By Jane Feehan
From nine-hole golf course to the Merle L. Fogg Air Field in the 1920s and the Naval Air Station in the 1940s, today’s Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport ranks as one of the top 25 busiest airports in the United States. Its growth parallels that of South Florida from a winter season vacation destination to one of the most desirable places in the country to live and play year round.
Significant commercial activity came to the field after Broward County commissioners leased the airport back from the Navy in a series of temporary agreements commencing in 1948. A ten-year lease was signed between the two parties in 1949 but the county assumed formal ownership in 1953 and operated it as the Broward County Airport (some sources named it Broward County International Airport).
Non-stop flight service from the North to South Florida began in the 1950s, but the routes were to Miami. Routes were denied Broward County Airport because it was considered too close to its sister city. Travelers took Greyhound limousine service from the Miami airport to Fort Lauderdale and other cities. But the 1,200-acre Broward airport, one third the size of Miami’s, had a lot going for it. It was the only airport adjacent to U.S. Highway 1, a major traffic artery, and it sat four miles south of downtown Fort Lauderdale.* Also, it was poised to serve the fastest growing city in the state; the number of Fort Lauderdale residents doubled from 1950 to 1955, which outpaced Miami’s growth. By the late 1950s, this ocean side city was the last major city in Florida to obtain air service from the North.
The first major carrier to fly to Fort Lauderdale was Northeast Airlines. Service began in December, 1958 with one flight a day from Idlewild (now JFK) that left at 10 a.m. and arrived four hours and 35 minutes later. Return service left Fort Lauderdale at 4:30 p.m. Soon after, flights were scheduled from Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.
Prior to 1958, the airport handled 400 landings and take offs a day but traffic consisted of cubs, Convairs, private and executive planes. To modernize the facility and accommodate northern service with larger aircraft and ancillary traffic, Broward County Airport (renamed Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 1959) lengthened its four air strips from 5,000 to about 6,000 feet, and paved taxi ways, aprons and access roads (yes, it was that primitive). The new $340,000 terminal featured a self-service baggage area, "which eliminated the need for tipping," and a U.S. customs section with a check out station similar to those in supermarkets. Modern indeed.
National, Delta, Eastern, and Northwest Orient airlines followed with service to Fort Lauderdale during the next two years. Also operating were the smaller Mackey International Airlines, Bahamas Airways, and Aerovias Q servicing Cuba and its Isle of Pines.
Customers lined up for Fort Lauderdale winter hotel packages that started at about $68 per person, double occupancy, for six nights, seven days. Little wonder air traffic to this city grew 178 percent from 1958 to 1959. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
*At one time in the 1960s, Broward County considered proposals for an airport at U.S. 27 and State Road 84, but that’s another story.
Miami News, April 25, 1950
The New York Times, Jan. 18, 1959
The New York Times, Nov. 6, 1960
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