Of the Scottsdale Airport/Airpark and the hidden gems once here
By Joan Fudala
Since its development in 1942 as a World War II basic flight training site, the Scottsdale Airport/Airpark has been full of hidden gems. Though initially slow to develop—during the 1991 Scottsdale Visioning program residents/participants learned that the Scottsdale Airpark was still 60 percent undeveloped—by 1999, it had become one of the top three employment centers in Arizona. Whether you are looking for a job, an investment, a great restaurant, an eclectic shop, family entertainment or a signature special event, you’ll surely have found it in or near the Scottsdale Airport/Airpark…a true jewel in Scottsdale’s crown.
Consider this collection of images the shoebox of old family photos you found on the top shelf of your closet, but these have already been scanned and identified. Let’s all remember when…but appreciate how the airport/airpark has evolved to meet our needs and has more than kept pace with technology, tastes and trends. For definition purposes, these photos are within the area bounded by Loop 101 to the east, the CAP canal to the north, Scottsdale Road to the west and Thunderbird Road to the south.
- In 1941, the U.S. Army purchased land for a primary pilot training site to be known as Thunderbird II airfield. It opened during the summer of 1942, operated by Southwest Airways, a civilian company headed by Hollywood producer Leland Hayward and test pilot John Connelly. It provided primary (initial) flight training to aviation cadets of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Over nearly two and a half years of operation, more than 5,500 cadets received their wings at “T-2.”
- Thunderbird II Airfield became a major employer for Scottsdale during World War II, with most of its staff comprised of civilian employees, from flight instructors and parachute riggers to aircraft mechanics and switchboard operators. Scottsdale’s future mayor Malcolm White is pictured standing second from the left, among his fellow flight instructors.
- During the 1950s, Scottsdale home designer and entrepreneur George Ellis grew maize in fields located at the intersection of unpaved Scottsdale and Bell roads.
- This aerial of the Seventh Day Adventist Thunderbird Academy shows how undeveloped the area surrounding the former World War II airfield remained. In 1967, the City of Scottsdale acquired more than 200 acres from the Adventists and opened Scottsdale Municipal Airport.
- Casa Precision Inc. became the first tenant of the new Thunderbird Industrial Park at Scottsdale Airport in 1968.
- Among the first restaurants to open in the Scottsdale Airpark area was the Hungry Cowboy, which opened in May 1971 and advertised that pilots and passengers could walk from their planes to the eatery on the corner of Butherus Drive and 73rd Street. The building later became the Dallas House, Jilly’s American Grille and El Santo Cantina.
- The City of Scottsdale opened Desert Park at Hayden and Bell roads around 1971. It was later renamed Cholla Park and closed when the airport runway was extended in the early 1980s. Among those shown are Scottsdale Mayor Bud Tims (third from left), Councilman Richard Campana (fourth from left, holding plaque), Councilman Bill Jenkins (sixth from left) and Councilwoman Billie Gentry (seventh from left).
- Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) dedicated the FAA control tower at Scottsdale Airport on December 23, 1974. The tower was located on the west side of the runway, north of the terminal building. This view over an air traffic controller’s shoulder shows the undeveloped east side of the field and an unobstructed view to the McDowell Mountains. A new control tower, built on the east side of the runway, opened in 1989.
- Armour Dial opened its research and development facility on Scottsdale Road in the Scottsdale Airpark in 1976, as the largest facility and company to choose the Airpark to that date.
- The City of Scottsdale established the Airport Advisory Commission in 1977, appointing Bill Arthur its first chair. Arthur, a pilot and business leader, had used the airport for many years and was an ardent spokesman for the airport and airpark. In 1985, he and his wife Ann opened the first hotel at the airport, the Thunderbird Suites on Butherus Drive, across the street from the terminal. He is shown here receiving a congratulatory proclamation from Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater in the late 1980s.
- According to the Scottsdale Airpark News, approximately 150 people attended the dedication of a remodeled and expanded Scottsdale Municipal Airport terminal building on April 15, 1981. Sen. Barry Goldwater gave the dedicatory address. Senator Goldwater is shown here with Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater.
- During the 1980s, the Scottsdale Airport began hosting an AirFair, inviting the public to see vintage and current military and corporate aircraft. In 1985, the annual reunion of the Thunderbird Pilots Association (civilian flight instructors from the four Thunderbird airfields in the Valley during World War II) held its reunion during AirFair.
- In 1985, Werner Schumacher opened the Schumacher European Mercedes dealership on Hayden Road in the Scottsdale Airpark, the first of many auto dealerships to open in the area. In the 2000s, he expanded to Scottsdale Road just south of the Loop 101 freeway.
