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This year marks the centennial of flight,...

This year marks the centennial of flight, a milestone in aviation

history, as well as the 73rd anniversary of an airport in Burbank.

During its storied history, the airport has seen many changes in

names, owners, aircraft and people, which have contributed to its


evolution into what it is today. One would be hard-pressed to find a

person in Burbank who does not have an opinion regarding the airport

or its future. It is, however, worthy to know how it all got started.

In the late 1920s Austin Co., Airport Engineers and Builders,


along with officials from Boeing Air Transport Corporation, carefully

planned the site where the airport was constructed. Before the

airport was constructed, the vacant 243-acre land had to be cleared

of more than 100 huge oak and eucalyptus trees. This process was

rapidly completed, given that little, if any, environmental

restrictions existed at the time. Once cleared, the site showed

promise of being an airport, which was in demand since flying was

becoming increasingly common. The site’s uniform grade became a


natural asset for its intended purpose. The site’s convenient

location in the open fields of Burbank was close to downtown Los

Angeles, Pasadena and Hollywood.

Planning for the airport was already underway before the first

tree even fell. The vacant space was quickly divided into expandable

areas that comprise of any airport, such as a terminal, runways,

parking, etc. Everything was designed with safety as a first

priority. The new airport was a combination of architectural beauty,


safety and the latest technological achievements the 1930s offered.

The three original 5-inch thick asphalt runways were constructed

with a minimum grade to allow for the safest possible takeoffs and

landing. The black runways also contrasted nicely with the green

alpha fields so that the airport was visible from the air. The

original north-south runway was 3,000 feet, while the east-west

runway and northwest-southeast runway were each 3,600 feet long, the

later runway being in the direction of prevailing winds. The runways

were 300 feet wide but were expandable to 500 feet. There was a taxi

area constructed around all the runways so that planes would not have

to cross each other on the runway, a feature that allowed an A-1A

rating from the Department of Commerce, a precursor of the FAA.

The three-story terminal’s motif was done in a Spanish

architecture that was simple but elegant and greeted passengers as

they either arrived or departed from the airport. Nicely dressed

people could be seen throughout the terminal area enjoying themselves

as they conducted their business. Tastefully decorated and equipped

with the most modern kitchen equipment of the 1930s, the dining room

could accommodate approximately 200 people for entertaining. The

upper levels of the terminal, which are now used as administrative

offices, were reserved for the U.S. Weather Bureau and radio. The

third floor was for observation purposes. The grounds surrounding the

terminal were beautifully landscaped and included a fountain and lily


Ironically, the airport then seemed to have a more sophisticated

method for passengers to board planes than exists today. As

passengers existed the terminal, they walked under a telescopic metal

canopy that which was operated on a steal track. The canopy was in

two 23-foot sections that was 10 feet wide and 7 feet high and had

brakes so that it could be stopped as it met with the aircraft. A

single person easily maneuvered it. This canopy system was especially

designed for the airport and protected passengers from the elements.

Other amenities were constructed at the airport to make it fully

functional. A parking lot, conveniently located near the terminal,

accommodated 2,500 cars. Hangers 1 and 2, along with hangers occupied

by Northrop and the Hamilton Standard Propeller Co., were

constructed. Other structures included service yards and other

facility related structures.

On May 30, 1930, the United Airport of Burbank opened with great

fanfare. This was to be the nation’s first million-dollar airport;

the initial investment was actually $1.5 million. It was designed and

constructed to be one of the world’s finest airports. At that time,

it was viewed as an attractive state-of-the-art facility with the

highest safety standards. There would be many more changes over the

years at the airport, but this is how it got its start. Seventy-three

years have passed since its opening, and while it now belongs to

three cities, its history is uniquely Burbank’s.

* CRAIG BULLOCK, chairman of the Burbank Heritage Commission,

writes a monthly history column for the Leader.