There Used To Be An Airport Here (3-30-2003)

Chicagoans often talk about building a third airport.  We did have a third airport until this date.  This was the day Meigs Field was destroyed.

Located just off the lakeshore near Roosevelt Road, Northerly Island is actually a man-made peninsula, part of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.  Burnham thought the land should be used as a park.  The 1933-34 World’s Fair was held on the site.

As air travel became popular, some planners got the idea Northerly would be a great place to put a downtown airstrip.  In 1948 a single 3,000-foot runway was constructed.  The facility was later named for aviation booster Merrill C. Meigs.

3-30--Meigs Field.jpg

Meigs Field eventually became America’s busiest single-runway airport.  Though much of the traffic was private planes, a few commuter lines ran scheduled flights.  There was also a helicopter service.

In 1994 Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to close the airport and return Northerly to its original purpose.  That set off a battle between aviation interests and environmental groups.  Lawsuits were filed.  Compromise solutions were worked out, then scrapped.

Nine years passed.  The mayor finally decided he’d waited long enough.  In the dead of night, bulldozers rolled onto Meigs Field and carved out huge “X” marks in the runway.  Now planes could not land or take off.  That’s all, folks!

Daley seemed surprised that anyone claimed his action was arrogant.  He’d been elected to a fifth term with 79% of the vote a month before.  Congress had failed to act on an agreement to keep Meigs open.  All he was doing was restoring a public recreational space that had been taken over by the fat cats.

3-30--Richard M. Daley.jpg

The mayor also cited public safety issues.  The al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center was still fresh in memory.  Daley said he was afraid a terrorist in a small plane might use Meigs to launch an air strike on the Loop.

Sixteen planes had been parked at Meigs, and were later able to depart using the taxiway.  One inbound flight had to be diverted.  The city was hit with a $33,000 FAA fine for closing the airport without sufficient notice.

Efforts to reopen Meigs Field failed.  The site is now a park.

—30—

 

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4 Responses to “There Used To Be An Airport Here (3-30-2003)”


  1. 1 Karl Edward March 30, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Mayor Daley defended his actions, He claimed that safety concerns required the closure, due to the post-September 11 risk of terrorist controlled aircraft attacking the downtown waterfront near Meigs Field.[10] In reality, closing the airport made the airspace less restrictive. When the airport was open, downtown Chicago was within Meigs Field’s Class D airspace, requiring two-way radio communication with the tower. The buildings in downtown Chicago are now in Class E/G airspace, which allows any airplane to legally fly as close as 1,000 feet from these buildings with no radio communication at all.

    On September 17, 2006, the city dropped all legal appeals and agreed to pay the $33,000 fine as well as repay $1 million in misappropriated FAA Airport Improvement Program funds that it used to destroy the airfield and build Northerly Island Park.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meigs_Field

  2. 2 Garry March 30, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Don’t forget that 0n 2/16/1967, an idiot pilot leaving Meigs managed to ram into the 15th floor of the southern building of 5701 N. Sheridan. He & a passenger were killed.

    Closing Meigs is probably the sole good decision Daley ever made.

  3. 3 Ralph April 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    There use to be a lot of small airports around Chicago like Curtis Field. What happened to them? Look at the 1938 picture of the gas tank on Kedzie. It shows the roof of the tank showing pilots where Curtiss Fliesd was.

    http://www.historicaerials.com/aerials.php?scale=2000&lon=-87.709319740534&lat=42.004659846425&year=2007

  4. 4 Ralph April 1, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    There use to be plane salvage yard at Oakton Ave. and Greenview in Niles in the mid 1970’s. I read somewhere that their was a little airport there some time before that.

    Across for Loyola Medical Center in Maywood was a small airport as well.

    In the mid 1970’s I can remember a trace of an airport on Dundee Road west of Highway 43. It is industrial park now I believe. I think one of the hangers still exist as a restaurant.


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