Image2 Isbell Construction

Glendale has had more than one airport in its recent past. According to Ron Chavez’ book “The Valley Airports of the Past,” this airfield “began as the Isbell Construction Company Airfield, a privately-owned airstrip built in 1955 at 80th & Olive Avenues. The airport was used as an aerial crop seeding & spraying operation, had a dirt strip that measured 2,400′, and ran in a north/south direction (17/35) between Grand & Olive Avenues.”He goes on to say “After the closure of Paradise & Phoenix Airhaven Airports, the Isbell Construction Company Airfield became available for general public use and general aviation aircraft began using the airport in 1966.” At the same time its name was changed to Glendale Airhaven Airport.  But it was too small and buried within a corner of a block near Grand Avenue and Olive. Old abandoned urban area airfields often suffered the same fate and were plowed up, torn down and covered with homes and buildings but remnants of this airfield field remain. As of the late 1980’s one could still see the runway and hanger.

In the early 1980’s the city decided to build a new airport and close Glendale Airhaven. A citizen’s group was formed to decide on a location for a new airport to be known as the Glendale Municipal Airport. One of the members of this citizens’ group was – any guesses? – Why, former Mayor Elaine Scruggs. There were two final options for its location. One site was in undeveloped north Glendale and the other was its present location.  Urban legend has it that Scruggs pushed hard for its current location and prevailed despite the location’s many flaws.

photo 3By 1987 the 477 acre Glendale Municipal Airport opened and was ready for business. Its new single runway eventually grew to 7,150 feet and could accommodate small jets. Hangers were built on the south and north sides of the main terminal building. It became the new location of the Thunderbird Balloon Race. But there was trouble in this new, city paradise. The south hangers languished and were never even remotely fully occupied. The owner declared bankruptcy and the hangers were auctioned off. The city attempted to acquire them but its bid was rejected as too low and they were acquired by a private party. To this day while they are available for lease but they remain almost entirely vacant. The reasons are complicated.  By the mid-90’s the city discontinued hosting the balloon race as the number of spectators it drew overwhelmed airport facilities.

For the next dozen years the airport continued its slow but steady growth. The city hosted the Super Bowl. That event showed what its future held as many corporate jets landed there because of its close proximity to the University of Phoenix Stadium. Top name concert performers and their entourages would also use the airport because it was so conveniently close to their performance venue, Arena.

Then two major events occurred. The national economy suffered a deep recession and the nation’s climb out of it has been slow and painful; and the owner of the south hangers sued the city and lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He contended that the city allowed the owners of the north hangers more liberal use of their hangers that that with which he was allowed. He prevailed and won a substantial judgment and the FAA now had Glendale’s airport on its radar screen and mandated major changes.

In the next blog we’ll look at the airport today…its challenges and its potential.