Now Abandoned: New York’s First Airport built in mesmerizing Art Deco Style

Jack Beckett
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New York City’s Floyd Bennett Field has changed faces many times over the course of its existence: It was New York’s first municipal airport, then a naval air station, and currently the area is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Rated A-1-A by the Civil Aeronautics Board, its location and extensive facilities made Floyd Bennett Field popular with a number of record breaking pilots, including Amelia Earhart and John Glenn. According to the National Park Service website, “Twenty-six around the world or transatlantic flights started or ended at Floyd Bennett Field between 1931 and 1939.”

Administration building, Floyd Bennett Field.

A part of the field is still used by the NYPD Air Support and Air Sea Rescue, which has called Floyd Bennett Air Field home since the Air Support Division was established in 1929.

Hangar at the former Floyd Bennett Field. Author: Ad Meskens CC-BY SA 3.0

The formation of Floyd Bennett Field was deemed an ambitious and challenging feat, but the steady winds of Jamaica Bay made for good flying conditions. The airfield was created by joining Barren Island with a number of other smaller marsh islands and the mainland by landfill.

Aerial view of NAS New York in the mid-1940s

 

A Bell HTL-1 taking off over a Grumman Albatross prototype at Floyd Bennett Field, May 1948.

It was built to be the most modern airport in the world. At a time when most airstrips were still dirt or grass, Floyd Bennett Field boasted concrete runways and four huge hangars.

Before the formation of Floyd Bennett airfield, the isolated marsh islands had a small community of residents, one of whom had even set up a private airstrip that he had used for private tours of the islands.

Aerial view of Floyd Bennett Field, seen during departure from JFK.

 

City of New York poster.

Existing before JFK and LaGuardia were perhaps even thought of, Floyd Bennett was New York’s only airport; that was the time when almost all air traffic came out of Newark.

Runway 6 at the former Floyd Bennett Field. Author: Ad Meskens CC-BY SA3.0

The airport was named in honor of Navy Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, who was a Brooklyn resident when he died. Floyd Bennett was awarded the Medal of Honor for his trans-Arctic flight in 1926, but his claims of reaching the North Pole didn’t pass without controversy. Some even disregarded his claims as a fabrication.

Floyd Bennett Field from the air, 2013. Author: Joe Mabel CC-BY SA,2.0

The dedication of the airport took place on June 26, 1930, and was marked by a mesmerizing flyover in which more than 670 army aircraft took part. It was officially opened on May 23, 1931.

Administration Building at the former Floyd Bennett Field. Author: Ad Meskens CC-BY SA

The National Park Service took over Floyd Bennett Field in 1972 as part of its Gateway National Recreational Area. Many of the gorgeous art deco style airport buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As well as checking out the buildings, visitors to the site today can see a number vintage aircraft in Hangar B that have been lovingly brought back to their former glory by the Historic Aircraft Registration Project. There is also the opportunity to get hands-on at the Radio Controlled Flying Field on one of the old runways.

A U.S. Coast Guard Hall PH-3 flying boat (V179) on the ramp at Coast Guard Air Station, Floyd Bennett Field, New York (USA), in 1944.

Outdoor enthusiasts can check out the Sports and Events Center or hiking trails. The campground has space for 32 tent sites and 9 RV’s, so be sure to check ahead with the National Park Service website to be sure of reserving your spot at the only overnight campsite inside of New York City.

Air traffic control tower at the former Floyd Bennett Field. Author: Ad Meskens CC BY-SA 3.0

When you step in the airport today, it seems as if you practically step back in time – almost half a century back. It is always advisable to explore the vast airport using a bike since the enormous expanse offers a variety of artifacts and neat things to explore.