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Lost Washington: Washington Airport

Before there was National Airport, there was the Washington Airport at Hoover Field. It was established in 1926 and located just west of today's intersection of the George Washington Parkway and the 14th Street Bridge.

Aerial View of South End of Highway Bridge, 14th Street Underpass Looking Northeast, 1932,
from Library of Congress.

The terminal, constructed in 1930, was built in the International Style and designed by architects Holden, Stott & Hutchinson. It was a frame structure with a brick veneer base and stucco walls. It was built at a cost of 50 cents per cubic foot, for a total cost of $29,187.78 for its 58,000 total cubic feet of space.

Upon completion in 1930, the terminal supported 50 sightseeing flights a day and 30 commercial fights. A few months after the terminal opened, Luddington Airlines (later absorbed by Eastern) began flights to New York "every hour on the hour." By 1931, the airport had 70 daily scheduled arrivals and departures, making it the busiest airport in the country.

Late October, 1935, witnessed the start of direct service between Washington and Chicago when American Airlines introduced the service. The duration of the flights were approximately four hours and via Cincinnati and Indianapolis. American's service was also the only one between the cities to have stewardesses in attendance and the only Chicago service using Douglas equipment.

The proposal for a safe and adequate government operated airport was introduced in Congress as early as 1927, but did not gain ground until 1938. This eventually resulted in construction of National Airport, which opened on July 16, 1941. With the opening of National, the old airport was no longer needed and razed. The grounds were purchased by the War Department for part of the Pentagon's grounds.

More images below.

Washington-Hoover Airport

Washington-Hoover Airport

Washington-Hoover Airport

Sources consulted:
"Airlines Start Direct Service D.C.-to-Chicago: American's New Schedule Brings Western City Within 4 Hours." The Washington Post, November 3, 1935, MA7.

Goode, James M. "Washington Hoover Airport Terminal." In Capital Losses, 460-461. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2003.

"Washington Airport Washington, D.C." The Architectural Forum, December 1930, 735-736.

Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He's been an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner serving the northern Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods since 2011 (ANC 1A), and is the force behind the blog Park View, D.C.


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Late October, 1935, witnessed the start of direct service between Washington and Chicago when American Airlines introduced the service. The duration of the flights were approximately four hours and via Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

If they were via Cincinnati and Indianapolis, then how were they "direct service" to Chicago?

by Tobias White on Feb 25, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

In airline lingo, "direct" means you don't have to change planes. It was much more common back when planes actually had to stop a lot. Airlines still have "direct" flights where it's, say, SFO-IAD-LHR, all on the same flight number though often times these days there's a change of planes anyway. Southwest still have many itineraries that stop without a change of planes since they turn flights so fast.

by David Alpert on Feb 25, 2010 3:45 pm • linkreport

Love it. Big aviation nerd so this is great.

On a somewhat related note, at the National Airport metro stop I noticed that one of the spans across the bridge is called
"Rochambeau"...I know 14th Street is bad but is it really a kick in the nuts?

by Redline SOS on Feb 25, 2010 3:48 pm • linkreport

Wikipedia's page for National Airport says that the runway at Hoover Field intersected a adjacent street and guards had to stop street traffic during landings and takeoff o.O

by kidincredible on Feb 25, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

Redline, I didn't get your joke, but at the risk of being a pedant, it's named after this guy.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 25, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

I chuckle every time I see the 14th St. Bridge called "Rochambeau"....heheheh

Cool post though. More aviation topics!

by JessMan on Feb 25, 2010 4:17 pm • linkreport

An entire airport for less than $30,000. Incomprehensible!

by Matthias on Feb 25, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

Alright, thanks, Urban Dictionary, for bringing me back to Boy Scouts.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 25, 2010 4:27 pm • linkreport

Fascinating -- I never knew about this airport before!

The terminal reminds me of the Art Deco terminal at the airport in Long Beach, California.

by Greenbelt Gal on Feb 25, 2010 4:38 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the hourly Luddington/Eastern/Trump/USAirways shuttle has operated continuously since 1930. That would be a pretty impressive history.

by c5karl on Feb 25, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

@kidincredible, true, I have a book on Arlington history that mentions Hoover Field with a few photos. It was Washington Blvd I believe that crossed one of the runways. I think it also said a trash incinerator was nearby and the smoke would sometimes obscure the runway.

by Lou on Feb 25, 2010 4:53 pm • linkreport

It should be noted that the bridge in the photo, named simply the "Highway Bridge", no longer exists. It was opened in 1906, became southbound in 1950 when the original Rochambeau Bridge (now named the Arland D Williams Jr's the northbound mainline), and was closed in 1962 when the George Mason Bridge (current southbound mainline) opened. Torn down ca.'s 395 express lanes bridge (the current Rochambeau Bridge) sits immediately upriver of the old Highway Bridge location.

by Froggie on Feb 25, 2010 5:15 pm • linkreport

I know you say the terminal was razed, but it looks quite familiar to an older-looking building on the southern end of Reagan's campus today. Anyone know what that current building is? Perhaps the original National Airport (post-1940s) terminal? If so, what's it used for now?

by anon on Feb 25, 2010 5:18 pm • linkreport

It also either has rail tracks or streetcar lines running down the middle of the bridge.

by NikolasM on Feb 25, 2010 5:56 pm • linkreport

David Brinkley, in his wonderful book about Washington DC during World War II, recalls how the airport runway was crossed by either Washington Boulevard or Chain Bridge Road (I seem to recall it was Chain Bridge Road, as odd as it seems), and how - when a plane was taking off or landing - a police officer would stand out there with a lantern to stop traffic.

