By Chris Epting
9:30 AM PST, February 26, 2013
Some columns just seem to strike a chord.
I can tell right away as the emails start to come in when something has truly resonated. Leave it to Meadowlark Airport to unlock so many memories from those who took to the air there, and also those who enjoyed its flight history from the ground.
People sent me pictures, they recounted stories, and Carl Obert was even kind enough to send a copy of the old Meadowlark Café menu featuring a flying hamburger on its cover.
As I wrote last week, there was a follow-up I wanted to do on the beloved airstrip. As it turns out, I could probably write them each week for the next year. There is just that much love for the place.
A few days ago I went to a coffee shop near Five Points where a weekly meeting takes place of the Old Bold Pilots Assn. In a back room behind the cash register the men sit, swapping stories, sharing pictures and recounting the grand glories of their collective lives in the skies. Most of them flew in and out of Meadowlark, but others, as I learned, have tales that soar far beyond the quaint, colorful atmosphere of the old airport located on Warner Avenue near Bolsa Chica.
There are war heroes in that room whose stories reflect courage and bravery on the most monumental of scales, and so in the coming weeks you'll be meeting some of these exceptional men in this column.
Back to Meadowlark though, the mere mention of the name at one of the tables provoked laughter and head-shaking from those who spent time there as they thought back to the pockmarked runway, the primitive conditions, but the always appealing camaraderie that took root in the Quonset huts and small hangers that dotted at the property.
Bob Graves told me about the flight he made into Meadowlark back in 1951 (before it was even called that) to look over a plane he was thinking about buying. To hear him tell it, back then it wasn't even really an airport, just a lonely field to touch down in. But he watched it grow over the years and like many others, came to love and appreciate the homespun, almost neighborhood feel that Meadowlark provided.
Renowned plane-crash researcher Pat Macha is a member of the group and he introduced me to Paul Butler, who works at the American Aviation Historical Society located here in Huntington Beach.
This organization was founded in the mid-1950s in Los Angeles as a collection of amateur aviation photographers that all happened to work in the industry. Today it makes its home here in Huntington Beach and so I went to visit.
Butler showed me parts of their collection, which includes more than 40,000 printed images related to flight, 10 times that number of slides and negatives, an extensive library and more that helps the group produce its wonderful quarterly AAHS Journal. Jerri Bergen, the current president of the society, joined Butler and me.
They explained to me that Ray Rice, the famed aerial photographer, donated his entire collection of Meadowlark photos to them. As soon as they are categorized I'll be able to share some of them with you in this column.
The historical society today has about 1,700 members. Bergen expressed that it's harder to get kids involved in this kind of organization today because they don't build models anymore, they play video games. But she added if they get to go to an air show or fly with a grandparent pilot, that can get them excited. She also told me that while many local airports today try to maintain a small-town feel like Meadowlark, it's tough because today you have planes like Gulfstream jets landing behind you.
The mission of the organization is to provide education, preservation and the promotion of aviation history. If you're interested in becoming a member of the AAHS, you can visit the group's website at aahs-online.org or call (714) 549-4818.
Pilot Wayne Kratzer, whom I met at the Old Bold Pilots meeting, drew me a little map over coffee. On the paper, X marks the spot of where the original Meadowlark Airport sign is now located. Interestingly, it's in the backyard of a home that butts right up against the property line of the airport. In a few days I hope to see design first-hand (yes, it is a bit of a mystery) and as soon as I do, a photo will appear here.
There is just something about Meadowlark Airport that still charms people. Though I never saw it myself, I've had the privilege of experiencing it through many stories and recollections the people have shared with me. Perhaps more than any other long-gone local landmark, I wish this one was still here. Maybe it's just that whimsical, childlike glint I got to see in an old pilot's eye last week. When he shook his head and said, "Man I miss that place. What a crime that they got rid of that wonderful little airport."
Hometown thespians return in 'Wicked'
On the local theater note, one of my favorite shows in recent memory, "Wicked," is back in town at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through mid-March. By now you know that I like to pay attention in this column when local actors come back in these marvelous productions, and so we welcome home "Wicked" cast members Napoleon Gladney and Brenda Hamilton.
Both have performed extensively throughout the county as they grew up here, but obviously coming back in this production is a very big deal for both. (He plays a flying monkey and she is part of the swing cast and understudy for Nessarose.) Gladney and Hamilton both said they are thrilled to be home performing for friends and family.
If you've seen the show, you know how special it is; and if you haven't, I cannot recommend it enough. For "Wicked" ticket information, call (714) 556-2787 or visit http://www.scfta.org/home.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.