is between Sixteenth and Thirty-first streets, lake-ward of the proposed park development. He would connect this with the central postoffice by car on Clark street and Eighteenth street extended, by auto over the same route4And by the Illinois’ tunnel, with an extension of the Fourteenth street stub.
Chicago’s Report to the People 1933-1946
Northerly Island Airport Planning
General plans have been developed for a single runway—2,800 feet long (conforming to specifications for a Class II Airport) and showing the enlargement of the island needed to establish required clearances.
Application for approval of the airport and of the enlargement of the islands have been made to the Federal government and the State of Illinois.
The CAA has approved the plan and has made a tentative allocation of $572,000 toward the cost of construction.
Army landing mats to form a temporary surface have been purchased from the War Assets Administration and are now on hand ready for placing as soon as grading can be undertaken in the spring.
Plans and specifications are ready for the steel sheet piling to form a bulkhead for enlargement of the island, and the work will be put under contract in the near future.
The city entered into a lease with the Chicago Park District on September 17, 1946, granting to the city for a nominal consideration the right to use Northerly Island as a public airport.
The estimated cost of the Northerly Island Airport is $1,397,000. The Federal government has indicated its willingness to pay 50 per cent of its cost (present allocation $572,000). Application has been made to the State of Illinois for state funds to match funds of the city (approximately $350,000). The balance is on hand from the proceeds of the sale of airport bonds of the city. Initial construction will thus cost the city about $350,000.
The Official Guide Book of the World’s Fair
Within the next five years, when Chicago will have outgrown its present Municipal Airport, the way is cleared for the construction at the Douglas site of the world’s greatest airport. Its capacity will be larger than any existing airport. Its 8,000 feet clear length of runways, with extensions to over 12,000 feet for the occasional extraordinary flight, will accommodate the largest and fastest aircraft in either military or civilian use. Its central terminal area will provide conveniences and facilities for the traveling and general public not possessed by any other airport in the world. Its general arrangement and the installation of post-war equipment soon to be available will provide greater elements of safety than exist in any airport today.
Its completion in the near future will insure that Chicago will be acknowledged the air center of the nation and the world.
The Northerly Island airport will be put into preliminary use during the summer of 1947 and should be completed within the year. It will provide added conveniences for shuttle service for fast travel between the main airports and the business center of the city, will allow downtown delivery of passengers with limited time for business and other appointments and, as an adjunct to the main airports, will keep Chicago ahead in its position of industrial, cultural and civic supremacy.
800,000 square feet of steel runway matting arrived this January for the construction of the city’s new, waterfront airplane landing strip on Northerly Island.
Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1948
BY WAYNE THOMIS
Plans for intensive usage of the downtown Northerly Island air terminal were advanced swiftly yesterday as the 2,800 foot, 2 million dollar landing was officially opened by national and city aviation authorities, and 479 flying farmers, and plane owners who came to Chicago to alight on the runway and park their planes along its taxiways.
First airplanes began arriving at the island air field about 7:30 yesterday morning, a time when the sky was overcast and the temperatures well below freezing. Altho the opening was set officially for 12:30 p.m. this was no deterrent to some 75 flying farmer families and another 20 to 25 Chicagoland plane owners and pilots, who kept right on coming in.
George Vest, regional CAA head, with Sam Taylor, official CAA railway inspector, arrived in a twin Beechcraft about 12:30, and several other multi-engined planes followed the government craft. There were more than 15 different types of twin and single engined craft finally represented, and more than 100 other airplanes circled in the left band traffic pattern—the wind being from the south—and then flew on during the day.
Northerly Island Airport
“We Will Go On,” Mayor Says
“This is just the beginning,” said Mayor Kennelly, who admitted he was much impressed by the showing made by the arriving planes. “We will go on from here to keep Chicago ahead as the air cross-roads of the world.”
The mayor was scheduled to fly into the strip with Merrill Meigs, chairman of the city aero commission but as he said in a luncheon speech he “got busy” about the time to make the flight and finally arrived by automobile from the city hall.
Best speech of the day was made by Lee Talladay of Milan, Mich., representing the absentee national president of the Flying Farmers’ pAssociation, Morris Watkins of Thomas, Okla. Talladay whose farm is 35 miles west of Detroit flew in with a large contingent from his state, and spoke at the State Street council luncheon.
“I didn’t expect when I got up and milked the cows at 4 o’clock this morning,” he said, “to be rubbing elbows over lunch with the brass hats from Washington and the tycoons from Chicago’s State Street stores. But that just shows what can happen when aviation really comes into its own, as it has in this small instance of Chicago’s lake front strip. I represent the kind of persons who are going to fiund it a real incentive to fly into the big city.
