Ninety years ago, after nearly 80 acres of trees and farmland in Van Nuys had been cleared, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport — established by a small group of businessmen — would be dedicated and begin operations.
That forerunner of modern aviation is better known now as the Van Nuys Airport (VNY). It remains one of the busiest private airports in the US, if not the world.
There is more to VNY’s history than air service. It has been used as a location for scenes in classic Hollywood films like “Casablanca” and “Lost Horizon.” Early aviators and barnstormers — including Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes, Amelia Earhart, Herbert Fahy and Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout — broke or set early aviation speed and endurance records from there.
It also remains a Hollywood favorite, and not just for actors and producers who have learned to fly there. Contemporary television shows like “Shark Tank,” “Glee,” “The Office,” “Entourage,” “Red 2” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” have filmed parts of episodes at the airport.
But it has evolved into a vital Southland economic entity, contributing approximately $2 billion to the Southern California economy and supporting more than 10,000 jobs annually.
VNY was dedicated on Dec.18, 1928, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight. (Mines Field, the forerunner to Los Angeles International Airport, was established via a 640-acre land lease that same year in October.)
Aerospace leaders, business entrepreneurs and Hollywood filmmakers soon followed. They soon showed others in the state and the nation that a new era was being ushered in, that of travel and business through the air as well as by land.
During the 1940s, the federal government purchased the facility and convert it into an air base to support the WWII effort and help protect the West Coast through a defense-manufacturing center.
The city of LA purchased the airport from the federal government for $1 in 1949, with the agreement the California Air National Guard continue to operate on the site. That stipulation ended in 1989, with the Guard completely moved out by 1990.
Today, the Van Nuys Airport — now owned and managed by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) — covers 725 acres and has two runways, the main one measuring 8,000 feet and the training one measuring 4,000 feet. Although major airlines do not fly in or out, there are still 600 private or business aircraft housed at the facility at any particular time, as well as 100 different businesses at the airport to help serve and support various private, corporate and government aviation needs.
Since 2017 several major tenant capital improvement projects have successfully moved forward. They include the completion of a $7.5-million, three-acre aviation complex at Aeroplex/Aerolease Group and a $10 million, six-acre expansion at Clay Lacy Aviation. Construction at the new Jet Aviation facility has recently commenced, with development at The Park VNY scheduled for completion at the end of this year.
Overall, tenant development projects are valued at over $65 million.
LAWA officials say a major anniversary celebration is scheduled to happen in October, but that details are still being worked out.
— Mike Terry