Austin's Airports--Three of 'em - 1928 'til now


THE WAY I REMEMBER IT

If my memory serves me correctly, Austin's first commercial airline service started in 1928. American was the carrier. The airport site at 51st and East Avenue (now IH 35) was recommended by the Austin Chamber, and approved by Claire Chennault, a famous WWI Air Force Commander. At the time he was a Lieutenant stationed at Randolph Field in San Antonio. The terminal was a little bungalow-looking house on the airport at about 51st and Berkman. This is also the place that I had my first plane ride in an open cockpit two seater. It cost Five Dollars.

Before long the airport terminal was moved to a location off of Airport Boulevard in a made over barracks building. My family came here quite frequently in the evening to watch the planes come in. We parked the car behind the chain link fence which was only about a 100 feet from where the planes unloaded. The people unloaded by walking down small stairs that were pushed up to the plane door after it opened.

Basically, it was a lousy terminal. Not a good impression for Austin at all. At the Chamber, our Aviation Committee and Board worked hard to get the city to build a decent one. It was tuff. We had a Mayor, good old Tom Miller, who didn't fly--and didn't care if anyone else did. Finally, we got a bond issue passed, and a new terminal was constructed. Although the airport has moved, the control tower is still there.

I was given the assignment of staging the opening for the new terminal building. This was in 1960, and Lyndon Johnson was Vice President. I recognized his popularity in central Texas, and was able to arrange for him to be the main speaker for the opening ceremony.

The Chamber had no budget for this event, but my friends who were Lyndon buddies got him to agree to be at the luncheon and "say a few words." I priced the luncheon at $25.00. The meal cost me $5.00, leaving a profit of $20.00. The luncheon sold out, giving me enough money to pay for the program printing, PA system, and all the other things needed to be worthy of a Vice Presidential visit.

The weather was good, and all went well. Austin now had a new front door.

It greatly helped us welcome many business prospects such as IBM, Motorola, and AMD.

The growth of Austin dictated the need for a new and larger airport, and the closing of Bergstrom Air Force Base provided the opportunity for the needed expansion and updating. It became Austin's new airport, and Austin once again has "a new front door."

Vic Mathias -- January 19, 2011

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