Now Reading
From Cotton Field to Love Field

Subscribe to Authentic Texas

From Cotton Field to Love Field

  • Dallas's Renowned Airport Is Rich With History

The aviators, airplanes, and airlines of Dallas’s Love Field have endowed it with one of the richest histories of any airport in the nation. Not only has it been the headquarters of two major commercial air carriers, it is also the site where the 36th president—himself a native Texan— was sworn in.

At the outset of the twentieth century, Dallas was fortunate in having a chamber of commerce that early on believed in the potential of aviation, engaging aviators to give exhibition flights at Fair Park as early as 1910.


With America’s entry into World War I in 1917, the chamber successfully petitioned the army to establish a flight training base in Dallas. The organization purchased 670 acres of mostly cotton fields on the south shore of Bachman Lake and leased them back to the army.

Construction progressed rapidly, and on October 19, 1917, the new flying field was officially dedicated in honor of Lt. Moss Lee Love, continuing an Army tradition of naming new airfields for its aviators who had perished in the line of duty. Lieutenant Love, who died in a training accident in 1913, was never known to have visited Dallas, but his name was next on the list of fallen aviators to honor.

During Love Field’s time as a flight training base, 449 pilots earned their wings as Army Air Service Aviators there. Only twelve airmen died in training accidents during that time, a remarkably low number considering the nature of early flight training.


After the war, the hope that Love Field would continue as an active army base went unrealized, as the military terminated flight operations in early 1919. The Dallas Chamber of Commerce found itself with an extensive infrastructure of hangars, streets, office buildings, and other facilities. Forming a Love Field Industrial District, they leased a portion of the property back to the city for a municipal airport. Gradually the vacated army hangars and other facilities filled with businesses offering airplane rides, flying lessons, fuel, maintenance, and other aviation services. Many of these operations were run by former army aviators, using or selling surplus army aircraft.

In 1926, the U.S. Post Office began phasing out its operation of the nation’s air mail, awarding contracts to private carriers that would soon form the basis of the nation’s commercial airline system. Consequently, the first commercial aviation flight in Dallas—and in the state of Texas—began on the morning of May 12 of that year as a Curtiss “Carrier Pigeon” piloted by Herb Kindred of National Air Transport (a predecessor
of United Airlines) took off on the first flight of Contract Air Mail Route 3 from Love Field to Chicago, with intermediate stops.

Brig Gen W B Cochran commanding officer of Camp Bowie and Major Albert L Sneed commanding officer of Love Field by Curtiss JN 6HG 1 at Flyin Frolic event Love Field November 1213 1918 Courtesy of Library of Congress


The following year thousands of North Texans turned out on September 27 to welcome Charles Lindbergh as he flew his famous Spirit of St. Louis into Love Field as part of a 48-state tour following his electrifying New York-to-Paris solo flight. The city of Dallas included among the festivities a ceremony formally dedicating Love Field as the city’s municipal airport.

In a speech at the Adolphus Hotel that night, Lindbergh praised Love Field as an outstanding airport and urged supporting its growth in order to “keep Dallas and Texas on the air map of the United States.” Previously, city leaders had been discussing buying the airport from the Love Field Company, but Lindbergh’s remarks may have prompted them into action. In any case, the Dallas City Commission on March 30, 1928 voted to approve the purchase of Love Field for $325,000.


By this time Love was earning a reputation as one of America’s best airports. With public interest in air travel on the rise, new hangar and passenger terminal facilities were built in 1929 to accommodate newly established air carriers that had begun offering passenger service. Through the 1930s, three of these grew steadily through expansion, mergers, and consolidations to become the trio of major airlines serving Love Field by the end of the decade—American, Delta, and Braniff.

As airline service increased through the 1930s, the need for more modern passenger facilities was met by a new, $400,000 two-story terminal building at Lemmon Avenue on the airport’s east side, dedicated in October 1940.


With the onset of World War II, Love Field experienced a significant expansion in infrastructure and traffic volume as it became the home of two new tenants. The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation established a major aircraft repair and modification facility, and the Fifth Ferrying Group of the Air Transport Command (ATC) established a base at Love Field that would become the largest ATC base in the country.