And Bill Marriott Sr ran a Hot Shoppes near Hoover Field. Passengers would stop for coffee and a sandwich before taking their flights. He convinced Eastern Airlines that providing food during flights would be a welcome amenity. Thus was born the world's first in-flight food catering service, at Hoover Field.

As far as the Eastern Shuttle, it dates back to the early 1960's. Allegheny Airlines applied to the CAB to operate hourly flights between National and LaGuardia. Eastern had the route at the time, operating regularly scheduled service. The CAB gave them what amounted to the right of first refusal. Eastern decided to offer hourly shuttle service, rather than to allow the smaller competitor entree to the DCA-LGA market. R.E.G. Davies writes about this - and other such items - in his fascinating histories of the growth of the airline industry.

by Mike Silverstein on Feb 25, 2010 6:21 pm • linkreport

@Neil - South Park reference. "Rochambeau" was used as a term for kicking each other in the nuts until someone falls down.

Yes, more aviation topics please.

On that note: Anyone else miss the announcement of the moving of Frontier to the A terminal? I nearly missed my flight!

by Redline SOS on Feb 25, 2010 6:23 pm • linkreport

The road that crossed Hoover Field's only runway was an Arlington County highway called Military Road (Brinkley, p. 76).

Airport managers concerned about safety appealed to county authorities to close the road, but were refused. "The airport manager, on his own, installed a red light to stop automobile traffic when planes were landing and taking off. He was hauled into court, charged with with installing a traffic light without authority, and found guilty. The light was removed." (Brinkley, p. 76)

Source: Washington Goes to War: The Extraordinary Story of the Transformation of a City and a Nation by David Brinkley, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

by Anon on Feb 25, 2010 8:19 pm • linkreport

Re: I know you say the terminal was razed, but it looks quite familiar to an older-looking building on the southern end of Reagan's campus today. Anyone know what that current building is? Perhaps the original National Airport (post-1940s) terminal? If so, what's it used for now?

The structure at the southern end of the present terminal complex is indeed the original Washington National Airport terminal. It is a registered historic landmark, and restoration of the terminal's facades was undertaken in 2004 and 2008 . The terminal is still in use today and is now known as Terminal A. It's possible to walk along an interior passageway from Terminal A to the newer built Terminal, but access to the old observation deck is sealed off.

by Anonymous on Feb 25, 2010 8:43 pm • linkreport

Anon - Are you thinking of the A Terminal? There's a long stretch that looks like the building in the above picture (though it's not the same building). The A terminal still has some flights, but most have moved to B and C terminals. The only other building I can think of is the General Aviation terminal, which doesn't look at all like the above picture.

Also, before National Airport there was another airport in addition to Hoover called Washington Airfield. The two were close enough to each other and eventually merged. When National Airport opened to the south in 1941 the merged airport closed down.

by Max D. on Feb 25, 2010 8:47 pm • linkreport

There are some great photographs in the old Terminal building at National of the evolution of the airports in the area.

by Alex B. on Feb 25, 2010 9:55 pm • linkreport

My book: Historic Photos of Arlington County
has a some information on the Hoover and Washington airfields.

by Matthew on Feb 25, 2010 10:24 pm • linkreport

kidincredible, check out the airport in Gibraltar, the runway crosses the main avenue, which is controlled by railway style crossing gates

by J on Feb 25, 2010 11:52 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't those streetcar tracks running down the middle of 14th in the first picture? And aren't those two streetcars about to arrive at the terminal?

by monkeyrotica on Feb 26, 2010 8:45 am • linkreport

In looking at a larger tiff version of the image, I didn't see any streetcars in the photograph but the tracks are definitely there.

by Kent on Feb 26, 2010 8:57 am • linkreport

Thanks for this fascinating piece of aviation lore.

Some folks have remarked about the runway crossing the road - there's one airport that still does this: Gibraltar's.

by Ed on Feb 26, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

Ed, at one point, it also existed in Germany, though I'm not sure if that's still the case (nor am I certain if this photo was from Hamburg).

by Froggie on Feb 26, 2010 12:08 pm • linkreport

Interesting, Froggie - thanks! I love oddities like this.

by Ed on Feb 26, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

Matthew: Love your book!

I never knew that this style of architecture is called the International Style. I notice that the use of directly abutting corner windows is also prevalent in many 1920s-30s Arlington houses--particularly the small, perfectly square houses with the chimney in the middle of the house. (Would love to find out more about those--but I'm getting off topic.)

I wish the media would remember that this airport still has Washington in the name--before "Reagan."

by JB on Feb 26, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

Normally I don't even bother clicking on these, but I have to add 1 vote for "Fascinating!"

by Squalish on Feb 27, 2010 10:11 am • linkreport

Apart from the tasteless "South Park" appropriation of Rochambeau's name, we owe a lot to the guy (Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau). Naming a bridge for him is the least we could do. His Army marched with Washington's from New York to Yorktown, where they, his French Navy vessels, and Lafayette's ground forces significantly helped the Continental Army finish off the British at Yorktown. It's a wonder we're not speaking French today.

by John in Alexandria on Feb 27, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

@ JB,
I was wondering when someone would bring that up. It might be splitting hairs, but this building is definatley not International style. It's probably best described as art deco all be it stripped down. Even stripped down classicism could be confused with the International style, but the key difference is abstraction.

In the international style, also known as early modernism, platonic volumes are stripped down but usually with no heirarchy, and less symmetry as is evident in this building. These elements of composition here illustrate the quickly diminishing influence of the Beaux-Arts education proffesionals recieved back then, much to the public's chagrin.

by Thayer-D on Mar 1, 2010 7:26 am • linkreport


by J MUDD on Feb 2, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

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