His reference to the “brass hats” was a bow in the direction of W. Stuart Symington, secretary of the air forces, who also attended the State Street council luncheon after speaking before the Executive’s club earlier. Symington said Chicago was on the right track in building the lake front field and that he hoped further federal funds for its development would be forthcoming.
Last act of the ceremonies was the dropping from an airplane of 51 glass bottles containing gift certificates—one for $100, 25 for $25 and 25 for $5—into Chicago’s harbor. Mr and Mrs. John Wilson of Lockport, Ill., flew over the harbor to make the drop from their Cessna 170 monoplane. The State Street council donors hope they will found along the Illinois waterway.
Proposals for the island airport put forward immediately for city council consideration include:
- 1. Requests for authorization of an air taxi service between the air strip and either the north or south side city airports where the big and fast transcontinental and international air liners load and discharge passengers.
2. Projection of air linkage between Chicago’s downtown air field and the new Milwaukee shore front landing strip with connections to a chain of Wisconsin and Minnesota resort and industrial cities on a once-an-hour basis by a scheduled passenger air line.
3. Rerouting of the State Street council 5 cent bus service which now passes the automobile parking lot just south of Soldiers’ Field to include a side excursion on each trip to the planetarium so that airplane commuters and shoppers may ride it into the loop.
All three are intended to take advantage of the proximity of the strip to Chicago’s highly concentrated business, shopping, banking, theater and hotel area. All reflect the widespread interest in and outside Chicago in a utilitarian air station which offers time savings in ground travel—it is 10 minutes by bus or 5 by taxi-cab to State and Madison sts.—never before available to air travelers arriving in a big city.
Mayor To Speed Action
Mayor Kennelly promised prompt and encouraging action on the part of the city on all three points. State Street council members said they favored the inclusion of the planetarium on the bus circuit. The mayor and Public Works Commissioner Hewitt also disclosed conditions under which plane owners will be able to use the ait strip from now on.
Beginning today it is open to any scheduled or non-scheduled, privately owned or corporation craft, or the airplanes of feeder, frate, charter, air-taxi or shuttle airplanes, Hewitt said. Planes may be parked in designated areas on the field and left for a day, a week or indefinitely. Fees have been set up so that those using the air field will pay a minimum $1 a landing and graduated sums up to $2 for 24 hours parking, Hewitt said.
The city will have guards and service personnel on the air strip 24 hours a day, altho the field has been approved thus far vy the civil aeronautics administration only for daylight and contact weather operations. Within the next 12 months, it is hoped, federal funds for runway lighting and for air-post traffic control tower with two way radio will permit full day and night usage of the runway.
4 Operators Bidding
Commissioner Hewitt said that at least four aviation operators have approached the city with requests to install aerial taxi and shuttle service between the air strip and, initially, the city air field at 55th st. and Cicero av. All the operators said they would expand their service to include the northwest side to Douglas terminal as soon as scheduled passenger air lines begin using that big port.
“The latest to approach the city,” said the commissioner, “has just been authorized by the civil aeronautics board to carry mail and cargo between the post office and 44 Chicagoland communities. The helicopter group wants, first, to carry mail and express from the strip to the airport and hopes that later it will be permitted to carry passengers.
Wisconsin Plan Told
“The other operators all are willing to fly conventional type fixed wing planes. Some have suggested craft such as DC-3’s. Just what equipment would be used is up to Vest. The city is in favor of such proposals and now that we have a going field will be ready to consider them.”
The hourly scheduled passenger service to Milwaukee and northward over feeder air line system in Wisconsin and Minnesota, was proposed by Wisconsin-Central Airlines, Hewitt said. Francis M. Higgins, president of the feeder line which has operated here since March, asserted he was anxious to make such an arrangement and said that his company’s 10 Lockheed airplanes could utilize the island strip without difficulty.
Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1950
BY WAYNE THOMIS
There were airplanes on Chicago’s downtown Northerly Island airport yesterday—but none flew in. The single runway was banked solidly with new automobiles, and a throng of more than 6,000 men and women—many in the gaudy shirts, skirts and long-billed caps of the Flying Farmers’ organizations—spilled over the taxiways and parking ramps outside the little terminal building.
The occasion, which led to the closing of the port ti flying for the day, was its formal dedication as Merrill C. Meigs field. The 2,800 foot strip has been opened since Dec. 10, 1948, but its name was chosen by the city council only late last year.
Emotion Fills Voice
Meigs himself, an outstanding Chicago business man, civic leader, and at 66 still the pilot of his own aircraft, was there, along with more than a thousand of his personal friends, city officials, the farmer-pilots, and national aviation figures.
When called upon to speak he was “so thrilled” that he could not talk extemporaneously as he admitted. He dug out at an inner pocket a written script, which he read in a husky voice, clotted with emotion.
