Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
Louisiana, Baton Rouge area
© 2002, © 2013 by Paul Freeman. Revised 8/28/13.
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Baton Rouge Municipal Airport / Downtown Airport (EBR), Baton Rouge, LA
30.45 North / 91.11 West (East of Downtown Baton Rouge, LA)
A program commemorating the Baton Rouge Airport's dedication
from the June 17, 1931 issue of the Baton Rouge State Times (courtesy of Carl Hennigan).
The original airport for the town of Baton Rouge was located on the eastern side of the city.
An article in the June 17, 1931 issue of the Baton Rouge State Times (courtesy of Carl Hennigan)
described the dedication ceremonies of the newly constructed $150,000 Baton Rouge Airport.
According to Carl Hennigan, “Thousands of spectators were expected to attend the 2-day event
featuring over 100 military & civilian planes.
The airport was advertised to be among the best in all the south
with one of the most elaborate lighting systems of any airport in the country.
It was said that the flood lights could illuminate all 200 acres of the field
to an intensity that a newspaper could be read on any portion of the airport.”
An aerial view looking northeast at the hangar & terminal building of Baton Rouge Municipal Airport,
from The Airport Directory Company's 1933 Airports Directory (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It described the original Baton Rouge Municipal Airport as consisting of a 56 acre square turf field.
The aerial photo in the directory depicted a single hangar & a two-story terminal building along the western side of the field.
The manager was listed as E. W. Kleinpeter,
and the operators were listed as American Airways Inc. (mail & passenger service)
and E. W. Kleinpeter (instruction, service, Monocoupe sales).
A circa 1930s photo of the terminal, hangar, and a Fokker Trimotor at Baton Rouge Municipal Airport.
An aerial view looking north at the original Baton Rouge Municipal Airport,
from The Airport Directory Company's 1937 Airports Directory (courtesy of Bob Rambo).
The directory described the original Baton Rouge Municipal Airport as consisting of a rectangular sod field, measuring 3,000' x 2,900'.
The aerial photo in the directory depicted a single hangar along the western side of the field.
According to Cal Hennigan, “At some point it became known as the Baton Rouge Downtown Airport
and even the East Baton Rouge Airport, thus the identifier EBR.
Eastern Airlines flew commercial flights into the field but decided the field was two small for their new DC-3s.
Commercial and airmail flights were discontinued in 1939
until the newer & larger Harding Field was completed in 1941.”
An early 1940s aerial photo looking northeast at Baton Rouge Downtown Airport (courtesy of Carl Hennigan)
depicted the field as consisting of a square grass field,
with a single hangar & the terminal building along the west side.
Most of the adjacent land was rural & undeveloped.
Carl observed, “This was taken by Baton Rouge photographer & pilot Fonville Winans (looks like a Civil Air Patrol meeting).”
The earliest chart depiction of the original Baton Rouge Municipal Airport which has been located
was on the June 1941 16M Regional Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
"Baton Rouge" was depicted as a municipal airport
on the 1945 New Orleans Sectional Chart (courtesy of John Voss).
A 1951 aerial view looking northeast at the original Baton Rouge Municipal Airport (courtesy of Carl Hennisgan).
Carl observed, “You can see the beginning of the residential development around the airport. Commercial development would soon follow.”
A March 1959 aerial photo of Baton Rouge Downtown Airport (courtesy of Carl Hennigan)
showed that a row of unrelated buildings (retail) had been constructed along the north side of the field,
which otherwise appeared unchanged from its appearance in the January 1941 aerial photo.
By the time of the 1962 AOPA Airport Directory,
the much larger (former military) Ryan Field had become Baton Rouge's primary airport,
and the original airport had been renamed "Downtown" Airport.
It had also gained a paved runway, as the airfield was described as having a single 2,000' asphalt Runway 13/31.
The field was said to offer hangars, repairs, and charter.
The operator was listed as Louisiana Aircraft, Inc., a Piper & Brantly dealer.
The 1963 USGS topo map depicted the Downtown Airport as having 2 paved runways & several buildings on the west side.
Jay Guillot recalled, “I took flying lessons there from the Aircraft Company
which was located at the south side of the Louisiana Aircraft Company housed in a portable building.
The owner was Jack Laws.”
A 1965 photo of damage at Baton Rouge Downtown Airport by Walter Hennigan (courtesy of Carl Hennigan).
Carl reported, “They were taken by my Dad in 1965 following the passage of Hurricane Betsy.”
