History Hidden in Plain Sight

South of Sunrise — from runways to parking lots part II


In 1933, only a few years after Curtiss-Wright Airport opened in Valley Stream, the negative impact of the Depression led to the airport’s closure. The closing, however, only referred to the operations of the public airport — the flying school and servicing hangars remained open.

The airport’s timeline since its closure:

1934: Valley Stream Polo Club opens and games are played on the northwest corner of the airfield

1936: Chanin Corporation, a builder of skyscrapers in NYC, buys airfield and surrounding property for the development of a theater, residential community, and shopping center

1938: Northwest corner of airfield is rezoned, and the Sunrise Drive-In Theatre opens that summer

1939: Phase I of the Green Acres (Mill Brook) community opens (the “Old Section”)

1942: Bulova Watch Company moves into hangars and manufactures bearings for military precision instruments and fuel injection pumps

1942: Columbia Aircraft Company moves to Valley Stream where they manufacture the “Duck,” an all-purpose, amphibian bi-plane, armed with a 30-caliber machine gun and the capability of carrying two 100-pound bombs

1946: Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a manufacturer of assault-gliders for U.S. Army, as well as aircraft for personal use, acquires Columbia

1947: Commonwealth goes bankrupt, as the anticipated post-war boom in civil aviation never happens

1947: Bulova opens wristwatch plant; 1951: Phase II of the Green Acres (Mill Brook) community opens

1953: Bulova operates Quartz Crystal Division that plays key role in production of defense items

1956: Green Acres Shopping Center opens

1977: Bulova establishes Bulova Systems and Instrument Corp., and manufactures mechanical fuses that automatically fire projectiles from artillery pieces

1991: Bulova closes and moves to Lancaster, Penn.

In 1993, hangars one and two (Amelia Earhart’s office was located on the second floor of hangar two), previously occupied by Bulova, were demolished to make way for Home Depot. Gabriel Parrish, a Columbia Aircraft employee, and later a volunteer at the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration, and the Cradle of Aviation, was instrumental in salvaging one of the emblems — a bas relief of a single-engine prop plane making its way through the clouds. He arranged for the 6-foot by 9-foot, 3-ton emblem to be moved to the grounds of the historical society. The remaining four emblems are intact on their respective hangars. In 2009, a historical marker was placed in front of Home Depot by the Town of Hempstead’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, commemorating the site of the airfield. Guy Ferrara, the historical society’s president, was instrumental in making this happen.

The Reiserts never did get the chance to harvest their final crop, and the airport was gone in the blink of an eye. In an ironic and stunning twist of fate, however, the airport’s initial boastful plans for grandiose infrastructures, including restaurants and 10,000 parking spaces, have eerily come to pass. The Green Acres Mall, in its quest for retail dominance, has unwittingly achieved, many times over, the Curtiss-Wright dream of a “small city within itself.” Farmland paved over to construct runways; runways paved over to build stores and parking lots. Each new era layered over the last — a richly nuanced narrative of Valley Stream’s storied past.