Yes, Gustavson, according to Wikipedia, there was once an airport in Griffith Park. It was an Aerodrome, built in the park’s northeast corner in the 1910s. It evolved into a National Guard Air Service, but closed in 1939, (shortly after Gustavson was at Curtiss-Wright), partly due to its proximity to Glendale’s airport across the Los Angeles River. The National Guard moved to Van Nuys and the Aerodrome was demolished, except for its tower and its rotating beacon.
And, yes, that area was later occupied by a housing camp. Mike Eberts’ book “Griffith Park, a Centennial History” tells of huge numbers of World War II veterans who flooded Los Angeles after the war but couldn’t find a place to live. In response, the city authorized construction of a Quonset hut village. Built in two months, it was dedicated in April 1946 and named for Private Rodger Young, who died in the Solomon Islands in 1943.
The 750 Quonset huts were intended to hold 1,500 families, according to Wikipedia. At its peak, more than 5,000 people lived in the village, complete with a market, hardware store, milk and diaper deliveries, and a drug store.
Children played in the park and climbed the old airport tower; Helms Bakery trucks and Fuller Brush salesmen made the rounds and residents planted gardens and lawns.
The village was razed in the mid-1950s and the land now holds the zoo and the Museum of the American West as well as parking lots, soccer fields and the interchange between the Golden State (5) and Ventura (134) freeways.
Gustavson, who lived at 319 N. Maryland while he was attending school, also recalled a nightclub near the airport where big bands played, although, he added, he never went there.
John Underwood, author of “Grand Central Air Terminal,” told me that the nightclub was connected with a flying club for pilots.
The Mediterranean-style building had 20 private rooms, a pool, dining facilities and gaming privileges. During demolition, an Aug. 12, 1966, Glendale News-Press article reported the finding of a gaming casino complete with a sunken dance floor and a mural on the ceiling. Wreckers also discovered a tunnel leading to an escape hatch in the river, lending credence to rumors of illicit attractions that included bootlegged liquor, high roller gambling and other pastimes.
Demolition of the flying club left the Grand Central Air Terminal on Air Way as a fading reminder of the airport’s past glories.
Get in touch KATHERINE YAMADA’s column runs every other Friday. To contact her, call features editor Joyce Rudolph at (818) 637-3241.