- Discount Tire relocated its headquarters from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the Scottsdale Airpark in 1986, one of many companies using access to the airport taxiways for its corporate jet. The headquarters moved from its Scottsdale Road location to a new, 150,000 square foot headquarters in Grayhawk in late 2002.
- This iconic sign marked the Scottsdale/Butherus entrance to the airport/airpark. The Scottsdale Airport and Airpark continued to gain business during the 1980s, benefitting from developments west and north of it. Hayden Road was extended through the Scottsdale Airpark to the intersection of Bell and Pima roads in 1986. That same year, the TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course opened north of the Scottsdale Airpark and became the site of the 1987 Phoenix Open PGA Tour tournament. The Scottsdale Princess Resort opened north of the Scottsdale Airpark and adjacent to the TPC golf courses in 1987 and HorseWorld, later renamed WestWorld, opened northeast of the Scottsdale Airpark, designed to host major equestrian events such as the All Arabian Horse Show.
- Price Club opened on Hayden Road in the Scottsdale Airpark in 1987.
- In October 1989, “One with the Eagle,” a bronze statue created by sculptor Pat Mathiesen, was dedicated on the Butherus Drive approach to the Scottsdale Airport terminal. Sen. Goldwater and Mayor Drinkwater joined the artist for the unveiling. The sculpture was put in storage in 2008 during construction of the Scottsdale Quarter, then re-installed on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Thunderbird Roads.
- Every year during the 1990s, the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce and the City of Scottsdale held a Scottsdale Airport/Airpark Week, hosting tours and programs to highlight the economic impact and quality of life benefits of the area. Shown in in this photo (circa 1993) are left to right, Airport Director John Kinney, Scottsdale Commercial Real Estate Executive Jim Keeley, Mayor Drinkwater, Scottsdale Chamber President Larry Baker and Airport/Airpark Committee Chair Mark Eberle.
- In 1996, the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce Airpark Center opened at 15000 N. Airport Dr. (first floor of the Scottsdale Airport Terminal). Mayor Sam (Kathryn) Campana cut the ribbon to open the offices, which were headed by Jerry Robison. It closed several years later during a terminal building renovation.
- The artist studio of Snell Johnson in the Scottsdale Airpark was the den of the famous MGM Grand Lion in 1997. When the lion was completed, it journeyed north to Las Vegas to sit proudly in front of the MGM Grand Casino Resort on the Las Vegas strip. Johnson also sculpted the horses at WestWorld’s entrance.
- The final leg of the Loop 101 Pima Freeway was under construction adjacent to the airpark in 2000. This photo shows the construction of the Pima/Princess exit. When the freeway was complete in 2002, it gave unprecedented access for consumers and employees to Scottsdale Airpark businesses.
- During the early 2000s, Scottsdale Community College offered classes in a building across the street from the Scottsdale Airport Terminal. SCC continues to offer courses tailored to airpark business interests in facilities in the airpark.
- Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., New York City and Pennsylvania, patriotism surged. One of the largest displays of national pride and solidarity appeared on the side of the DialCorp building in the Airpark. Dial had moved its international corporate headquarters from Phoenix to the Scottsdale Airpark in 1997, locating it near its Technical/Administrative facility.
- The Promenade opened most of its Phase I shops and restaurants at the southeast corner of Bell/Frank Lloyd Wright Road and Scottsdale Road in 2000. Four years later, a 125-foot illuminated Frank Lloyd Wright-designed spire was erected on the southeast corner of Scottsdale and Bell roads, creating a landmark gateway to Scottsdale and the Airpark; an office building, restaurants and a new retail area also opened at The Promenade.
- As Northsight developed in the 2000s, numerous retail outlets opened, such as this Wild Oats in February 2005. It was later rebranded as Whole Foods, and then moved to a new location on Mayo Boulevard.
- Scores of new restaurants opened in the area during the early 2000s, serving not only Airpark employees, but drawing patrons from throughout Scottsdale and the Valley. Celebrities were often sighted at Barcelona on Greenway-Hayden Loop (which, after closing, was razed for development of multi-use housing).
- In 2008, Dial (Henkel) Headquarters and Dial R&D moved from its longtime Scottsdale Road (in the Airpark) location to a new building designed by architect Will Bruder at One Scottsdale, on the northeast corner of Scottsdale Road and the Loop 101 freeway. The 1976-vintage Dial research and development facility morphed into the Scottsdale Quarter multi-use destination, offering shops, restaurants and office space as well as a multi-level parking garage.
So many great developments through the years, and the best is yet to come!