One of Nation’s Earliest Airport Hotels Has Connection to Alameda

The Oakland Airport Inn, built in 1929, is quite possibly the nation’s first “airport hotel.” The structure was built by Alamedan Robert Strehlow’s architecture firm. Above, the hotel soon after it opened, below left, the hotel as it looks today.

One of Nation’s Earliest Airport Hotels Has Connection to Alameda

Alamedans drive past a historic landmark with an Alameda connection whenever they reach Oakland via Doolittle Drive. Aviation history enthusiasts know Oakland Airport played a pivotal role in the development of air travel as we know it today. In the 1920s pilots and engineers at Oakland Airport pioneered aviation technology, technique and architecture.

Hidden under more prominent artifacts and stories at the airport is a quiet little structure that could very well be the first hotel built at an airport anyplace.

Some sources cite Henry Ford’s Dearborn Inn in Dearborn, Mich., as the nation’s first hotel at an airport, built in 1930. Hilton Hotels claims to have invented the airport hotel concept in 1959, but since July 1929, Oakland Airport’s North Field had been home to the Oakland Airport Inn, which still stands today.

According to USA Today, the Oakland Airport Inn is the nation’s first airport hotel. The facility included “37 rooms, a restaurant, a barbershop and a ticket office,” according to Air & Space Magazine. An article in Aviation magazine two years after the hotel’s opening described it as “almost completely devoid of patrons after a year of operations.” Other airports around the bay had opened and pulled some airlines away from Oakland.

But of primary interest to Alamedans is who built the Oakland Airport Inn. A March 20, 1929, Oakland Tribune article announced “Construction Begun on Oakland Airport Hotel,” by the firm of Strehlow & Petersen who was awarded the construction contract for $46,489.

Architects Robert C. Strehlow and Peter Petersen had a couple other feathers in their caps. Their firm had earned a contract to build several buildings for the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 — including no less than the California Building which featured displays from each county in California.

But Strehlow — an Alameda resident in 1929 — and his partner had their hands in another business located in Alameda: Neptune Beach. Indeed, the construction of the historic hotel coincided with Strehlow’s ownership and operation of Alameda’s storied amusement park. Neptune Beach, once located south of Central Avenue at Webster Street, was home to the Whoopee and Safety Racer roller coasters, Kiddieland, the Streets of Damascus, the Jester’s Palace and more. Generations of Alamedans recalled joyful memories there. The park sold at a great loss via auction in 1940 after 23 years as Neptune Beach. Neptune built on a tradition of bathing resorts on Alameda’s south shore that extends back to 1878.

Alameda historians Eric J. Kos and Chuck Millar are working on a definitive history book about Alameda’s historic bathing resorts. No timeline for the book’s release is available yet.