Tampa's First Airport


Many of the planes arriving in Tampa at the beginning of WW2, unable to land at MacDill Field due to the runways not yet being completed, landed at Drew Field. In 1940, the army leased Drew Field from the city of Tampa for 25 years.  In Oct. of 1940, the army leased an additional adjoining 400 acres.  The United States Army Air Force took over Drew Field during World War II and expanded and modernized the airport. The airfield was used by the Third Air Force and renamed it Drew Army Airfield. The Third Air Force used it as a training center for an estimated 50,000 to 120,000 combat air crews and flew antisubmarine patrols from the airfield. Probably, the most number at the field at any one time was around 25,000.  There was one accident in 1943 that killed five fliers. Despite this, Drew Field set a safety record for the Third Air Force in 1945 after 100,000 flying hours had been completed over a period of 10 months without a fatal incident. The aircraft operated included the B-17, C-47, AT-6, B-25, and others.


The weekly newspaper published at Tampa's Drew Field during World War II
First publication, March 6, 1942

Drew Army Air Field is described in "Drew Field Echoes" Vol 1, Issue 1 as a "lusty youngster among Uncle Sam's military airports." Preparation to build the base began in Dec. of 1940. Buildings and barracks were built, and in Aug of 1941, work on the runways began with a ceremony that included burying a paving brick each from the cities of Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater, in the first buckets of concrete poured.

Read the full article above, right: "Col. M. B. Asp Prominent In Aviation World"

Below is the full article above, left, that appeared in Vol 1, Issue 1 of Echoes.
The growth of Drew Field, one of the Army's newest air bases, has been a source of comment among both military and civilian airmen. Yesterday a cow pasture, almost overnight a modern flying field and school, humming with activity. Such is the picture presented by Drew.

It's early history is uneventful. A private landing field, the property was acquired by the city of Tampa in 1928 for the purpose of establishing a municipal airport. At that time, Drew presented the dreary prospect of damp marshy land, stretches of sand covered over with a sparse growth of palmetto scrub.

Practically nothing was done toward the development of the project until January, 1941, the United States government took over and plans were laid for the militarization of the site. Only then did the story of Drew Field begin to unfold.

Lt. Henry M. Sallery, Engineer Corps, was ordered from MacDill Field, Dec. 1, 1940 to supervise the preparation of the abandoned field for military use. Under his supervision, administrative buildings and barracks were erected. Jan. 16, 1941, Capt. James C. Hardwick, Air Corps, arrived, attached to the 27th Air Base Squadron and assigned to command of Base Detachment, Drew Field. He was accompanied by a force of 31 men, half of whom were detailed for guard duty.

An extract from the official Log Book gives the following information:
June 12, 1941 - 3rd Interceptor Command arrives, Gen. Walter H. Frank, commanding.
June 28, 1941 - Fire engine arrives
July 2, 1941 - 2nd Sig. Co, (OPN) (AW)
July 12, 1941 - 13th Transport Squadron arrives
July 14, 1941 - Hq. & Hq. Squ. 3rd I.C. activated
Special Orders No. 112, MacDill Field, dated May 7, 1941 relieved Lt. Col. Melvin B. Asp from assignment with the 44th Bombardment Group H and reassigned him to Air Base etachmen [sic], Drew Field and designated him as Commanding Officer of the field, still a substation of MacDill.

On August 18 of the same year, ceremonies celebrating the starting of work on the $663,700 runways were held. An interesting highlight of the dedication was the burial, by Col. Asp, of a paving brick each, from the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, in the first few buckets of concrete poured, thus symbolizing the union of social business and recreation interests of those places with Drew Field.

The selection of Col. Asp as first commander of the new independent field had its sentimental as well as military aspect. Col. Asp is a native of Tampa, having been graduated from Hillsborough High School. He began his army career in 1916 which necessitated his leaving the city. He had been a frequent visitor having flown in and out of the old Drew Field many times. The Colonel assisted at its dedication as Municipal Flying Field in 1928. He knew the field in the days when John H. Drew, contractor and real-estate operator, co-developer, with Hugh C. MacFarland [sic], the cigar king of West Tampa and adjacent sections, first bought the land and turned a subdivision into a private landing field. The Col. is well known as a designer of the Asplane, which has been described as the first successful small plane. He has been closely associated with aviation all his life.

Sept. 15, 1941, the field became divorced from MacDill and assumed the status of an independent air base. Again, referring to the Log we read:
Dec. 7, 1941 - War in Pacific. War declared on Japan. War declared on Germany and Italy.
Dec. 14, 1941 - 1700 enlisted men arrive from Camp Wheeler (3 train loads).
Dec. 15, 1941 - Lt. Col. Richard Gimble assgd. command of Sig. A.W. units

Captain Hardwick and Lt. Sallery were promoted to the grades of Major and Captain, respectively, in Oc.t 1941. Major Hardwick as continued in command of the present time.In January, this year, Lt. Col. Asp became a full Colonel. About the same time Drew Field became a school center for the Air Warning Service. And so the growth continues. An active future is envisioned for this lusty youngster among Uncle Sam's military airports.