The Aerodromes table on the 1965 New Orleans Sectional Chart (courtesy of John Voss)
described Downtown Airport as having two paved runways, with the longest being a 3,000' asphalt strip.
A 1967 aerial photo looking northwest at the Baton Rouge Downtown Airport hangar (courtesy of Carl Hennigan),
showing dozens of light aircraft on the field.
The 1972 Flight Guide (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) depicted Baton Rouge Downtown Airport
as having two paved runways (3,000' Runway 13/31 & 2,450' Runway 3/21),
and depicted a ramp on the west side of the field with three buildings.
Chuck recalled, “I learned to fly there in the early 1970s at Louisiana Aircraft,
and also with some associates, attempted to gain national register status for the old terminal building
in order to keep it from being destroyed.
However, that process generally requires at least the token support of the owners of the property,
which in this case was the City-Parish.
The then-mayor wanted to put a street extension right through where the terminal building was.
We went to the City Parish & made our presentation (to save the terminal building) but got absolutely nowhere.
It was a really cool art deco-ish brick facility, with wrought iron filligree on top, holding the rotating beacon.
Kinda reminds me of the old New Orleans Lakeshore Airport original terminal building.”
A January 1973 aerial photo of Baton Rouge Downtown Airport (courtesy of Carl Hennigan)
showed that a building for the Main East Baton Rouge Parish Library had been added along the south side of the field,
which was not shown in the March 1959 aerial photo.
The surrounding land had also become completely developed.
According to Gavin McKemie, "It was a very popular airport right up to the point it was closed,
because of residential encroachment.
The control tower was at the corner of Government Street & Lobdell.
I spent my summers down there & I used to go to the old airfield often."
Larry Lakin recalled, “I worked for Louisiana Aircraft at the Downtown Airport on line service
sunup to sundown every weekend from April 1973 until it closed.
While I was there it was an uncontrolled field owned by East Baton Rouge City-Parish.
The 1967 photo is pretty much as I remember it, but maybe twice as many aircraft.
I & about 5 of my friends started working line service in high school, and continued until we finished college.
My starting pay was $1.65 / hour.
And the pilots - I don't think you could have collected a more colorful bunch of characters!
During the years I worked there I flew in about every type of piston aircraft there was -
if someone was passing though with an unusual aircraft I'd ask if they would take me up for a ride -
and you know I was never turned down!
I don't know if there are airfields like that anymore, but it's nice to think there are.”
Larry Lakin continued, “Indeed it was urban growth that caused the closure of the airport.
In the early 1970's an upscale subdivision (Tara) was built at the end of Runway 13 (which was active runway 90% of the time),
and the well-connected residents started grumbling,
more & more newspaper articles & TV coverage for the residents' complaints
until it culminated in an accident with two fatalities -
(inexperienced pilot - rental aircraft - stalled & crashed into pine trees at the end of Runway 13).”
The last photo which has been located showing the Baton Rouge Downtown Airport while in operation
was a 1974 photo of Carl Hennigan taking off from Runway 3 in a Cessna 150.
Carl recalled, “Even though the runways were hard-surface, they were never improved with runway markings or runway lights.”
Larry Lakin recalled, “The accident in the fall of 1975 caused the Mayor to call for closure of the Downtown Airport.
The businesses (Louisiana Aircraft, Tigerland Aircraft, Baton Rouge Flight School, Duffard Flying Service)
moved to Ryan Field (used to be Harding Field) on the north side of town in May 1976.
In June 1976 the terminal building was demolished.
On July 4, 1976 (the Bicentenial), the Downtown Airport was renamed Independence Park
and was dedicated by Mayor W.W. Dumas.
The Mayor over the next few years gave about 1/3 the acreage (northwest corner) of the old field to the state
for the use of the Louisiana State Police.”
Chuck recalled, “At the time the decision was made to close Downtown,
it was promised that a new general aviation airport would be built to replace Downtown.
I think what contributed also to the purge of Downtown, and the slowness with ever coming up with a replacement
was the general funk of the General Aviation industry, which endured a major depression that started about this same time.
There was strong pressure from the owners of Bon Marche Mall across Florida Boulevard (under the approaches to Runway 13)
and the other business interests who figured this land would be sold off to private interests and 'developed'.”
Chuck continued, “The main general reason for the mayor wanting the airport closed
was because commercial interests were complaining (and wanted the land).
I am not aware of residential encroachment being a factor,
that area was completely developed 20 years before the airport was finally closed.
