While waiting in line to pass through security at BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport last week I gave some thought to the evolution of our busy, ultra-modern airport. I go way back with this place. Trips to the airport were not unknown in my youth. A favorite stop on a sunny day was a drive out to the airport to watch planes from the outdoor observation deck (a dime to enter and another ten cents to use the mounted binoculars!). Before becoming a mega-airport, BWI was Friendship Field International Airport, an important step in Baltimore’s bid to become a major metropolitan market.
Friendship Airport on the cover of the
1960 Baltimore telephone directory
Dedicated by President Harry S. Truman, Friendship opened on June 24, 1950. It was named after Friendship Methodist Church, on whose land the $15 million, 3200-acre complex was constructed. A grand opening committee made up of prominent Baltimore businessmen and civic leaders knew the new airport would be a major attraction for the City and planned for an expected crowd of 100,000-200,000 for the opening ceremony.
With only one two-lane access road (Belle Grove Road) to get to the airport, it could have been the greatest traffic jam in local history because the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was not completed at the time. However, when June 24 rolled around the weather was so hot and unpleasant (95 degrees) only about 10,000 people made it to the dedication. Fifty-six aircraft used the airport on its first day.
Friendship was the most modern of all the post-war terminals. It even offered the latest in comfort, 22 air-conditioned roomettes on site for the weary traveler. (Room service was not available as there already was a coffee shop and snack bar in the building).
The success of the location and the growth of passenger travel via air prompted the State of Maryland to purchase the complex from the City of Baltimore in 1972. The name was changed to Baltimore-Washington International to improve marketing the airport to the Washington region. Expansion and renovation began in the 1970’s and has continued as the number of carriers and flights have grown. Today many consider BWI to be the best U.S. airport of its size. Impressive, considering the new airport was built right over the original Friendship building.
With about 700 flights a day and more than 2 million passengers a month, BWI Thurgood Marshall rivals the bigger airports for convenience and service. In fact, it boards more passengers than Dulles or Reagan airports in D.C.
Friendship Airport in 1950,
2nd level observation deck in red
My only disappointment is that there’s no observation deck. There is a large window for viewing planes near Concourse B, but it is not the same as that wonderful observation deck at Friendship (which, by my estimation, was just about where Concourse C is today). But don’t go out there looking for it. In the post-9/11 world you’ll need a ticket and have to pass through security to get that far into the complex.
If you enjoy airports too, stop by the Maryland Department at the Central Library. We can show you material on all of Baltimore’s airports or any form of transportation in Maryland.