Here in Lansing there’s a gem in our backyard that a lot of residents may not know much about and have rarely (maybe never) been to, yet it’s a place that many residents drive past on a regular basis — the Lansing Municipal Airport. It is an asset to our community that not many villages or suburbs have with a rich history that involves some of our country’s most significant figures of the 20th century.
Before the land was purchased by automotive giant Henry Ford 91 years ago, the area was farm land. One of my favorite pictures in the "Images of America: Lansing, Illinois" book I authored in 2001 was of a young lady surrounded by hay at what would later become the airport.
In 1926, work began to clear the land for Ford’s airport, which would connect his Chicago automotive plants to Detroit and house his Trimotor planes. Construction on the Ford Hangar was completed the following year, designed by architect Albert Kahn.
This innovative hangar was built to last, utilizing large windows to maximize natural light. Using cantilevered construction, it was created without support columns. Its most unique features are the north and south hangar doors, which sit on a wheeled track making it possible for them to be opened and closed by just one person.
On a recent spring day I drove by to see the north door open for the first time and it was really amazing to look all the way through and see it the way it looked in the 1920s. According to airport staff, until this year the doors had been sealed shut for about 40 years.
In its early years the airport served as a host site to events promoting aviation with Charles Lindberg, Wiley Post and Harold Gatty among those who visited the Ford Hangar. In 1985, thanks to the efforts of Lansing resident Harold Christian, the airport was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the only structure in the village to receive that designation. The airport and hangar have gained the recent attention of movie producers who have considered the airport as a possible filming site.
The Ford Hangar Foundation formed two years ago with the intention of preserving this piece of history and making it more accessible to the public. After years of being rented by a private business, it is now back in the village’s hands and is being slowly improved by airport staff and volunteers.
The hangar was recently used for the annual Memorial Day service and will host the new Fetching Pop Up Market featuring vintage and handcrafted artisan wares on Sept. 5 and 6 that will benefit the foundation. For information on the market, visit www.fetchingmarket.com or call (708) 895-9465.
Today is a great opportunity to head to the airport and examine this significant historical landmark that we can proudly call our own. The Experimental Aircraft Association is hosting a pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. that will take place in the Ford Hangar. This popular annual event has been taking place for about 30 years. I’ve been to several of these breakfasts and everyone in my family always has a fantastic time.
You’ll find much more to do at the event than eat pancakes, eggs and sausage. There will be an opportunity to take a helicopter ride ($30 for about a 15-minute ride.) Several private planes will be out to look at. The Lake County Police helicopter will be there. Several vintage vehicles will be parked there to admire. A few vendors will have booths there.
Steve Sikorski, the event chairperson and vice president of the EAA Chapter 260, said that you’ll be able to view some home-built planes that he calls “works of art.” It’s also an event that includes volunteers from different groups in the community, including the Lansing Police Cadets and Civil Air Patrol. There will also be some door prizes and raffles. Cost for the breakfast is $8 for adults and $5 for kids under age 12.