The Lost Airport of East Pasadena

Jan 5, 2015
The Sierra Airdrome, circa 1920s. (Pasadena

The Sierra Airdrome, circa 1920s. (Pasadena Digital History Collaboration.)

The small Kinner Airster biplane soared like a hawk over East Pasadena. In it sat a 24-year-old woman in goggles and a battered leather flight jacket.

The year was 1921 and the woman was Amelia Earhart, the soon-to-be-famous aviator.

On a chilly December day, seven thousand spectators thronged the small Sierra Airdrome in East Pasadena to watch the city’s second-ever “air rodeo,” at which Earhart was one of the star attractions.

“A large crowd witnessed with breathless interest the daredevil maneuvers of aviators, some of whom defied nature’s gravitation rules in startling exhibitions above the ground,” wrote the Pasadena Star-News on December 17th, 1921.

The stunts included a tug-of-war between a plane and a truck, mailbag-dropping contests, balloon strafing, and wing-walking.

Amelia Earhart and Aloysia McLintic in a photo from the Pasadena Star-News, December 15th, 1921. (Pasadena Public Library.)

Amelia Earhart and Aloysia McLintic in a photo from the Pasadena Star-News, December 15th, 1921. (Pasadena Public Library.)

Earhart and another female flyer named Aloysia McLintic were part of a segment called the “Pacific Coast Ladies Derby.” According to the official Amelia Earhart website, Earhart had only taken her first flying lesson in January of that year. She was still a rookie, but eager to make an impression: in order to give her leather jacket a “lived-in” look, she had slept in it for three days straight.

Earhart dazzled the crowd by taking her plane up to 14,000 feet—a world record at the time, according to the Waitt Institute for Discovery. It marked the beginning of a remarkable flying career for Earhart, who was tragically lost at sea in her plane in July 1937.

East Pasadena’s first and only airport achieved less fame.

The Sierra Airdrome was built in 1919 or 1920, by the Sierra Aircraft Company of Pasadena, and was located where Hastings Village Shopping Center now stands—at the corner of Sierra Madre Villa Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. It was known variously as “Sierra Flying Field,” “Eliel Field,” and “Hastings Airport.”

Co-owned by Leon T. Eliel, a former Air Force lieutenant, and Walter Wright Alley, an airplane technician, the airport was used to conduct aerial surveys and build airplanes and airplane parts. In 1922, planes from the Sierra Airdrome successfully air-mapped all of Pasadena.

According to a 1925 issue of the Aeronautical Bulletin, the airdrome was triangular, with dimensions of 1,800 x 2,000 x 2,700 feet. “Safe landing can always be made,” the magazine noted. It was also equipped with a small airplane hanger and wet weather landing facilities.

A 1920 article from the Santa Ana Register notes that World War I flying ace Bogart Rogers was associated with the airdrome, perhaps serving as its manager.

While several noteworthy events—including a test flight of the first Pasadena-built airplane—took place at the Sierra Airdrome, nothing seems to have topped the interest generated by Earhart’s spectacular flight. Around 1928 or 1929, the Sierra Airdrome closed. A 1941 photo from the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration shows cows in a field where the airstrip once stood.

Today, no trace of it remains.

Location of the Sierra Airdrome today. (Photo by Matt Hormann.)

Location of the Sierra Airdrome today. (Photo by Matt Hormann.)

Eliel and Alley continued successful careers, however. According to the L.A. Times, Eliel developed a “compound aerial camera with multiple lenses capable of photographing 760 square miles” in 1935. The camera was used by the U.S. Government to study soil erosion in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.

Alley left the aviation business and became Executive Director of the Los Angeles Municipal Housing Commission, where he advocated for affordable housing and fair rental practices.

3 Responses for “The Lost Airport of East Pasadena”

  1. Wonderful article, Matt, thank you.

  2. Although I’m a fan of local history, and I grew up on Tropical Avenue in Upper Hastings Ranch, 1966-1996, I never knew about this airport. Thank you Matt. 🙂

  3. Geoff Eliel says:

    My good Grandfather, Leon T Eliel .



Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena