Q. Does your father still own the business?
A. It's a family business. My kids own part of it; he owns part of it.
Q. How did your father get into the business?
A. He started flying in San Diego about 1930 -- he might have been 20 years old at the time. Charles Lindbergh was a big deal then. In those days it didn't take a lot of flying to get a license. My father worked odd jobs and different jobs and began teaching people and working on airplanes down at the old National City airport.
I think in the early '30s there was a very, very rainy year that flooded everything around here, and it flooded that airport down there. So he decided he wanted his own airport on dry land that wouldn't flood and went up to the Kearny Mesa area -- and that was way out of town in those days.
He started buying flat land up there, very inexpensively by today's standards -- it was a lot of money then. By '37, he actually had enough land to make a little airport. Airports in those days were nothing but a straight piece of ground 1200 feet long, and the brush would cut it off, so that's basically what he had.
Over the years he bought land from private parties. There was nothing up there. Daley owned a lot of the land, and he had cattle there at the time. That's kind of how it happened, and my father eventually acquired a couple hundred acres.
In World War II, just before World War II, Ryan, a civilian contractor, was teaching Army cadets how to fly. My father leased his airport to Ryan and went to work for them teaching Army Air Corps cadets. Then Ryan improved the airport somewhat for that. Then, when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, they shut down all civilian flying within, like, a hundred miles from the coast, and that even included the civilian training of Army cadets. The airport was closed up, and my father went with Ryan over to Tucson and spent World War II teaching Army cadets.
Then after World War II, there were lots of airplanes and lots of pilots. My father came back to the airport and started up his business again. In 1948 the city started making plans to relocate Lindbergh Field. Convair was making B-36 bombers, and they were exceptionally loud. Flying out over the Loma Portal area with those was really shaking people up. With the growth of aviation in World War II, all the airlines started taking off. All of a sudden Lindbergh Field became quite busy, so the city annexed Kearny Mesa -- at least the part of it that they didn't have -- and then they condemned 1800 acres up there, including my father's 200 acres. Took the land from different people, and they started making plans to move Lindbergh Field there.
I've heard a couple different stories. The way my father has told it, they started making plans to move Lindbergh Field up there, and the Navy said it would be too close to Miramar. In those days, they didn't have the precision of instrument flying and navigation -- the radar that we have today -- and the Navy just didn't want commercial aircraft flying that close to Miramar. There would be obvious traffic conflicts.
Whatever it was, the city didn't go through with the plans of moving Lindbergh Field, and they added a little bit of land to what had been my father's airport and renamed it Montgomery Field. The rest of the 1800 acres they sold off to industry to bring jobs to San Diego. The first sale was to General Dynamics for their Convair division.
Q. Who was Montgomery? Who was the airport named after?
A. He was a man in the late 1800s, flew a glider off of something in Otay Mesa. There's a DC-3 or B-25 wing right off 805 down there, a monument to him, supposedly where he flew this glider off the mesa down there.
Q. So the reason for condemning your father's land was the plan to move Lindbergh Field to Kearny Mesa?
A. Yes. I've been told that was the first of the Lindbergh Field-relocation studies, was when they actually went out and, under eminent domain, purchased the land.
Q. Do you know how much they paid for it?
A. I was three years old. [Laughs.] I've heard they could get $300 an acre.
Q. Do you know how many acres it was?
A. Two hundred and nine.
Q. And that was a pretty active field in those days?
A. No. I mean, they were basically oiled runways. It was just bare dirt, and they'd spray some sort of road oil on them. They weren't paved at all. The pictures I've seen, there were maybe 10, 15 airplanes out there.
I think in the Ryan days they had, like, 50 or 60, but there were airports all over San Diego then. There was an airport at Balboa and Genesee, and Peik's down by Mission Bay, and by State College, and Del Mar, San Marcos. They were just little bitty airports. They really weren't airports as we know them today.
They were just 2000 feet of straight little road and 50 acres or something and five or six airplanes. When people think of airports, that's not what these things were. They're more impressive not for the fact that they're airports but for the fact that there's nothing around them.
Q. What kind of traffic did they have? Who were your father's customers?
A. There were business people who used them for travel. There were flights into Mexico, since the roads were so poor down in Baja. Just pure recreation. I think there were a lot of military pilots who had that career orientation and then looked to this business to become commercial pilots.
Then right after World War II, the airlines really took off. The change in the aviation industry from the late '30s to 1945 was tremendous. They went from piston airplanes to jet engines. It's just phenomenal what happened.