One year anniversary issue, March 12, 1943

The "Echoes" staff: Seated at desk, editor Cpl. Jesse S. Zimmerman, formerly with the Baltimore Sun. Standing, L to R: Pvt. Jackson K. Stewart, feature writer for the Signal units and Special Services; Pvt. Herman "Pete" Peterson, feature sports writer and formerly with the Philadelphia Record; Pfc harold R. Bradley, feature writer for the Hospital and Medical Detachment; Pvt. Delwyn Baggett, sports editor; Pfc. Alvin M. Amster, feature writer for the Thrid Fighter Command; Pvt. Edward H. Solomon, art editor.

Base buildings and grounds, including covered walkways, at Drew Field, May 1946


In 1946, Drew Field was inactivated by the Army, and turned over to the Federal government.

Later, the Federal government deeded most of the Drew Army Air Force Base to the Aviation Authority and Tampa airline operations, including National and Eastern Airlines moved to Drew Field from Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Island.

The reason for the relocation was that the Peter O. Knight Airport was too small to handle the new Douglas DC-4, DC-6 and Lockheed Constellation prop-liners that were being placed into service. During this period the airlines were housed in the former Base Operations Building which was converted into a terminal.





When National Airlines inaugurated international service December 15, 1946, Tampa's Mayor Curtis Hixon (standing left of plaque) received a commemoratory bronze plaque from W. L. Waring, Jr., vice president of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. American "seŮoritas" from Tampa's Ybor City wore brilliant traditional gowns and lace mantillas on the initial flight to Havana, Cuba.  Trans Canada Airlines also inaugurated international flights and Drew Field was renamed Tampa International Airport.



Drew Field fire department, July 1946
Photo courtesy of Bill Townsend, tampasbravest.com





A presentation welcoming Eastern Airlines to Tampa International Airport at the Drew Airfield site on February 20, 1951.


Note the passenger terminal in the background, formerly the base operations building of Drew Field.




Looking toward the future, the newly formed Hillsborough County Aviation Authority began to plan for a new and (relatively) splendid terminal on the site of Drew Airfield.  The new terminal was planned at what was then Columbus Drive and present day Westshore.  (At the time, Columbus Drive crossed over Dale Mabry and straightaway connected all the way to the Ben T. Davis Causeway.)

This became a reality in 1952, and, like many other airport terminals before and since, was inadequate before construction could be completed. At the dedication ceremonies, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker offended some proud officials by pointing this out in his customarily outspoken manner.  Read this

The building, which was built for three airlines, was soon swamped. The Civil Aeronautics Board granted Capital, Delta, Northeast, Northwest and Trans World Airlines authority to fly to Tampa during the late 1950s and as a result created havoc at the undersized terminal. An annex was built east of the terminal to accommodate the new carriers.

The new Tampa International Airport in 1952, Columbus Drive at Westshore

Nonetheless, with its glamorous Bartkeís restaurant on the second floor overlooking the busy ramp, and its space for various auxiliary offices, the terminal was a source of pride to citizens of the area for several years.





TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT DEDICATION DAY, an excerpt from "A History of Tampa in 10 Meals" by Andy Huse

On a sweltering August day, 300 dignitaries crowded into Bartke's Restaurant, the terminal's "ultra modern" steakhouse. In a publicity stunt for the dedication, airlines flew ingredients to the restaurant from all over the hemisphere: fruit from Puerto Rico, avocado from Cuba, turtle from the Caymans and lobster from Canada. If the menu looked lavish, the guests were not always comfortable. The dining room's air conditioner failed, forcing the suited dignitaries to wipe their brows with cloth napkins. The heavy meal of steak, potatoes, fried chicken, onion rings and lobster must have seemed regrettable once the men joined a crowd of spectators on the tarmac in the insufferable summer heat. For the next five hours, important people gave predictable speeches. Finally, the Air Force band from Mac Dill played the national anthem while the flag was raised. Then three small propeller planes landed and taxied nearby. Tony Pizzo, a local liquor dealer and historian, emerged from one of the planes dressed like a dictator of a banana republic. Posing as the "mayor" of Ybor City, El Jefe kissed the hands of ladies in the crowd, while his cohorts gave away loaves of Cuban bread. He apologized for his tardiness, and joked that menacing UFOs had thrown him off course. He then presented Mayor Curtis Hixon with the key to Ybor City, and everyone had a good laugh.


Frank Bartke

Bartke's was started by and owned by Alva and Frank Bartke. A prominent restaurateurs family, they owned the Causeway Inn, the Rocky Point Dinner Theater, the Careless Navigator Restaurant on Treasure Island, and the Red Cavalier on Madeira Beach.  The grand opening of the T.I.A. restaurant took place on Aug. 17, 1952.

