War & the Airport
Construction CompletionBy 1941, fears of war were increasing, and so was the pace of construction at the airport. Between national defense funds and the Army Corps of Engineers, construction was completed on three paved runways. The land was expanded to 350 acres and the original runway extended to 5,000 feet. The second and third runways were built at 5,000 and 4,000 feet, respectively. The airport opened to the community on the infamous day of the Pearl Harbor bombing - December 7, 1941. The 3,000 visitors would be the last public invited to visit the airport for a long time.
Military Control & First Terminal BuildingThe next day, the United States declared war on Japan. By December 10, the army had seized the airport, then known as the Bellingham Army Air Field. Utilized extensively, by the time the airport was transferred back to the county in 1946, it had expanded to 910 acres and 38 buildings, including a garage, dormitory, and 13 bomb-storage structures. In addition, United Airlines had constructed the airport's first terminal building.
The terminal building was designed by famed local architect Stanley F. Piper, who was also the architect for the Herald building, the Bellingham National Bank, and St. Paul's church, among other notable Bellingham structures. This terminal building, along with the entire expanded infrastructure added by the army, was transferred to the county at no expense in October of 1946, shortly after the war’s end.
Change in OwnershipReturning veterans came home with a new found interest in flying, and three flight schools were set up to meet demand - Bellingham Air Service, Coast Pacific Aircraft, and Western Washington Aircraft. But the activity of the war effort had left the airport in poor shape. Despite twice-daily United Airlines flights to Vancouver, the airport's biggest moneymaker was said to be the hay mowed from its extensive acreage. With mounting costs and a need for repairs, the county sold the airport to the Port of Bellingham for $1 in 1957.
According to Tut Asmundson, Port of Bellingham commissioner from 1954 to 1989, when the port acquired the airport, the runways needed to be resurfaced, and there were still wooden hangars on the property yet to be removed. For cost’s sake, the port shut down one of the airport runways and only resurfaced the north-south runway.
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