If you’re a resident of Carmel, or more specifically, if you’re a villager, then you’ve probably had some questions about the 30-acre strip of land located right in the middle of town.
This vast area is commonly called the Carmel Valley Airport, but very few people actually know of its purposes or history. This spot in the village is not just some plot of empty space made for walking dogs; in fact, it has a rich background story and is still used today for numerous, interesting reasons.
It was first constructed for the use of locals in the 1930s after the brilliant idea of Byington Ford came to life to build a user-friendly way to launch and land personal aircrafts. According to Paul Freeman’s website, Ford’s intention was to make the distance for pilots to return home just a few minutes away from landing.
This was definitely a great idea for the ease-of-access of the locals, but the timing of its grand opening could not have been planned any worse. It was officially opened to the public on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day happened to be when president Roosevelt declared war on Japan, thus making it nearly impossible to be an independent pilot. Building supplies became scarce, and flying was very dangerous due to the civilian fighting all along the West Coast.
Byington Ford himself had to join the war effort, so the airport’s activities were put on hold until his return.
He returned a few years later, but by then had decided to sell the strip to a non-piloting man named Peter Delfino in the 1950s. Delfino had a different idea in mind for the airport, and he turned it into more of a public park with plane flying and landing capabilities.
The field under Delfino became the public landmark we know today—home to Santa’s Fly-in during Christmas and home to the rest of the villagers the remainder of the year.
According to Alexander Henson, who says he has flown the airfield more times than any other man, the locals around the strip were concerned that it was going to be an active site forever. Fortunately for locals, but unfortunately for the independent pilots, the airfield was closed in 2002 because of the overwhelming concern that the flying near homes was too dangerous to be continued.
Henson himself had a few run-ins with this phenomenon as he noticed that some people failed to realize that it was dangerous to walk on the airport when there were incoming planes. Even back when the field was active, he says people would enjoy their leisurely walks on it while completely unaware that an incoming plane was right behind them. On multiple occasions, the experienced pilot would have to swerve around pedestrians to make a safe landing.
The Delfino family, which still owns the airport to this day, attempted to sell the strip to a man named Lars DeJung in 1994 so he could further construct on the land, but the local opposition prevented this plan from following through, Henderson says.
Though the airfield is inactive to aviation today, by no means is it going to waste. No longer can Henson store a plane in his hangar, but he still rents it out to a contractor to keep it in good use.
Granite Construction still frequently uses the land as well for various projects around the peninsula. One project in specific is the San Clemente Dam removal, and for this Granite uses the strip as a holding site so it can continue working in San Clemente.
The airfield may not be used by planes anymore, but Santa still manages to fly in every year in a helicopter to surprise the eager villagers. Other than with the Santa Fly-in, helicopters utilize the airstrip for other reasons such as searching for lost hikers and as a resting point when extinguishing fires.
The Carmel Valley Airport is not in use anymore, but will forever remain a great landmark to the Monterey Peninsula. It gives the village character, and makes it a unique place to live and visit.