Resuming Construction

Port of Entry Status
A combination of fear and personal lobbying appears to have been the final push in getting the airport project restarted. Early on, Bellingham had succeeded in achieving port of entry status for the new airport, under the impression that, just like an automobile, every plane would have to stop at the first port of entry when entering this country, ensuring that essentially all southbound British Columbian flights would have to stop at Bellingham. With successive project slowdowns, project managers began to fear that Everett and Seattle were somehow conspiring to steal this coveted status.

Need for Unemployment Relief
Another factor in the project’s sudden resumption was the sharp increase in local workers needing jobs. In a letter from Bellingham WPA Zone Engineer H.F. Isler to Washington State Senator A.E. Edwards of Deming, Isler urged that airport work be restarted simply because the winter months had driven the relief quota up by 813 people. Isler pointed out that airport construction could potentially put 529 back to work who were currently “being taken care of” in “centers [around] the city of Bellingham.”

Charles Larrabee wrote letters to the governor in 1940 urging him to intervene in getting work on the airport restarted. He cited both the need for unemployment relief and the desire of the U.S. Reserve Officers Association to hold their annual convention in Bellingham and exhibit their military aircraft. Through a tangle of pressure politics and personal exhortation, work on the airport resumed on May 18, 1940.

First Runway Completed
Following 50 days of round-the-clock three-shift workdays, the runway was completed and dedicated on June 1, 1940. It was 3,600 feet long, 150 feet wide, and had a gravel top not yet oiled. The heavy United Airlines “Manliner," scheduled to land at the dedication, was forced to cancel because the landing field was too soft. The grand opening was so popular that 5,000 people came, along with a number of small planes, causing traffic jams around the area. According to the Bellingham Herald, traffic was “out of control before the program started because of the large number of cars.” Some speakers did not even make it to the dedication because they were stuck in traffic.

Next: War and the Airport