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In the Pipeline: The little airport that was

February 19, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • The original entrance sign for Meadowlark Airport.
The original entrance sign for Meadowlark Airport. (Courtesy Donna…)

There is a clue on Warner Avenue near Bolsa Chica: a small street that leads into the shopping center where Ralphs is, next to McDonald's, called Airport Circle.

Many of you may know what that means, but I'm sure there are also a lot of newcomers that are oblivious (just as I was when I moved here) to the fact that Airport Circle is named that because it was once the entranceway to an intimate little airstrip named Meadowlark Airport.

From 1945 to 1955 it was called East Long Beach Airport. Then until 1963, it was called Sunset Beach Airport. But from August 1963 until it closed in 1989, it bared the name that most people recall: Meadowlark.

Next year marks 25 years that the funky, neighborhood airport shut down so I thought it would be fun to revisit some of the history and catch up with a few of those who remember it best. To look at aerial shots of it today, it boggles the mind to think that it ever existed at all.

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Squeezed in among homes and businesses, Meadowlark Airport, much like the Golden Bear downtown, became a beloved touchstone over the years; a meeting place not just for pilots but also for locals who enjoyed watching the planes and eating at the small café that was located there.

Owned by Nerio family from 1952 on, the airport took up about 65 acres and never even had a tower. But that didn't matter. Pipers, Cessnas, Luscombes, and Taylorcrafts still flew in and out by the hundreds. People took flying lessons there, and of course, planes hoisted beach banners every summer day.

It's doubtful anyone knows more than that than Bob Cannon, a.k.a. "Banner Bob" who ran his banner towing company out of Meadowlark from 1976 until the end. Now 81, retired and living in Oregon, Cannon told me that being at Meadowlark was like stepping into another era.

"It's hard to say what made it so special, but I think most of the charm came from the fact that it always felt like about 1950 over there. Plus, there was no bureaucratic interference. We were all on our own at Meadowlark. Pilots could camp out with their girlfriends or families or Fourth of July right there at the airport. Where else would that happen?"

Interestingly, Canon's first client was the much-missed Golden Bear, and so many of the banners he towed would advertise shows downtown. Canon also remembers the Nerio family who, despite being extremely wealthy, never behaved as such.

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