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LONG ISLAND: OUR STORY / Major Airports Take Off / Mayor LaGuardia's complaint leads to an airport; but soon, another is needed. SIDEBAR: LEGACY / LI-MACARTHUR AIRPORT GROWS AS AN ALTERNATIVE (see end of text)
Newsday - Long Island, N.Y.
Date: May 13, 1998
Start Page: A.17
Section: NEWS
Abstract (Document Summary)

LaGuardia Field was dedicated Oct. 15, 1939, by a jubilant Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, whose determination built it. Once occupied by the Gala Amusement Park, the site was transformed in 1929 into a 105-acre private flying field. The field was named Glenn H. Curtiss Airport after the pioneer Long Island aviator and later called North Beach Airport. Until 1939, air travelers from the city or Long Island - like Jean Steward of Sea Cliff, who took her first flight to visit relatives in Louisville, Ky., in 1935 - had to motor to and from an airfield in Newark, N.J. "My father wanted me to have the experience of flying," Steward said recently.

Not everyone was as enthusiastic as LaGuardia about the project - some regarded it as a $45-million boondooggle. But the public thrilled to the prospect of air travel. Families flocked to the airport on weekends just to watch the gleaming silver airliners take off and vanish into the blue or swoop majestically down onto the field. A dime got you through the turnstiles to a crowded observation deck. The turnstile dimes, plus parking fees, soon added up to $285,000, The New York Times reported two years later. With other yearly revenues of $650,000, the LaGuardia "white elephant," as its opponents dubbed it earlier, soon was operating in the black.

The great international airport was yet to come. With LaGuardia quickly reaching its capacity, construction began in 1942 at the site of the Idlewild Golf Course in southeast Queens. It involved filling in acres of marshy tidelands on Jamaica Bay. Planned at first for 1,000 acres, Idlewild Airport grew to five times that size. It was dedicated in July, 1948, as New York International Airport, rededicated in December, 1963, after the death of the president, as John F. Kennedy International Airport and henceforth known as JFK. But some neighborhood diehards still refer to it as Idlewild.

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