Aviation has a long history in the Seal Beach area. When Phil Stanton imported most of the 1915 San Francisco’s Pan-Pacific Exposition’s amusements to build the Joy Zone at Seal Beach, aviation was part of the business plan. Daredevils like Joe Boquel thrilled attendees with his aerial antics over the waves, and local pilots landed on strips of the beach and gave the public rides at a penny per pound.
One year later, in the skies above Seal Beach on Aug. 12, 1917, that Clarence O. Prest, a daredevil motorcycle racer turned pilot, attempted to set a new world’s altitude record, reaching an incredible height of 18,100 feet with a makeshift oxygen system while 35,000 spectators gasped below.
But despite the aerodynamic achievements, prohibition, a post World War I depression, and competition from better funded beach areas like The Pike (Long Beach) and Balboa (Newport Beach) put an end to Seal Beach’s seaside aviation, but pilots kept it alive in the flat inland areas of the town.
Sometime in the mid 1920s, pilot and airplane builder William F. Crawford, who had been operating in the Long Beach area for some time, acquired or built an airstrip just above Anaheim Landing. The government airport lists show it as 1300 acres, and 3000 x 500 feet. In 1927, the LA Times reported that Crawford had organized the Crawford Motor and Airplane Manufactory “to operate an airplane field and school for aviators on the I.W. Hellman Ranch, north of Seal Beach. The company was granted a stock-selling permit by the State Corporation Department. “Other activities of the company will be the manufacture of modern airplanes and motors invented by W.P. Crawford, head of the corporation and one of its incorporaters. Crawford has been conducting an airplane business in Long Beach for several years.”
Crawford was apparently an innovator, and one of the first to place refrigeration on an airplane. In December 1928,
the Hamilton syndicate of Nogales, New Mexico ordered three planes from the Crawford Airplane Corporation of Seal Beach, to be equipped for refrigeration. One plane is already under construction, the refrigerator to be operated by from an electrical dynamo generated from the ship while in flight.
Shrimps which cost 60 cents a pound here, may be had at 10 cents a pound in Chihuahua, Mexico. The syndicate intends to transport them by plane, speeding up the service, and lowering costs thereby.
If the three ships test out successfully, the contract is already arranged, according to factory officials, whereby fifteen more planes will be built under the same principles. [ref] LA Times, Dec. 9, 1928, pgG8[/ref]
Either flaws in the idea or the stock market crash of a year later doomed this idea.
In 1928, 1929 and 1930 Crawford advertised regularly in Popular Mechanics — offering services in construction of engines, propellers, gliders and blueprints for ice sleds. They also offered some how-to books, including “Simple Aerodynamics and the Practical Airplane.” The ads noted the propellers were made for Harley-Davidson, Indian and Heath-Henderson motorcyles.
But Crawford’s airfield apparently also some use as a recreational airport. Pilots from around the area flew there to spend a day at the beach or to give beach-goers short airplane rides for a penny per passenger-pound. Charles Lindberg, Amelia Earhart, were said to have flown through there.
Another second generation Seal Beacher, Jim Templeton used to hang around the airport, cleaning planes, talking to the pilots and mechanics, sometimes even receiving free rides. On one ride, the plane developed engine trouble and landed in the field across from Zoeter School—Jim hopped out ran across PCH, and was late to school.
Don had his first plane ride, from this airport, sitting on his mother’s lap, when he was about 4 or 5 years old.
Crawford may have shut down his shop, because the 1932 issue of Air Commerce Bulletin No. 4 says Crawford Airport, one fourth of a mile northeast of Seal Beach, is no longer available for the use of aircraft. This airport is described on page 24 of Airway Bulletin No. 2.
