Houston has had many air terminals over the years. The first, Ellington Field, opened 100 years ago to train World War I pilots. Ellington closed after the war. By 1930 Houston had regular overnight airmail service. In 1938 Houston’s air terminal was renamed Howard Hughes Municipal Airport. A short time later it was learned that an airport named for a living person could not receive Federal grant money. Houston Municipal Airport opened in 1940 in an art deco terminal designed by Joseph Finger. In September it was dedicated in a public ceremony featuring private and corporate aircraft. By 1940 Houston had 2 airlines, Eastern and Braniff, serving it, and a new air terminal opened to accommodate those who could afford to use this relatively new and exclusive form of transportation. In 1955 a new terminal opened and the art deco one became a flight school. By 1957 there were more than 65,000 flights to and from Houston carrying 1,356,652 passengers. Ten years later Houston International Airport was renamed William P. Hobby Airport. Hobby Airport still exists, but the flight school was gone by 1978 and the old terminal was boarded up. Miraculously, it was not torn down. A clean-up and restoration began in 2003.
The 1940 air terminal is now a museum and the Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society is restoring the building. The museum is a nostalgic treat for anyone who has been around for a while and knows who Howard Hughes was. It presents many little known facts about early aviation. Muse Airlines, for example, was the first and only non-smoking airline. In 1985 Southwest Airlines acquired it. For younger people the museum will be an old-fashioned history lesson about civil aviation since the dawn of flight. They will probably be shocked to learn that flying way back when this art deco building was Houston’s main airport was a pleasant dress up food and drink and smoke-filled experience. Phase 1 of the restoration dealt with the terminal’s exterior. Phase 2, which has been ongoing since 2008, is slowly restoring the interior. The atrium is largely done and amazing, the museum curators need to put some of the stuff away and streamline the exhibits, and the upper floors are now getting attention.
This project deserves and has received congressional recognition for its attempts to preserve and present the heritage of civil aviation. The 1940s terminal is on the west side of Hobby Airport at 8325 Travelair Street. A small aircraft museum is nearby. One day this will be a 5 Compass attraction.