Frank Bartke was born in Austria and came to the United States when he was 6 months old.  He started his  restaurant dinner club career at the Embassy Restaurant on Fordam Road in New York City.  Frank and his wife, Alva, opened a 900-seat restaurant in Revena, NY in 1946 where Mr. Bartke gained fame when he introduced his rotary broiler steaks to the public.

The Bartkes came to to Florida in 1948 and opened "Bartke's - Elegance In Dining" in the Edward James Hotel on Treasure Island.  Alva operated the restaurant until Frank moved to Florida permanently in 1950.  In 1952 they moved the restaurant next door to the Tropic Terrace Hotel.  That same year, they started operation of Bartke's at Tampa International Airport.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Bartke purchased the Rocky Point area and in 1963, the Causeway Inn, North and South.  He developed 250 acres behind the Causeway Inn, North to Memorial Highway.  Part of this land he donated to the Egypt Temple Shrine.

On Jan. 8, 1956, it was announced that Bartke's at Treasure Island and Bartke's at Tampa International Airport (along with Ciro's Supper Club on Treasure Island) were sold for $600,000 ($500,000 for Bartke's, $95,000 for Ciro's) to Joe Lefft, former Miami Beach restaurateur, and Phil Turk, former New Yorker and St. Pete resident.  Plans were to change the name of Ciro's to Bartke's and begin a $50,000 renovation project that would allow them to open the restaurant by Feb. 1, 1956.  Lefft and Turk also obtained permission from Tampa International Airport to expand that location by another 150 seats, enlarging the dining area by taking over the terrace over the airport building.  By the time of the announcement of the sale, Lefft had already completed the installation of a new cocktail lounge at the airport location.

Place your cursor on the matchbook to flip it over


Frank Bartke owned the Bartke Dinner Theater, formerly the Holiday Dinner Theater, from 1967 until his death due to a heart attack in September of 1979.  He was 79.  His son, Bill Bartke, was manager and emcee of the restaurant until mid-1974, at which time Frank took over the manager duties and Michael Smith became his assistant and emcee.

Alva Bartke died in late 2005 in St. Pete. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved to Florida in 1948 from Albany, N.Y. She owned and operated several local restaurant and lounges, including the Edward James Plaid and Tropic Terrace, both in Treasure Island, and the Tampa Airport restaurant. From 1960 until her retirement in 1984, she owned and operated the Careless Navigator in Treasure Island. She was a past member of the Treasure Islets, the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, from whom she received many awards.


Alva Bartke obit
Alva Bartke - A Legend In Her Time - Fame as Careless Navigator owner and operator
Alva Bartke Is Area's Foremost Caterer
Careless Navigator Sold

Frank Bartke, Dinner Theater Owner-Operator
3 Bay Area Restaurants Sold For $600,000


This photo provided by Angelo Rumore shows the Latin Fiesta group of 1957 going on their goodwill trip, probably to Cuba.






Bay area hotel reservations were just a 5-digit phone call away in 1952 from T.I.A.

On your way to T.I.A., you could stop for a bite at the Airport Drive In at Dale Mabry and Columbus Drive.
Aerial view of Drew Field and Tampa International Airport, looking northeast


Pass you cursor over the photo to see landmarks labeled.       

Present day aerial view of old Drew Field and old Tampa International Airport. 

Today, the old T.I.A. site is home to various private charter jet companies, including Signature Flight Support, BBA Aviation.


Jet-powered operations began in 1959 when Eastern Air Lines introduced the Lockheed L-188 Electra. The following year National Airlines began turbojet service with the Douglas DC-8 jetliner. Flights to Mexico City began in 1961 with weekly service by Pan American. Congestion became a serious problem at the terminal when the airlines began to replace their piston powered equipment with larger jetliners. As a temporary measure the terminal was once again expanded to handle the growth in traffic.
During the early 1960s, the aviation authority began making plans to build a replacement terminal in an undeveloped site at the airport. Airport leaders chose the Landside/Airside design in 1965 after a careful study of different types of terminals. Construction on the new terminal began in 1968 between the airport's parallel jet-capable runways. When completed in 1971 the new jetport was highly praised by the press. Prior to its official April 15 opening, 60,000 people toured the new facility during a two day open house event. National Airlines Flight 36 from LAX was the first to arrive at the terminal. After touching down at 05:26 am the jet taxied to Airside E to disembark its passengers.

On April 14, 1971 Florida Governor Reuben Askew (center) dedicated the Landside/Airside Terminal complex with many local and state dignitaries in attendance. Left: Stewart D. Mast (Airport Manager) Right: George J. Bean (HCAA Director)


Visit a great website with 1961-1979 history, design and planning details, and photos of the new 1971 Tampa International Airport  (Source of the 4 photos above)

Drew Echoes

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Drew Field aerial in 1948 with present day overlay       Tampapix Home