Military and Postwar Development in San Antonio

The establishment of military flight training centers, such as Brooks and Kelly army airfields, represented a major factor in San Antonio’s growth during the 1910s and 1920s. These two facilities were established in 1916 and 1917, respectively, to train aviators to fight in World War I. Brooks Army Airfield began as a flight instructor training academy and included 16 hangars by 1918. In 1919, the facility shifted its focus to dirigible and airship training, and in 1922, it became a primary flight school. The field continued to operate as a primary flight school and aerial observation school through the 1930s (Alcott 2010).

As in the rest of the United States, the Great Depression of the 1930s slowed San Antonio’s development. Fluctuations in agricultural production and crop prices had a detrimental effect on the city’s processing facilities, and commerce and industry also declined. Cotton production, which had grown tremendously in the 1920s in the farmland surrounding the city, declined sharply due to the general agricultural market instability and the spread of the boll weevil (Long 2010a). Many area farmers abandoned their lands, fell into tenancy, or shifted their focus to grain and truck farming. This decline impacted San Antonio as a regional processing and commercial center that served the outlying areas. In the 1930s, the many unemployed found work in numerous New Deal projects throughout the city (Long 2010a). Examples of such projects in the Mission Trails hike and bike trail vicinity include the San Antonio River beautification project and the construction of the Paseo del Rio, the La Villita restoration project, and the restoration of Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo. In addition to these efforts, several significant resources along the hike and bike trail were constructed under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Specific examples include the Post Office and Federal Building and Alamo Cenotaph Memorial (Photo 16) in Alamo Plaza (William and Landon 1976) and the Roosevelt Street Underpass near Roosevelt Park (Harris et al 2011). The former post office building is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places while the underpass was determined eligible for inclusion in the register in 2011.

World War II signaled a renewed boom period for the city, and wartime production and military training brought new residents and renewed the commercial and industrial sectors. Although the city was already home to many military bases, the war brought increased activity and personnel to existing facilities and spurred the establishment of numerous auxiliary fields. One such field visible from the hike and bike trail was Stinson Field, named after a renowned family of pilots including “two of the earliest and youngest female pilots in the country” who taught at the facility, opened as a private airfield in 1915 and provided a limited amount of military flight training during World War I.

In the interwar years, the field served as a private airfield. In 1942, the Army requisitioned the facility and used it as an auxiliary field for Brooks Army Airfield. Between 1942 and 1946, the Army built barracks and other military buildings on‐site and on the west side of Roosevelt Avenue. Following the end of the war, the field reverted to private use and is still used today as a recreational and commercial airfield (Preuss 1994).

After World War II, Brooks Army Airfield shifted its focus from aerial observation training to training pilots to fly the new B‐25 bomber. During this period, the Department of Defense changed the name of Brooks Field to Brooks Air Force Base, reflecting the separation of the Army and the Air Force. The base continued to provide flight training until 1960, when its focus shifted to medical research, development, and education (Alcott 2010). Military activities, personnel, and retirees continue to provide a large portion of San Antonio’s economic base.

One Of The Original Hangars At Stinson Airport

One of the original hangars at Stinson Airport

Image Sources

  • Stinson Hangar. City of San Antonio Files.
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