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Municipal Airport/Lowe Field

Markers: Sarasota History

Location: Corner of 12th Street and Beneva Road, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - Municipal Airport/Lowe Field photo

On January 12, 1929, Sarasota dedicated its first municipal airport located on 160 acres just west of Oriente Avenue, now Beneva Road, and north of Fruitville Road. Pilots performed aerial maneuvers and stunts for the crowd, many of whom felt an airport was critical to future growth of the city. An earlier airfield located on the fairgrounds east of Oriente Avenue closed when the Fair Association deeded its holdings to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for winter quarters.

During the economic depression of the 1930s, business leaders and aviators promoted Sarasota's growing air industry. In 1931, a hangar to house five planes was added alongside Oriente Avenue. The Chamber of Commerce sponsored air tours and other flying exhibitions. Various flying schools operated out of the airfield in the winter months when the sod runways were dry.

National Airlines began daily passenger and mail service at the municipal airport in the early summer of 1937. Wet grounds, however, forced cancellation of many stops. Later in the year, National discontinued service when financially strapped Sarasota was unable to provide concrete runways.

The lack of air mail service prompted county officials to acquire land in 1940 for the future Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. Shortly after construction began at the new airport, it was leased to the U.S. Army for World War II pilot training.

Civilian flying continued at the old municipal airport. In 1943, former circus roustabout Johnny Lowe purchased the airfield which became known as Lowe Field. Lowe acquired the uniquely-roofed Pagoda Sandwich Shop on Main Street, moved it to his airfield, and renamed it Airport Tavern. It served both pilots and Ringling Circus performers.

During the war, the Civil Air Patrol used Lowe Field as a base for its coastal patrol operations. The CAP monitored German U-boat activity and escorted ships coming into Tampa Bay from Key West.

After the Army vacated the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport at the end of the war, most civilian air operations moved there from Lowe Field. Student pilots, crop dusters, and mosquito control planes continued to fly out of Lowe Field until 1961, when Lowe sold the land. The post-war economic boom resulted in commercial development of the former airport site.

Dedicated in 1999 by the Sarasota Historical Commission

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