Holmes Airport

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1940 Street map showing Holmes Airport location. Click image for larger version.

Holmes Airport, (also known as Grand Central Air Terminal and Grand Central Airport [1]) which occupied the north west quadrant of today's Jackson Heights, was New York City's first commercial airport. Its developer, E.H. Holmes, said of the new airport that "it was destined to be the next passenger terminal for New York City." [2]

Holmes opened on March 16, 1929 on 220 acres in the northwest corner of Jackson Heights. It was bordered by Astoria Boulevard on the north, 31st Avenue on the south, Booty Street on the west, and 79th Street on the east. In building the airport, ground leveling was accomplished with the help of landfill from the 53rd Street subway tunnel, then under construction. Holmes closed in 1940, largely in response to the opening of nearby LaGuardia Airport in 1939.

Today the Bulova Building, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, the Lexington School, Jackson Heights Shopping Center, and nearly 1,000 units of residential housing occupy the land.

E. H. Holmes Develops Airport[edit]

Developer E. H. Holmes of E.H. Holmes and Company Inc., a New York investment bank specializing in aviation, built the airport. He organized and sold stock in Holmes Airport, Inc.[3] In February, 1929, Clarence D. Chamberlin, the aviator Viola Gentry, and Dorothy Stone, actress and daughter of Fred Stone, broke ground for the new airport.[4] It had two hangars, an office, and two gravel runways, of 2,800 feet (853 meters) and 3,000 feet (914 meters) in length.[5] In later years a hanger for the Goodyear Blimp was added.

It seems the marketing hype for using Holmes got a bit ahead of reality in at least one instance. A January 21, 1929 Brooklyn Eagle "Airport Supremacy" ad presented the various advantages of using Holmes, including a message that from Holmes mail would be rushed to Manhattan via a pneumatic tube to the General Post Office in New York City. There is no indication the tube was ever build. Here's text from the ad:

Holmes Airport, Inc., occupying 220 acres, located in Queens County, is 20 minutes by automobile from the center of New York City. Mail planes can land on this field, unload mail sacks and in a few short minutes their contents can be transferred by pneumatic tube to the General Post Office in New York City. Air transport lines enjoying the privilege of this field will dominate aviation transportation. Lines using terminals 12 to 20 miles from New York City, where upward of 2 hours is required for trans-shipment, cannot compete successfully with companies using the only airport within the city, 20 minutes from 42nd Street and Broadway, the crossroads of the world...

Opening Day and the Gates Flying Circus[edit]

According to the New York Times, the opening of the new airport was scheduled for Saturday, March 16, 1929, but rain postponed the planned activities. Sunday's activities attracted 100,000 visitors. [6] The star attraction for the day was Ive McKinney, a pilot of the Gates Flying Circus. Gates was one of the nations' most popular flying groups known for having traveled across every state in the union and for having started the “one dollar joy ride.” During the years 1922 to 1928 the Gates flying group was said to have flown about 1 million passengers, as per the History of Barnstorming.

Opening day also saw Captain George Haldeman, "who recently flew non-stop from Canada to Cuba," arrive from nearby Curtiss Field (now LaGuardia Airport, a stone's throw away) in a new Bellanca CH with six passengers. At the ceremonies Airport management announced that a row of three story buildings would be constructed along Northern Boulevard.

Later in 1929, the first scheduled flights from New York City began when Eastern Air Express started a two-day service to Miami from Holmes.[5]

In April 1930, thousands paid $1.00 for a ride in an airplane. The rides were promoted as an experiment to determine whether it was fear or the expense that kept the public from flying.[7]

Amelia Earhart Christens Goodyear Blimp Resolute[edit]

Blimps were also stationed at Holmes. To house one, Goodyear erected a 220 foot long hangar in 1931. From it they offered sightseeing flights.[8] The Goodyear blimp, Resolute (NC-15A), was christened by aviator Amelia Earhart at Holmes in 1932.

In 1936, a Goodyear blimp based at Holmes Airport provided the world's first aerial traffic reports.[9]

On Sunday, November 11, 1934, sixty-four airplanes took part in a 30-mile (48 km) novelty race involving a treasure hunt and pie-eating contest, the winner returning in 28 minutes.[10]

LaGuardia Airport's Opening and the demise of Holmes[edit]

In 1937, the airport's owners sought a court injunction to stop New York City from spending $8,444,300 to develop what would become LaGuardia Airport less than a mile to the northeast. New York State Supreme Court Supreme Court Justice Ernest E. L. Hammer denied the request.[11] LaGuardia Airport opened in 1939 and Holmes Airport closed the following year.[5]

Holmes Today[edit]

Today the former airport land is used for several purposes. The northern portion of Holmes Airport's land was developed into the Bulova watch factory site. This portion of the old airport currently comprises the former factory, now office space, a Home Depot, and Bed Bath and Beyond. Also occupying the former airport space is the Jackson Heights Shopping Center, the Lexington School School and Center for the Deaf, and Moser Park. Residential housing comprises the majority of the former airport.

Questions, Resources & Possibilities[edit]

  • This 1930s Geographia Map of Queens has Holmes identified as "Grand Central Air Term." Might this relate to the "mail tube" to Grand Central Post Office promised in early promotional literature?
  • Augmented Reality Tour - There is a great website maintained by Paul Freeman here that shows a Goodyear Blimp and its hanger at Holmes. And there's an aerial view of the airport at Untapped Cities. It would be interesting if someone plotted its location (as well as the other hangers, the runways, etc.) as an overlay on a current map. With this info in hand, might an Augmented Reality tour of Holmes be inspired? See here and tour Augmented Reality tour examples here.
  • Goodyear has agreed to look into their records for helpful info. Perhaps Goodyear would be interested on contributing to AR of Holmes.
  • Might an Amelia Earhart day event be organized in conjunction with the Queens Museum at Bulova?
  • Should this north west corner of Jackson Heights be referred to as the Holmes Quarter?

References[edit]

  1. "Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: New York City, Queens". www.airfields-freeman.com. Retrieved 2017-06-12. 
  2. Air Travel News, Ultra Modern Airport at New York to Fill Long Felt Need, March 1929.
  3. Pittsburgh Press article has stock price information
  4. Airports, [1] magazine, February 25, 1929, accessed March 29, 2009
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Stoff, Joshua (2004). Long Island Airports. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 85–86. ISBN 0-7385-3676-8. 
  6. Sunday Throngs Pack New Holmes Airport, March 18, 1929, accessed March 29, 2009
  7. Thousands Take $1 Plane Rides in Test To Learn if Fear or Expense Defers Flying, The New York Times, April 21, 1930, accessed March 29, 2009
  8. The College Point Airship Park, Airship, The Journal of The Airship Association, No. 126, September 1999, accessed March 29, 2009
  9. Some Notable 'Firsts'; Firsts by Air, The New York Times, November 15, 1998, accessed March 29, 2009
  10. 64 Airplanes Race To Pie-Eating Line, The New York Times, November 12, 1934, accessed March 29, 2009
  11. Fight on Queens Airport Fails, The New York Times, April 7, 1937, accessed March 29, 2009

External Links[edit]