While not a week-long celebration of civic pride like the opening of Toledo’s new Union Terminal four years earlier, the dedication of Toledo Express Airport, the city’s new, $3.8 million airport built to handle jet aircraft (and replace the outdated-from-the-start Toledo Municipal Airport) hoped to usher Toledo into a modern age of aviation.
The saga of where exactly to put the airport is recounted here. It was a saga, because the effort started in 1944 and lasted eight years with city officials finding and rejecting one location after another, until big business stepped in and purchased the land that makes up today’s airport.
The airport took two years to build. With federal aid essentially unavailable, the city had to pay for it, so voters were asked in May 1953 to authorize the spending of up to $3.5 million, which they overwhelmingly approved. Another $350,000 was approved in May 1954. From there, the anticipation built until its dedication and opening.
One of the most unusual events I found prior to this, and perhaps any, airport’s opening was this ad from Aug. 27, 1954: “Drive your own car on Toledo’s New Airport Runways.”
“Nearly four miles of smooth landing strips and taxiways have been built. Drive out to the new Oak Openings Airport this Saturday and Sunday and try out these runways. Police and deputy sheriffs will see that you have a safe and unusual ride. Bring the entire family.”
Would anybody allow that to happen today? I doubt it. Police estimated 3,700 cars and 17,000 people came out to take a spin on the runways that weekend. I mean, who could resist, right?
The official dedication was Sunday, October 31, 1954, and 35,000 people, according to The Blade, braved the wind, cold and snow showers to see the new airport. It was part dedication, part air show according to the description.
The airport didn’t go into service until January 5, 1955, and even then, it didn’t happen, as low clouds and drizzle thwarted attempts to land planes that day (in conditions today that would be a piece of cake).
The next day, however, the weather was more favorable, and at 8:05 a.m., a Capital Airlines plane on its way from Detroit to Cleveland dropped off Toledo Express Airport’s first arrival (and the plane’s only passenger) – a pajama salesman, Melvin Marks, 24, of Kew Gardens, NY. Fifteen people boarded the flight, the first of which was Mrs. Lofton Rogers (she was headed to Washington, D.C.). A total of 29 daily flights by four major airlines were scheduled that “first” day.
An open house was set for that weekend, and 12,000 sightseers flocked to the airport out Chicago Pike, backing up traffic over two miles and flights and delaying flights as passengers were stuck in traffic. Yes, a plane waited for a passenger.
Also, as an interesting aside, it wasn’t until 1964 that City Council, with the help of county commissioners, started kicking around the idea of renaming Wayne Street/Chicago Pike to today’s Airport Highway.
There have been improvements over the years – a new $3.1 million concourse in 2000, for example – But today, passenger traffic is next to nothing Toledo Express Airport, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics website. We did a little math and found the airport served 2,163,181 passengers in the years 2002-2016.
Detroit’s airport can turn that number in two months. Even Dayton serves a million passengers a year. Granted, Toledo isn’t Detroit, but neither is it Dayton. Even in 1991, The Blade, in an editorial, said the airport “has been an underused facility since it was opened.” Even the airport’s 50th anniversary garnered little notice.
In a December 2017 editorial criticizing the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, operators of the airport since 1972, The Blade, which has been writing some pointed editorials of late (skewering the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, especially), said “the port board has completely and utterly failed in its mission to revitalize the airport. At a time when Toledo is revitalizing itself economically, and some regional airports in the nation are making comebacks, we have a handsome regional airport that mostly sits fallow and empty.” Sad and accurate, yes, but also a reflection of the modern airline industry that left smaller cities far behind.