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Penn Field

Historic Site (3.75)2
1918-1920 N/A
Yes No
N/A
N/A N/A
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Willow Springs Road
Austin Travis
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As America entered World War I and saw a need for aviators, many US cities stepped up and provided facilities to encourage training in the new art of flying. Austin was no exception, with local boosters jockying to get Army Air Corps training opportunities for the Central Texas area.

In 1917 the Chamber of Commerce secured options on 1,700 acres south of Austin, including some of what is now St. Edwards University. A portion of the land had previously been part of the Blocker Ranch. When officials from the Army arrived in Austin to inspect possible sites the initial suggestion of land at Camp Mabry was rejected. A 318 acre parcel of the original 1,700 acres south of Austin was deemed suitable. Penn Field was born.

The main building at Penn Field. It was also the largest building at the airfield when it was in operation.
Penn Field was named after Austin aviator Eugene Doak Penn, who died while training in Italy on May 20, 1918. And it was not until 1918 before planes started landing at Penn Field, and in doing so they encountered several obstacles. The landing strip was not paved. Though the land was flat it was not entirely smooth. Blown tires and even holes in fuselages were reported due to the abundance of flint rock on the runway. A large number of volunteers, including Boy Scouts, carted off 317 truck loads of rocks in an effort to make the runway more safe. An abundance of corn stalks was also cited as problem from time to time.

Another shot of the main building. Note that the modern glass walls are recessed with the brick facade.
Buildings were constructed for not only aviation purposes, but also to house a radio school, which had moved to this location from the University of Texas campus. Five brick buildings were constructed and were in full use by the end of 1918. The Chamber of Commerce has insisted on brick buildings since they intended for them to be used as factories after the war.

The buildings at Penn Field were used for a variety of purposes after 1920, including automobile parts manufacturing, furniture making, and fireplace construction. Over the years however, the state of the buildings began to deteriorate. In the fall of 2000 the buildings were renovated into modern office space. Thankfully, the developers chose not to tear down the old brick buildings, but instead they built within them. The buildings are completely modern inside with an aged exterior that hints at its history.

Sources: Wings Over Austin, by Walter E. Long


Photos

Fountain This modern water fountain sits next to the main building. Overall, the developers have done a good job of combining modern touches to the historic buildings. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Water Tower The water tower that resides at the back of the office complex. It bears the Penn Field name as well as Clear Channel Communications, one of the tennants. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Main Road A look down the main road within the Penn Field development. The main building is on the right and the buildings on the opposite side perpendicular to the street should also be part of the original air field. (Photo by Austin Explorer)

Log Entries

Still there
User: Austin Explorer - 4/14/2011  [View Log Page]
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Stopped by during lunch today.  All of the buildings are there, but the wing-shaped water fountain is either not operational or has been removed.  Photos are from an earlier visit.

VERY interesting site
User: rkhayles - 10/2/2010  [View Log Page]
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I was in Austin over the weekend to visit family, and she wanted to go to Penn Field, site of a former Army Air Forces airfield (our father was a pilot in WWII, and the family is from Round Rock & Georgetown - and includes the creator of RR donuts, but more about that later!).  

This is such an interesting place to visit at dusk!  Didn't even dream of it having a geocache, too!  Will have to come back and hunt that another time.  I was most intrigued by the Gibson Guitar Private Showroom with great neon hotel and bar signs and guitars - what's it used for??  

The water feature made from two airplane tail fins is really neat, especially in that golden, late afternoon sun - GORGEOUS!  Take the time to come out here - and look into the history too! 


Recommended Item

Recommended Item The Stars Were Big and Bright: The United States Army Air Forces and Texas During World War II
Thomas Alexander
List Price: $26.95 Our price: $68.95 Buy Now
For this second volume of his critically acclaimed and award-winning study of World War II airfields, the author has extensively researched eleven more of the sixty-five bases that were located in Texas. Included are chapters on military air installations near Pampa, Hondo, Del Rio, Midland, Marfa, El Paso, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Austin, Big Spring, and Houston. The book provides both a compelling and fascinating view of life on the Texas home front during the war, and serves as a much needed reference guide to the once mighty airfields that have been for the most part abandoned and forgotten. It also serves as a tribute to the thousands of men and women in uniform who came to the Lone Star State to learn the skills of war nearly sixty years ago.