These were generally middle class ranch style homes, not mcMansions by any stretch of the imagination.
I am sure there were resident complaints, as there are with all airports
that people buy property near & then suddenly 'discover' after they move in.”
A local pilot observed, “The decision to close Downtown was not based upon anything other than political reality,
that land use decisions were made based on political needs,
and that the aviation community was gullible enough to believe false promises
that a new GA reliever airport would be made available in a timely manner.”
Baton Rouge Downtown Airport was depicted as an abandoned airport
on the December 1976 New Orleans Terminal Area Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
Gavin McKemie recalled, "In the early 1980s I had attended several meetings
that businessmen were holding to try to keep the place open.
I do not know who owned the field when it was turned over to the city,
but the Parks & Recreation people have it now."
The former airport was no longer depicted on the 1984 USGS topo map.
As seen in the 1989 USGS aerial photo,
the area around the former airport had been surrounded by dense development,
but the distinctive square area of the former airport remained quite recognizable,
as it had become a complex of athletic fields.
Most remarkably, the outlines of at least three runways were still quite apparent
in the midst of the athletic fields & newer buildings.
At least one former hangar also remained standing, on the western side of the field.
A concrete ring had been added to the northwest corner of the former airfield property,
which was used by radio-controlled model aircraft pilots.
Gavin reported in 2003, "The control tower & a couple of hangars still exit,
but the runways and aprons were covered over with athletic fields.
It was a shame that place was closed down."
The park encompassing the former airfield is known as Independence Park,
and it is described on the park web site as one of Baton Rouge's "most popular & busiest parks,
because of the number of facilities available."
Ironically, one of the facilities at the park is "a model airplane field."
As seen in the 2002 USGS aerial photo,
quite a bit has changed at the site of the former Downtown Airport since the 1989 aerial photo.
The majority of the northern portion of the site had been covered with a large new development,
with buildings & parking lots covering the traces of the former runways which were still visible in the 1989 photo.
However, a hangar appeared to remain on the west side of the field,
and the alignment of the former east/west runway appeared to still be recognizable on the southern part of the site.
A close-up from the 2002 USGS aerial photo
of what appears to be the 70-year old hangar, which remains intact.
A 2005 photo by Tom Marcotte of the former hangar which remains
at the southwest corner of the former Baton Rouge Downtown Airport.
According to Tom, “It is renovated & is used by the parks & recreation department. It looks excellent.”
Tom Marcotte reported in 2005, “I had opportunity to walk the grounds of the old Baton Rouge Downtown Airport today.
I walked the approach end of Runway 13 & found no evidence of asphalt.
They have done a good job of picking this up, and it's now covered with nice grass & oak trees.
There are a couple of windsocks on the field.
One seems to be vintage & the other new at the site of a state operated heliport on the northeast side.
No sign of runways or old terminal / tower building.”
Larry Lakin reported in 2006 that the Louisiana State Police facilities on the northwest corner of the property
“is now their headquarters, training facility and computer operations center.
The hangar is now the park office & indoor tennis courts.
The south half of the park is now soccer fields, a botanical garden, and the main library.”
Chuck reported in 2007, “Bon Marche Mall was ironically replaced by newer malls,
and the commercial property in the area went into decline from which it has not ever recovered.
The people who thought they were going to get ahold of the old downtown airport property
had to move on and do their evil deeds somewhere else.”
Chuck continued, “As with most of that part of Baton Rouge,
prime residential & commercial sites have now leapfrogged out into the surrounding parishes.
The old Bon Marche Mall property was either bought by the local government,
or was acquired through some sort of tax default, it has been an albatross around the city's neck every since.
They spent many more millions on that property than they ever invested in aviation.
As I recall, the skater Nancy Kerrigan's husband got a chunk of change from the state
to create a football TV network in part of that building, and after the state seed money was exhausted, they left town.
I think there is a call center or redemption operation there now,
but only because of heavy subsidy of the local government & strong tax incentives (strange how that works).”
Chuck continued, “The biggest gainer from this whole fiasco was the Louisiana State Police,
which relocated its training academy to the old airport site.
Some recreational opportunities were also created with sports facilities such as tennis courts.
However, it is not known as a particularly safe place to live or play except during daylight at this point.
There is serious blight on the other side of Florida Boulevard, which, unfortunately, has negatively impacted this area as well.”
The site of Downtown Airport is located northeast of the intersection of Lobdell Avenue & Government Street.
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