Pre-War History: Watsonville Airport Incorporated

In the 1920s aircraft landed and took off from open fields. Landing speeds were so slow that aircraft did not require runways. Land owners and farmers whose open spaces with names like Mines Field (now LAX), Mills Field (now SFO) and Buchanan Field (Concord) became airfields. Landing fields in our area were found at such places as Rio Del Mar, San Andreas, Palm Beach and one near Watsonville on Beach Road. One called Storms Field, on what is now called Freedom Boulevard near Mariposa Avenue, was used by many barnstormers to sell rides as they flew from town to town.

Watsonville's First Airport Opens


It was early 1931 that Watsonville entered the aviation age. On May 9, 1931, Governor James "Sunny Jim" Rolph, riding in a Stinson monoplane piloted by WW. Bendell, made a low pass over the runway and cut a ribbon stretched across the field to officially open Watsonville's first airport. This was just over a year after the formation of "Watsonville Airport Incorporated."

Five thousand shares of stock were issued and bought by 400 "largely civic minded citizens" to purchase land to build an airport. An 85-acre site southwest of the city, near the junction of Highway 1 and Salinas Road in Monterey County, was chosen for the airport because it was the only land available "at a reasonable price."

Harlow Ford was the first president of the board of directors, and Claude Wilson was the first airport manager and flight instructor. Other people who were active in establishing the airport were Perry Andrews, William Bendell, Pete Calaghan, Basil and Kenneth Clark, Floyd McFarlane, Bill Russell, Charles Tharp, William Waters and Dr. Henry G. Watters.

The earliest known photograph of Watsonville Airport is an undated aerial view, looking southwest, from the Airfield Directory Company's 1938 "Airfield Directory." The field was described as "...having three runways, with the longest being a 2,300 feet northwest/southeast strip and a hangar was said to have "WATSONVILLE" on the roof." Located approximately four miles south of town, the original airport site was to become "the busy center of flying activity" until acquisition by the United States Navy as an Airship base.

Pilots & Their Planes


Some pilots and their planes were Watters, Curtiss Robin; McFarlane, Russell, and Roy Martelli, Eagle Rock; Clark Brothers, Stinson and later a Ford Tri-Motor; Lou and Harold Foote, Monocoupe; Roy Waugaman, Ryan; Manager Wilson and Bert Scott, Bird; Russell Kemper, Lincoln Paige; William Neibling, TravelAir; and Jack Irwin, an airport manager later in an Irwin special.

Civil Airport in Santa Cruz County


In 1939 The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), decided that a civil airport was needed in Santa Cruz County. CAA representatives went first to the City of Santa Cruz offering to build an airport, if the city would buy the land. This offer was conditioned with an agreement that upon accepting CAA funding the land would always be used for an airport. Santa Cruz County voted down the offer and the CAA presented a similar offer to the City of Watsonville.

The offer was accepted and a special election was held on May 12, 1942 with Proposition 4 being a bond issue in the amount of $125,000 for a municipal airport. The citizens of Watsonville passed Proposition 4 with 1537 for, 407 against and 27 votes marked invalid.