Among the pilots of ATC’s Fifth Ferrying Group was a squadron of the now-famous Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP (see Authentic Person Dorothy Ann Smith Lucas, page 34). These remarkable women, trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, flew every type of army aircraft, delivering them to fields all over the nation and flying other non-combat missions such as cargo, target towing, and maintenance test flights. The squadron at Love Field was the largest contingent of WASP in the nation.

Even amidst the strain and uncertainty of war, civilian passenger operations continued, though on a limited basis. In 1942, American Airlines would be the first to offer international service from Love Field, with DC-3 flights to Mexico City and Monterrey. The same year, Tom Braniff moved his air carrier’s headquarters to Love Field after having brought his maintenance operation to the airport in 1934.

Activity at Love Field remained robust after the war, fueled mainly by an extraordinary postwar public demand for air travel. The wartime expansion of infrastructure helped to support this demand, but the not-yet-ten-year-old Lemmon Avenue terminal was strained to its limits, with wings added to the north and east to increase the number
of gates from five to thirteen. A postwar airport master plan envisioned a new, larger terminal building at the north end of an extension of Cedar Springs Road (now Herb Kelleher Way) at the center of the airport grounds. Construction began in 1955, and the facility opened for operations in January 1958.


PRESIDENTIAL PRESENCE President and Mrs. Kennedy walking through a crowd of journalists toward people gathered at the fence line at Love Field on the morning of November 22, 1963. | Courtesy of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza, Texas History Portal.

For capital improvements at Love Field, 1958 was a banner year. As the new terminal opened, American Airlines built a million-dollar hangar, Delta Air Lines built its first maintenance hangar outside of Atlanta, and Braniff International Airways dedicated its extensive new Operations and Maintenance Base at 7701 Lemmon Avenue. (The complex is currently being repurposed and has been deemed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.)

But the airport’s most notable day would occur five years later, on a date
it would share with one of the darkest events in American history. On November 22, 1963, after President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in downtown Dallas, Texan Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president. He thus became the first, and
so far, only, president to be sworn in aboard an airplane (Air Force One), by a female justice (Sarah T. Hughes, herself a Texan), and in the state of Texas.


In the fall of 1966, one of Love Field’s most influential associations had its start—in a San Antonio club.

Sipping doses of bourbon, Rollin King and his attorney, Herb Kelleher, were planning the creation of a low-fare airline with a business model of flying to large cities solely within the borders of Texas—specifically, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. On March 15, 1967, Kelleher filed to establish what he called the “Air Southwest Company,” and almost a year later the Texas Aeronautical Commission voted to approve the new airline’s operating certificate. By staying within the boundaries of Texas, Southwest steered clear of dealings with the federal government’s Civil Aeronautics Board.

But the legal battles began the very next day. Three air carriers—Braniff, Continental, and Trans-Texas—filed suit to stop the new airline, arguing that the named cities were already sufficiently served, by them. The plaintiffs were initially successful, but Southwest pre- vailed eventually through a reversal by the Texas Supreme Court.

In 1971, Kelleher and King established headquarters at Love Field for their renamed Southwest Airlines. The no-frills commuter airline drew inspiration from the name of its base, with love-inspired logo, marketing campaigns, on-board refreshments, and even its stock-ticker designation, LUV.


By 1973, Love Field had grown to be the tenth busiest airport in the world (yes, the world) with 6.6 million enplaned passengers. But the following year its long legacy would be significantly affected by the opening of a newcomer, the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional (now International) Airport.

American Airlines Boeing 747 Astroliner at Love Field in 1973 Photo courtesy UNT Libraries The Portal to Texas History

Love Field’s passenger count dropped sharply as the major air carriers moved their operations to DFW in accordance with a 1969 agreement. Southwest kept its operations at Love, arguing that they were not bound by that agreement since they had not been operating at the time—a position that predictably drew further legal challenges. The result of a series of lengthy and complex court actions was that airline operations could continue at Love—for the time being.

Southwest Airlines has operated Boeing 737 jetliner models almost exclusively since its establishment at its Love Field headquarters in 1971 | 737 Photo from Alptrium iStock

With the opening of DFW, Love Field was at a critical juncture, and there was even talk of closing it altogether. In a nearly empty terminal building, the iconic Texas Ranger statue stood watch over a mostly deserted lobby area, and for a time the space was even occupied by an ice rink and other amusements.

