1935 and The Farm -- Sky Harbor's Early Years and Memories
All of us look back on moments in our lives that have had an impact upon us. Sometimes we wonder what things were like back in "the old days." It is often said that in order to know where we are going we have to know where we came from. As we celebrated Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's 75th Anniversary in 2010, we looked back to see where we came from, what events shaped us, what people's experiences were at Sky Harbor and where we are going.
It was the year 1935. Notable happenings included the Dust Bowl in April; baseball legend Babe Ruth's final career game, the release of Monopoly by Parker Brothers and FDR signing the Social Security Act into law. And, we didn't know it at the time, but a baby born that year named Elvis Presley would have a major impact on the music industry in the years to come. The nation was in midst of the Great Depression, but recovery was on the horizon. Arizona was looking to its farming and mining industries to boost the state's economic development.
As the state of Arizona and the Valley of the Sun grew, it was important that the area have an Airport that would boost travel to and from the region. There already was an airport located in Phoenix named Sky Harbor. It got its start in 1928 when Scenic Airways, Inc. wanted to get flights going in the Southwest because they thought it would be a profitable venture. Scenic General Manager, J. Parker Van Zandt purchased the land for Scenic, made numerous improvements and named the new airport Sky Harbor. A formal dedication was held on Labor Day in 1929 for the Airport and more than 8,000 people attended.
But the Stock Market Crash of 1929 meant that Scenic Airways had to abandon the airport due to lack of funds and offer it up for sale. The City of Phoenix was not interested in purchasing Sky Harbor at that time so Acme Investment Company purchased it instead. In 1930, American Airlines brought passenger and Air Mail service to Arizona. It was an exciting time for residents as they often came out to greet the planes as mail arrived.
As time passed, however, Acme Investment Company was no longer interested in owning the Airport and finally convinced the City of Phoenix to purchase it in 1935 for $100,000. Back then, Sky Harbor Airport was so isolated from everything that residents nicknamed it "The Farm." This purchase would enable Sky Harbor Airport to become one of the ten busiest in the United States for passenger traffic and be the huge economic engine it is for the state of Arizona today.
On November 11, 1935, the City held a dedication for Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Dignitaries spoke, an aerial circus performed, and a dinner dance was held at the Westward Ho to celebrate.
During the 1930's couples actually used to fly into Sky Harbor and go to the chapel that was in close proximity to the original terminal because Arizona was one of the few states that did not require a three day waiting period to get married. Even celebrities would fly in, have a quick celebration and fly out. One celebrity couple married at Sky Harbor was Donald Novis, a radio singer, and Dorothy Bradshaw, a Broadway dancer. The chapel was near where the Left Seat Restaurant is currently located.
In the late1930's, Sky Harbor was becoming more modern. In 1937, a two-way radio system was installed which allowed advanced technology to come to Phoenix Sky Harbor. This new $40,000 system made it more enticing for other air service to come into Phoenix. In November 1938, Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. (TWA) began both passenger and mail service between Phoenix and San Francisco. Later, other stops along the way included Boulder City, Las Vegas, Oakland and Fresno. By December 1940, the airlines at Sky Harbor included American, TWA, Carl Knier's Sky Harbor Air Service and Southwest Airways, Inc., bringing the total number of planes based at Sky Harbor to 35. In 1940, the US Army brought headquarters to the Airport. The Army would later use Sky Harbor as a place to refuel planes during World War II.
By 1948, the Civil Aeronautics Administration declared that Sky Harbor was the busiest airport in the United States, and according to Doug Carr, Assistant Director from 1946 to well into the 1950's, it was indeed very busy.
"We had an awful lot of air traffic here at Sky Harbor Airport after the war," said Carr. "A lot of aircraft coming through Sky Harbor from the West to the East and from the East to the West, of course it continued on to the far East. But the place was just busy as the dickens."
In 1949, the Arizona National Guard arrived at Sky Harbor and leased space for 99 years. The "Farm" nickname was heard less frequently as the area around Sky Harbor was more rapidly developed.
In our next article, what is known in aviation as the beginning of the modern era comes to Sky Harbor. Learn more about that growth and development that has taken place at Sky Harbor from a small facility to one of the busiest airports in the nation.
Watch a video of Doug Carr describing a unique memory from Sky Harbor's past – the "Hay-Lift of 1949."
**Information taken from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport the First 50 Years – Research from Pamela Jones as well as interviews with Doug Carr and Arv Schultz.
First published: August 30, 2010