Friday, June 2, 2017

From the Archives: Washington-Hoover Airport, Arlington, Virginia 1941 or 1942

Eastern Airlines DC-2.
The Washington-Hoover Airport served Washington, DC, from the mid-1930s until 1941, when it was closed and replaced by the modern National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). Hoover was located about where the south parking lot of the Pentagon is situated. Construction of the Pentagon began on on November 8, 1941, dating these photographs a few months earlier.
When I first looked at these negatives, I thought they showed National Airport. But a friend (a gent in his 80s) from Alexandria, Virginia was highly certain that this was not National. The Wikipedia web page describes the closure of the older airport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington-Hoover_Airport. That would date my dad's pictures to late-1941, which is possible because I read in one of his 1941 diary entries that he was thinking of buying a 35mm format camera. He bought an American-made Perfex camera, made by the Candid Camera Corporation of Chicago. I assume this roll of film was one of his early tests. The Cameraquest web page describes the Perfex cameras if you are interested.
The film was in terrible condition. Whoever developed it used the brush method, which was described in older photography magazines. No wonder it fell out of favor. My Silverfast Ai scanning software has anti-scratch software, but it could only do so much with these. Still, I am surprised how much detail is visible. The film edge said Kodak Safety Film Plus-X ("Safety" meaning not nitrate-based film, which was unstable and highly flammable).
Unfortunately, there were only 5 frames on this roll with air field photographs. The other frames were rather mundane tourist scenes in Washington (statue of heroic soldier on horse, etc.). This serves as a lesson that as the years pass, scenes or topics that seem ordinary often take on historical importance, or at least interest. But standard tourist sites are rather unchanging unless you include cultural artifacts, such as parked cars or signs.
Gravely Point, Virginia, with dredging underway to prepare artificial land for National Airport. From the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress; United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division  digital ID hhh.va1677/photos.368605p. 
The old Washington-Hoover airport was soundly criticized by pilots and almost everyone as being dangerous and hopelessly inadequate as the airport for the nation's capital. The runways were short, a nearby dump that was on fire made plumes of thick smoke, nearby radio antennas were a hazard, and Military Road had to be blocked by guards when planes landed or took off. At one time, there was a swimming pool, which children reached by crossing the runway. 

Construction of the new National Airport was mired in the standard political and budgetary malarky (nothing has changed in 75 years). There was even controversy about where the boundary between Virginia and the District of Columbia was located. Read the sordid history in the link above. The new National Airport opened just before our entry into World War II. This was fortuitous timing because the world war resulted in a tremendous increase in air traffic into Washington and Virginia. 

When it opened, National Airport was considered the “last word” in airports – a concentration of the ultramodern developments in design of buildings, handling of planes, air traffic and field traffic control, field lighting, facilities for public comfort and convenience, and surface vehicle traffic control. 
Well, not quite. Across the ocean, in Berlin, the spectacular Templehof Airport was under construction and almost complete in 1941. Please see my 2016 article on Templehof.

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