Where commercial flight traffic shrank, general aviation—private and corporate operations—began to take up the slack, and soon Love Field became the nation’s largest general aviation facility. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, the terminal lobby’s polished terrazzo floor began to click with the heels of an ever-increasing number of Southwest Airlines passengers.


In 1979, under the provisions of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Southwest applied to begin service for the first time from Love Field outside the boundaries of Texas (into New Orleans). Major players opposed the move, but Southwest once again prevailed in the courts and with federal agencies in its bid to expand its route structure.

Southwest’s expansion caused some apprehension in both Dallas and Fort Worth about the potential drain on DFW Airport’s revenue. House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Fort Worth), concerned about protecting the two cities’ significant investment in their international airport, attached a provision to a piece of transportation legislation that would limit the scope of commercial flights. The main provision of the “Wright Amendment” was that Southwest (or any airline) could operate nonstop flights from Love Field only to destinations within Texas and its four bordering states (a few states were added later through additional legislation).

<strong>WRIGHT STUFF<strong><br>Southwest Airlines promoted low fares from Love Field starting in 1967 Photo courtesy UNT Libraries The Portal to Texas History

However, in 2004, Southwest abandoned its long-time position of “passionate neutrality” toward the Wright Amendment and began actively campaigning for its repeal—a move opposed by American Airlines, DFW International Airport, and the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. At the quiet but firm suggestion of then-senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the five parties worked out a compromise in 2006 that immediately eliminated some of the Wright Amendment restrictions. The prohibition against non stop flights would expire in October 2014.


Spurred by the prospect of the Wright Amendment’s repeal, the airport in 2009 began the Love Field Modernization Program (LFMP), a public/private partnership between the City of Dallas and Southwest Airlines, that involved major improvements to the field’s operational infrastructure as well as tenant and passenger facilities. These included an extensive upgrade to the 1958 terminal building, and completely rebuilt baggage claim and ticketing wings. The LFMP also included provisions for extensive additions to the public art installations at the airport.

Since restrictions on nonstop flights expired, Love Field’s passenger traffic has shot up dramatically. In 2015, the first full year of unrestricted nonstop flights, the airport’s passenger count rocketed past 1973’s 6.6 million to an all-time high of over 7.2 million, and in 2018 more than 8 million passengers boarded at Love.

Love Field progresses into its second century of operations as one of the nation’s most convenient and modern airports, as validated by various awards, including “number one in customer satisfaction” from J.D. Power and Associates in 2015. The addition of a new parking garage in 2018 raises the airport’s available parking capacity to well over 11,000 spaces, and a series of planned long- term projects promises an even better airport operation for the future.


Visitors interested in viewing icons of Love Field’s long and varied history have several options. The airport’s twenty-three public art installations are located in its buildings, parking structures, and on the airport grounds; a complete illustrated list is at www. art-program/public-art/permanent-art- work.

KEEPING WATCH Real-life Texas Rangers welcomed sculptor Waldine Tauch’s iconic 1960 eight-foot “Texas Ranger of Today” statue back to Love Field, where it had stood watch since 1961 except for a two-year hiatus from 2011 to 2013. Editor’s Note: On June 4, 2020, the statue was removed per orders by Dallas city officials.

At the south end of a grassy median between Parking Garages B and C and accessible to the public is the Danny Bruce Flag Plaza, with a six-foot tall obelisk from 1921 honoring Lieutenant Love and the twelve other aviator victims of World War I. Three Texas state historical markers about the airport are there also.

On Lemmon Avenue at Love Field’s southeast corner, the Frontiers of Flight Museum displays historical flight gear of the same type worn by Lieutenant Love, as well as many original artifacts from the airport’s history. Hanging from the ceiling in the main exhibit gallery is a perfectly restored Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” that records show was in service at Love Field in 1918.

And if you’re fortunate enough for your travels to take you into the terminal itself with a little time to spare, a large observation window at the northeast corner of the mezzanine level looks out on the area where Air Force One was parked on that historic day, November 22, 1963. A nearby plaque guides the visitor’s view to the right spot.

© 2022 Authentic Texas Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Texas Heritage Trails LLC