- When my name was brought up last year before the city council, there were objections that no airport should be named for a living person. I was honored at the original suggestion, but felt that the sacrifice involved—in order to qualify—was too great a price, even for that glory.
The whole thing would have been dropped had it not been for the intervention, as public voices of The Chicago Tribune and of other Chicago newspapers. The papers, plus a few warnest and forward looking individuals, were responsible for creation of this field, and I want to pay tribute where it is due.
Del Rentzel, civil aeronautics engineer who flew to Chicago from Washington to honor the city and his old friend, “Babe Meigs,” said his department was proud of the part it played in planning and developing the airport. He said:
- We hope ultimately to extend the runway to 4,000 feet and we hope to have feeder air lines in here. We believe the city administration and the people of Chicago are foresighted and progressive and aware that they have the most convenient flying terminal in the world in this airport.
Special guests—drawn form 30 states—were the Flying Farmers of Prairieland and the National Flying Farmers. When the count was finished, Public Works Commissioner Hewitt said, there were 890 of their planes at three Chicago fields—Navy, Glenview, O’Hare at Park Ridge, and Meigs itself. Still others, uncounted, came in at some of Chicago’s 25 other outlying private ports.
Hewitt estimated 2,047 persons rode in the planes.
“Farmer” Godfrey There
Most of them dodged thunderstorms to get here. An early arrival was Arthur Godfrey, radio and television star, who landed at Meigs field Thursday night. In a brief appearance at the microphone, he said he is a farmer in his own right. And having the only airport in the country with a “built-in crosswind”—a compliment to himself at getting his DC-3 plane down despite a 30 mile an hour west wind blowing across, not along, the Meigs runway.
Chicago business and industry turned the dedication into a party for the farmers, providing breakfast, transportation, luncheon at the Chicago Fair of 1950, and the freedom of the fair for the day.
AOPA, March 31, 2003
MAYOR DALEY BULLDOZES CHICAGO’S MEIGS FIELD
Sneaking in under the cover of darkness, city of Chicago construction crews began tearing up the runway at Meigs Field this morning at about 1:30 a.m. There was no advance warning, not even to the FAA. Some 16 aircraft are stranded on the field. A city source told the Chicago media that the “airport is closed for good” for “homeland security reasons.”
“We are absolutely shocked and dismayed,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “Mayor Daley has no honor and his word has no value. The sneaky way he did this shows that he knows it was wrong.”
Boyer immediately fired faxes off to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and Transportation Security Administration chief Adm. James M. Loy to discuss possible solutions.
“During a period when the country is at war in the Middle East, why must the mayor of Chicago also play dictator with a most valuable airport and cause additional turmoil inside our own country?” asked Boyer.
“While federal and state airport laws may not have been broken by this action, in December 2001 he pledged to keep the airport open, in support of federal legislation that granted him expansion of O’Hare airport. The mayor has broken his promise not only to the citizens of his own city, but also to the pilots of America.
“We will once again explore the legality of this action, but past research indicates that the law hasn’t been broken,” Boyer continued. “However, we’re not going to allow the mayor to hide behind the fiction of ‘homeland security’ for his reprehensible action.”
The city’s actions caught everyone by surprise. Despite Mayor Richard M. Daley’s penchant for publicity, the news media was caught off-guard. The FAA was not able to issue a notam on the closing until hours after the fact.
In fact, the FAA is looking into fining the city for violations of FAR Part 157, which requires advance notice of the deactivation, discontinuance, or abandonment of an airport or any landing or takeoff area of an airport for a period of one year or more.
The Meigs control tower had no idea about the closing. Closing the airport also closes the tower, which monitored the airspace near downtown Chicago. Ironically, while Daley frequently complains “nobody knows anything about those airplanes flying near Chicago,” closing the tower means that there is now no air traffic control exercised over aircraft flying along the lakefront.
AOPA’s Legislative Affairs office reports that even some members of the Illinois congressional delegation were caught unawares, particularly interesting since those members of Congress had been working with Mayor Daley on legislation that would preserve Meigs and expand O’Hare International Airport. As late as Friday afternoon, AOPA was in discussions with key staffers from the Illinois delegation concerning that legislation.
The action surprised the Meig’s Field FBO. When they asked the city what would happen to the aircraft trapped at the field, the FBO was told, “That’s your problem.” However, AOPA’s Midwest Regional Representative Bill Blake reports that the stranded aircraft may be allowed to depart using the taxiway sometime this week.
Chicago Mayor Daley had sought to close Meigs until a year ago, when an historic agreement between the city and the state of Illinois “guaranteed” the airport’s survival for 25 years. Daley gave his word that he would not seek to close Meigs in exchange for support for his plan to expand O’Hare International Airport and build a new airport at Peotone.
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