By Blake Surina, Adjunct Faculty
In the 1940’s a small airport was constructed in unincorporated Pierce County at the current location of Narrows View Plaza. It was occasionally seen as a hangout for teenagers, and many a reserve officer and civil air patrol cadet would perform marching practice using the airport landing strips as a training grounds. In the late 1950’s the Weyerhaeuser Company, looking to build its international headquarters, purchased the blocks from 19th and Mildred to 12th and Pearl. They also arranged to purchase the fledgling airport and landing strips across the street as a private airport facility to fly in lumber executives and buyers from all over the world.
According to Archie Heany, a longtime resident of Fircrest, to make the international headquarters plan viable, the Weyerhaeuser company needed to secure public utility services for water, sewer and electrical. Since Tacoma was too far away, they solicited the services of Fircrest, asking to be annexed into the town. Their request was refused, and they had no choice but to abandon the project and eventually moved to Federal Way.
Don Booth, a former resident of Fircrest, was the pilot for the Weyerhaeuser airport, and related to me an entertaining anecdote. On one of scheduled short flights, the plane was experiencing some problems. “I was hoping to make the airstrip, but missed by nearly a mile, crash landing into Snake Lake. I was able to land the plane with minimal damage but had to wade through muddy swamp water to get out”. He sloshed his way back to his home in Fircrest, and faced the ire of his wife who did not believe the reason he had tracked so much mud into the house.
The airport was eventually sold to the Oswald family, who built the hanger across the street from the Airport Café, which later became the Summer Sands Restaurant. The Oswald’s ran a successful and well-known airport and flying school to the residents of Fircrest until the airport was abandoned in 1973. Toney Shelton, a educational administrator and community education advocate, convinced the Weyerhaeuser company officials to donate the land to the community to be used for educational purposes; and thus, the idea of a local community college was born.
Toney Shelton was asked to be on a steering committee for the new venture, and with the help of another colleague, Tom Baker, they set the gears in motion. For instance, height restrictions were placed on the early college buildings because the air pathway from the airport directly bisected the campus.
Early in 1965, during the first few meetings, a final decision had to be made to name the college. After much discussion, it was agreed to name the institution the John F. Kennedy Community College. Stationary was designed, signage was approved, and just when the final designs were to go out to bid, someone on the committee asked the question. “Do you think there is a problem with calling it the John F. Kennedy Community College with the Oswald Airport directly across the street?”.
They agreed on Tacoma Community College.