Bill Gibbs remembers everybody he ever met over his 94 years. He keeps up and gets around. He's on the phone every day with a fresh idea. He attends Downtown Kiwanis and tells stories about everybody's fathers. He has been on the Salvation Army board forever. He is embarrassed by City Hall. He remembers when mayors like Harley Knox and Pete Wilson ran this city tight and clean.
Bill is accustomed to change. But the change coming up soon, he says, "Makes me feel like I've lost something." What he's lost is the office he's gone to every day for 70 years. His lease with the city for Montgomery Field will end in May, as the city plans adjacent commercial development.
In 1930, as the Depression began, Bill got a job in a brewery for 75 cents an hour. Charles Lindbergh had just flown non stop across the Atlantic. Bill learned to fly at the tiny National City air strip. He loved everything about airplanes. By 1937, he needed his own airfield and hangar. He found some acreage north of San Diego. There was no Clairemont then, no Scripps Ranch.
The land for Gibbs Field cost $25 an acre, and Bill paid $50 down. He and his friends cleared brush to bulldoze a runway. San Diegans came to Bill to learn to fly. He put on his leather helmet and gave them a spare, and up they went. He and three partners paid $500 to buy their first plane: An OX-5 Lincoln Page. The rest of Bill's profits went into more land and a longer airstrip for the larger planes he knew would come.
In 1948, the city condemned 209 of Bill's acres for $60,000. It was outside the city limits and the city council planned to make it a large airport to backup Lindbergh Field. The city's plan failed as Clairemont was built and new neighbors of Gibbs Field protested airport expansion. So the city sold part of Bill's property to General Dynamics for $875,000 as the site of its new Astronautics division, which was about to build the Atlas missile.
By then, the city had a joint lease agreement with the Navy for use of the long new Miramar airstrip. When the Pentagon decided to make Miramar a major jet base, it persuaded the city to give up its joint use of Miramar. The trade-off was that two aircraft carriers would be home-ported in San Diego Bay. Bill Gibbs laughs about that.
"San Diego almost had itself a real airport," Bill says. "But the dummies down at City Hall thought Miramar was too far out of town for an airport. They settled for two ships.?