Sunset Beach Airport: a forgotten chapter in local aviation history

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Lunch at the Meadowlark Airport Cafe was always a treat.
Meadowlark Airport, looking from the it’s cafe towards Old Pirate Lane. Photos courtesy of John Runyard

Did you know that Sunset Beach used to have an airport?  In 1946, U.S. Military World War II pilots came back home but didn’t want to give up flying. “Some returned to Sunset-Seal and Huntington Beach and built an actual airport at 5141 Warner Avenue (part of the property that’s now known as Meadowlark Plaza, anchored by Ralph’s). They first called it, ‘East Long Beach Airport,’” according to City Historian Jerry Person of Huntington Beach.

“By 1958, it officially became ‘Sunset Beach Airport,’ with Abe Paster as its manager and flight instructor,” Person said.  “It was home to the Air-O-Crats Flying Club. In the 1960s, it took on the name, ‘Meadowlark Airport’ and was owned by the Nerio family. Eldest son, Art, managed it until it closed in 1989.”

The original runway was dirt but later paved over with asphalt. Pilots loved flying there with their Pipers, Cessnas, byplanes and aerobatic planes. “Banner Bob” Cannon had a successful advertising business, pulling huge messages to the delight of the thousands of beachgoers and others who saw them. He would drop the banners at Meadowlark before landing.

In the 1970s, the airport, which did not have a control tower, had two flying schools and a popular cafe, where many local pilots gathered to reminisce about flying. One of them was Jack Silva, who had flown a B-25 Light Bomber in Mexico for the filming of the movie, “Catch-22.”

The internationally-known aerobatic pilot Joe Hughes kept his planes there, when not performing Wing Walking and Aero Stunts at many Air Shows across the country.

Like many others, local resident Jon Kuhn learned to fly at the airport and took lessons at John Basey’s Flight School.

Former mayor and current Huntington Beach City Council member Barbara Delgleize said she once worked at a real estate office near the airport and would grab a burger at the cafe and watch planes come in and out. “I loved it  but after a plane crashed into a nearby building, that did it in. Development had increased in the area and it really didn’t give any airplane any room for errors,” she said. “The Nerio Family sold the land and they started clearing the property in 1998-2000. It’s approximately 65 acres, 15 acres set aside for the shopping center and the other 50 for the SummerLane Community of 313 homes.”

“I spent my early years exploring and playing on the airport grounds,” said John Runyard. “I remember playing alone on the far side of the airport in a junked 1940s fueling truck.” His mother, Gwendoline, wrote a fascinating book, which includes old photos of the airport:  http://runyard.org/OPL/moms-opl-book/MEADOWLARK__AIRPORT.html .

Sunset Beach Artist Bill Anderson said, “The airport itself  had character and I thought it would be there forever.” His wife, Ausma, played a hamburger-flipping cafe cook in a movie that was filmed there.