Celebrating Port Columbus Airport as America’s Greatest Air Harbor – Part II

by Douglas Terpstra.  

The open house at the original 1929 Port Columbus terminal on July 13, 2019.

The first two buildings constructed are still standing at today’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport

Construction of the Port Columbus terminal and administration building and a hangar for the Transcontinental Air Transport Company (TAT) began at the Port Columbus Airport in May of 1929. Although not quite finished, the terminal opened to visitors when the TAT began passenger service on July 8, 1929. The terminal was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 on its 50th anniversary.

ASC takes a rare look into the original Port Columbus terminal

Although not normally open to the public, ASC architectural historian Douglas Terpstra and company owner Shaune Skinner attended an open house at the terminal held on July 13, 2019 to celebrate its 90th anniversary. The Columbus Historical Society and other organizations seeking to preserve and restore the building had historical displays set up in the building. Still owned by the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, the building has been vacant for years, and efforts are underway to find a new use, potentially as an air and space museum.

Incorporating all of the important travel and business amenities in the Port Columbus terminal

Antique vehicles in front of the original 1929 TAT hangar in the background on July 13, 2019.

The exterior of the building has a relatively simple design of yellow brick accented with darker bricks. An octagonal control tower projects from its northwestern corner, topped by a band of alternating triangles and diamonds. Internally, the building has a concrete frame with brick walls.

The ground floor originally included a lounge, a waiting room, a ticket office, a dining room, a kitchen, a newsstand, rest rooms, and a lunch and soda counter. The upper floor originally included an office for the TAT, rest rooms, a pilots’ dressing room, a pilots’ lounge, the airport administration office, the airport manager’s office, an office for federal Department of Commerce officials, and offices for companies operating from the airport. The airport manager’s office was located in the tower with broad sweeping views of the airport from the large windows. A spiral staircase just outside of the airport manager’s office created access to the control room at the top.

Expansion of the terminal building began after World War II ended; by the 1970s, the building had additions on its western and northern sides. These additions to the original structure were removed in a restoration that begun in 1984. Water damage from the leaking roof and subsequent mold infestation led to the removal of most interior walls and original wall surfaces.

A fireplace in the former location of the pilots’ lounge on the second floor Port Columbus terminal.

After World War II, air travel takes off from Port Columbus

Following World War II, facilities at Port Columbus were inadequate for the growing demand for air travel. Take-offs and landings grew from 64,500 in 1940 to 218,258 in 1947. With an eye to expanding the airport, the city began purchasing land in 1948 until, by 1959, the property had a total area of approximately 2,200 acres.

Voters approved bond issues for the airport expansion project in 1951 and 1956. In 1952, Port Columbus extended the east-west runway from 4,500 to 8,000 feet. Including parallel taxiways accommodated newer, larger aircraft. In 2013, the airport reconstructed this runway farther south, becoming know as  the south parallel runway.

Anticipating growth, the city decided to move airport operations from the original terminal on Fifth Avenue to a more central location. With this goal, work began on a new control tower in 1953. Next, a new $4 million terminal was dedicated in September 1958 and the runway was extended again. At 10,700 feet, it became the longest commercial runway between New York and Tucson. Ultimately, a second east-west runway was constructed north of the new terminal around this same time. Trans World Airlines (TWA) became the first air carrier to begin jet service at Port Columbus in 1961.

The 1958 Port Columbus terminal in 2016 after numerous expansions. The 1953 control tower appears to the right of center, and its 2004 replacement appears at the far left.

Port Columbus attains international status and shifts general aviation

With the establishment of a US Customs facility in 1965, Port Columbus reached international status. In 1970, the city opened Bolton Field southwest of downtown to take over much of the general aviation traffic and relieve congestion at Port Columbus.  Projects to renovate and expand the 1958 terminal began in the 1970s and continued into recent years.

Port Columbus is the oldest of several early Ohio terminals to survive

Early airport terminals survive elsewhere in Ohio, although they are not as old as the Columbus terminal. The terminal at the Akron-Fulton International Airport (NRHP listed 2001) is an Art Deco-style building completed in 1931 and now houses private offices. The 1936 Moderne-style terminal building at Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport now houses offices and a restaurant.


Read more about Port Columbus history which includes over fifty years of manufacturing.



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