Dec. 7, 1941, wasn’t just the Day of Infamy for the U.S. when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was also a day of financial bombing for Carmel Valley real estate developer Byington Ford.
Convinced near the end of the Great Depression that the future was in people purchasing their own small aircraft for commuting, he bought acreage for what he dubbed Airway Ranch, a combination airfield and housing development, where pilots could land and then taxi into “hangar homes.” He hosted a grand opening that fateful day when war put an end to his vision. Locals later nicknamed the airfield the “Double F Ranch” – two “F’s” for “Ford’s Folly,” according to a historical website called “Abandoned & Little Known Airfields.”
Despite plans off and on over the years to build homes on the property, the Carmel Valley Vintage Airfield, or Carmel Valley Airport as it was also called, remained a small airfield cared for by a grassroots effort of local pilots and residents until it closed in 2002. Residents still use the airfield like a park for walking and horseback riding, with the blessing of the landowners, the Delfino Family Trust.
Emergency crews use it as a staging area for disasters, including the Soberanes Fire in 2016.
Resident Joe Hertlein says he counted as many as 19 helicopters one day at the height of firefighting efforts. “It’s really needed in so many ways as a staging grounds in case of an emergency,” he says.
It’s also the site of the annual beloved Santa Fly-In, now going on 60 years.
Hertlein is one of the leaders of a new grassroots effort to save the 30 acres from development – the Carmel Valley Master Plan mentions the property for development of 24 units.
Matriarch Mary Delfino wants to sell all 30 acres together at fair market value, says family representative Michael Weber. (Weber declines to state what the family considers fair. Assessed value of the six lots combined is just over $700,000, according to the Monterey County Assessor’s Office.)
Buying the property for use as parkland is not a new idea, but recently efforts took on renewed vigor after Carmel Valley Association President Priscilla Walton wrote an article in the CVA’s newsletter about the prospect and a wave of email responses came back from residents wanting to save the airfield. More than 50 people showed up for a meeting on June 19 to talk about it.
“I was stunned by the response,” Walton says.
The group chose a name – Carmel Valley Save Our Space – and several committees were formed, including an acquisitions committee and a separate fundraising committee.
“There were people ready to write a check that day,” Walton says. Some of the plans bandied about include adding a community garden for residents. A second meeting is scheduled for July 10.
Time could be of the essence. While Delfino has signaled her approval of the land becoming open space, she will sell to the first buyer (or group of buyers) who will pay full price for the land, Weber says.
Hertlein remains committed to seeing the property remain as a “front line defense” for future emergencies, as well as a place for recreation. “We have to make sure Santa Claus flies in every year,” he adds.