words by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
It may seem hard to imagine now, but in the early days of passenger flight, Akron was a primary airline connection point. In 1938, it was the only scheduled stop for United Air Lines — now United Airlines — between New York and Chicago.
Yet the impressive Art Deco airport terminal that sits on the south side of the Massillon Road-Triplett Boulevard roundabout wasn’t really built for airplane traffic. Originally, Akron’s leaders were expecting thousands of zeppelin passengers to come streaming through the gates.
And why not? Akron, via Goodyear, was America’s center of zeppelin construction due to a partnership established with the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin in 1923. Contracts had been awarded for the construction of the huge U.S. Navy airships Akron and Macon in 1928. The Akron Air Dock, just south of the terminal, had been completed in 1929. The city was in a boom period throughout the 1920s, and as it entered the 1930s, the city fathers were confident that air passengers would be stopping in Akron, arriving in famous airships like the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg.
The crashes of the Akron and Macon in the early 1930s and the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 signaled the end of rigid airships for the next 75 years and dashed any dreams of commercial zeppelin traffic. But commercial airplane design had advanced to the point where airline passenger traffic was steadily growing. By the time the Douglas DC3 was introduced in 1936, Akron was in a prime position to benefit — and had a classy airport terminal to welcome visitors.
The impetus for the airport came from local legend Baines “Shorty” Fulton, and Akron City Council authorized the terminal construction in 1930. Architect Michel Konarski — whose Art Deco terra cotta work can also be seen at North High School and the Guggenheim Institute just up the street from the terminal — was selected to handle the design.
The terminal building was designed to handle both the demands of transcontinental airmail and passenger traffic. It included an attractive lobby waiting area, ticket desks, a snack counter and restaurant, meeting rooms, a bar area and administrative offices. With its long, low wings flanking the three-story central tower area, the terminal gave visitors an ultra-modern welcome.
The sharp, geometric designs so typical of Art Deco style appear all across the exterior of the building. Twin towers on each wing feature steel pylons which are topped by decorative airplanes, recalling the popular air races of the era. Railings along the top of the structure recall the fact that air travel was a relatively new phenomenon in the 1930s, so interior and exterior stairways allowed visitors to head up to the rooftop observation platform to watch arrivals and departures.
Use of the airport and its terminal was overwhelming during WWII. More than 130 blimps and 4,000 FG-1 Corsair fighter planes were built on the Goodyear Aerospace production lines just across the runways, which were used to test each of them and send them off to subsequent staging areas.
During the 1950s, the airport continued to see constant use with the growing popularity of small private planes and the fleets of aircraft owned and operated by Akron’s industrial companies.
But by the time Akron-Canton airport expanded to regional operation in 1962, passenger traffic at Akron’s municipal airport had come to a virtual halt. By the 1990s, the terminal was no longer needed at all. It was briefly used as a bar and an upscale Italian restaurant before becoming home to a medical device firm. Current owner Randy Theken has spent huge sums renovating the interior and exterior of the building and preserving as much of its original design as possible. In 2011, his work was recognized with awards from the Cleveland Restoration Society and the Ohio Heritage awards.
Today, the City has rebranded the airport as Akron Executive Airport, with new plans to make best use of this historic resource. Theken has also built an attractive new manufacturing facility adjacent to the terminal and uses both buildings to facilitate surgeons and other elite customers flying directly into the Akron for presentations.
With its inspiring historic design, smooth terrazzo floors, ornate plaster moldings and polished bronze entrance doors, the old airport terminal still manages to put Akron’s best foot forward.
Mark Schweitzer is a lifelong Akron resident and proud of it.
Charlotte Gintert is an archaeologist by day and a photographer by sunrise and sunset. You can check out her photos at www.capturedglimpses.com and follow her on Instagram at @capturedglimpses.