Sometime in the ’30s the field began being called the “Seal Beach Airport.” Whether William Crawford was still operating his business there is unknown, but a few years later Clyde Schlieper and Wes Carroll were among a few of the pilots who flew there. Carroll operated a aircraft passenger service at Seal Beach Airport. [ref] LB Press Telegram, March 21, 1939. “Tragedy Grips Long Beach Desert Party.” Carroll owned a four-passenger Stinson Cabin Cruiser that had been leased four Long Beach residents. The plane went down over the ocean on a return trip from the high desert. Carroll was not the pilot.[/ref]the In October 1939 they flew a Piper Cub Sea Plane non-stop for 726 hours (30.25 days), a world record endurance flight. It was called the “Spirit of Kay” because Kay Jewelers of Long Beach sponsored them. They took off from Marine Stadium in Long Beach and flew over Seal Beach, then out to the desert and circled back again and again. The plane was refueled with a unique system—a man in a roadster would drive along the runway with 5 gallon cans of gasoline. The men in the plane would drop a line with a hook on it and pull the cans up into the plane. This was also how their food was delivered. When they landed back at Marine Stadium on October 29, they had to be helped from the aircraft and held up as they spoke with the press. (see photo above left)
In the early 1930’s an eatery opened across Pacific Coast Highway at the corner of Bay Boulevard (now Seal Beach Boulevard) from the airport, and provided pilots with meals and snacks in wicker baskets. Originally called the Airport Club, its sign stated: GLIDE’ER INN and E A T Fish, Steaks, Sandwiches Tamales, Clam Chowder, Chili PRIVATE BOOTHS. Somehow the name Glide-er Inn stuck. [ref] Jennies to Jets: An Aviation History of Orange County[/ref] Its owners, Nina Bennis and Jim Arnerich, dug their own clams for chowder and reeled in fresh fish. (Bennis’ husband Karl had been the superintendent at the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory until he was injured while trying to fight a fire at the facility.) The owners kept the restaurant until 1972 when they sold it to Karla Benzl. Now it is the popular restaurant Mahe.
The brotherhood of fliers began using the inn as a sort of lodge hall. Clark Gable and many other celebrities ate there. Other pilots flew there to spend a day at the beach or to give beach-goers short airplane rides for a penny per passenger-pound.
With the construction of the Naval Air Station just up the road at Los Alamitos, the Seal Beach airfield was purchased by the Navy and commissioned as a NOLF – a Naval Outlying Air Field – for use by the naval pilots being trained at Alamitos and at El Toro. It was just one of a number of NOLFs (Fullerton, Anaheim, Haster Farm, Horse Farm, Seal Beach, East Long Beach — actually Medowlark Airport in Huntington Beach) and Mile Square in Fountain Valley.
In 1942 or 1944, when the Navy bought the land to build a weapons station, the restaurant moved to its present Coast Highway location, still bordering the airstrip. Though it has since been enlarged, it has retained much of the original ambience, including high-backed booths and dozens of model planes hanging overhead. There wasn’t the freeway, so everybody was on Pacific Coast Highway. They’d all stop at the Glide’er Inn, including movie stars like Gene Kelly, Joan Crawford, Victor Mature. Inside, where aviation memorabilia covered the walls* and model airplanes hung from the ceilings and the “world’s largest hand-carved propeller” decorated the bar. A sign was mounted beside the sit-down counter: “All aviators are requested to sign our pilots register”. [ref]Excerpted from Steve Emmons’ LA Times article 7.21.85[/ref].
Lynne Pranter Phipps, a fourth generation Seal Beach resident, remembered when the Seal Beach Weapons Station came in 1944 the Seal Beach Airport Administration building was moved to the corner of 8th and Central, across from the Seal Beach City Hall where it became the Ration Board during the war. After that, it became the Red Cross and at the time her grandmother, Jessie Reed, was on the city council she purchased the building and moved it to 316 ? 10th Street. Her grandfather remodeled the house where she lived from the time she was seven years old until she married. Her mother inherited the house and lived there until she passed away.
At the time it was at the Seal Beach Airport, it had a big letter “R” on the front of the building. It became the Ration Board then the Red Cross building, her grandparents name was Reed. So they decided that “R” stood for all those uses.
Sources: Libby Templeton – SB 95th Anniversary Celebration, LA Times, Chris Empting, “From Jennies to Jets: The Aviation History of Orange County,”