More Confusing To Name Than To Fly

The last airports for this series of posts are in northern Queens: North Beach, Glenn Curtiss, and LaGuardia are all the same place; Holmes Airport and Grand Central Airport are similarly the same place. Five names, two airports.

North Beach was an actual place, a beach in Queens on the East River, adjacent to Bowery Bay. A private airport called the North Beach airport was built there in 1929, serving both ordinary plane and seaplanes. in 1930 it was renamed after Glenn Curtiss (not to be confused with the Curtiss field in the Bronx or the many other Curtiss fields). It became “Municpal Airport Number 2” in 1935 but was often still called North Beach; it was officially renamed after LaGuardia in 1947.

Homes Airport was a small private field in Jackson Heights, not far from North Beach. It opened in 1929 and closed in the late 30s because its flight patterns conflicted with the expanded Municpal Airport at North Beach. Its site is marked by some industrial buildings that are out of character for the adjacent residential neighborhood; its western edge later became part of the route of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

The reason I mention the multiple names is to give a sense of the difficulties that crop up when you’re trying to research a general question about the built environment in the past. If you see a mention of someone flying to Queens, it could mean at least three different airports – Holmes, North Beach, and Flushing; if you see a mention of “Curtiss Field” it could mean a lot of different things, including an airport that was never built. That last is, for me, the most confusing occurrence. People often wrote about future plans or projects in the past tense, making it seem as if they had been built.

During the research for The Structure of Skyscrapers, I identified about 750 buildings, even though it turned out there were actually fewer than 500. Some of the extras were duplicates, as my first pass sometimes collected information on a single buildings under multiple names. But a good number of the duplicates were what I came to think of as fictitious buildings, which had been announced and planned but never built. Because I was looking at the nineteenth century, when drawings were far more common in the press than photos, there was no easy way to tell between a presentation drawing of a real building and one of a fictitious building. I eventually cleared the fakes by using Sanborn maps, which resolutely only ever showed reality.

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