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Landing soon: Food, community to return to former Downtown Airpark Terminal

The Downtown Airpark Terminal, shown in this photo taken shortly after it opened in 1947, was a busy spot for Oklahoma City's aviation community and corporate leaders in the decades following the end of World War II. [OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY]
The Downtown Airpark Terminal, shown in this photo taken shortly after it opened in 1947, was a busy spot for Oklahoma City's aviation community and corporate leaders in the decades following the end of World War II. [OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY]

A step inside the former Downtown Airpark Terminal, now part of the Wheeler neighborhood, is a reflection of the past and a glimpse of the future.

The airpark was hailed as one of the first of its kind when it opened on July 4, 1947. Thousands were treated to aerial maneuvers by Tinker pilots, a display of the latest light plane models, a drill by Civil Air Patrol cadets and an air to ground communications demonstration.

With founders including Amis Construction and Kerr-McGee, the airpark was a hub of aviation and commerce for a half century. For much of that history, travelers and visitors could count on a good cup of coffee and comfort food from diner owner Ivy Lundy and then her daughter, Kay.

Business was good. The airpark's operations included maintenance and refurbishment on several different types of aircraft, including the Aero Commander, King Air and other piston- and turbine-powered aircraft, including helicopters.

The terminal and cafe were at the heart of the operation. Back in the heyday of the early 1980s oil boom, business at the park topped $20 million and employed more than 140 people. And for years the cafe was the Tuesday morning gathering spot for southside city council members.

By 2005, however, the airpark’s finances were in free fall, the operation went bankrupt and Kay Lundy fought to keep the cafe open even after the roar of plane engines went silent.

The transformation of the airpark into the Wheeler neighborhood has been in the works for several years, but the idea of bringing the cafe back to life dates to the start of the dream. Ashley Terry, director of public life at Wheeler, recalls time and time again during community input into the development, restoration of the terminal and airplane hanger were mentioned as priorities.

So as the home construction got started, so did restoration of the terminal building.

“This building has served food to generations of people, and we really felt that in its reincarnation it should have the same purpose,” Terry said. “We really see this as a hub for the Wheeler community, a destination to introduce people to what Wheeler is all about.”

Restoration of the terminal into a cafe was never in question, nor was the choice of the team to operate the eatery, the same people who run Hunny Bunny Biscuit Co. and Packard’s New American Kitchen.

John Ross, Nick Schaefer, James Como and Robert Cote are preparing to open an all-day cafe that includes hints of the diner of yesteryear while also reflecting a more current look inspired by a travels to areas that also inspired the Wheeler master plan.

Those trips included stays at Carlton Landing, developed by Grant Humphreys (whose brother Blair is developing Wheeler), to Seaside, Florida, a model for new urbanist design, and to Copenhagen, Denmark.

“We took a lot of good ideas from Copenhagen,” Ross said. “We want it to feel as if visitors can hang out here all day and that it’s not just suited for breakfast or dinner or a certain time of the day.”

The blue vinyl booths where customers gathered for Lundy’s homemade peach cobbler are long gone, and the booths installed for Terminal Commons are high tech, wired for phone and laptop charging.

The restaurant includes a countertop and has the feel of a diner, yet the cafe also will have bar service for adults and soft-serve ice cream for families. The west entrance which once opened to the airpark runways will instead lead to a playground being brought in from Germany and a patio where parents can enjoy a meal while their children play nearby.

The steel structure for the Big Friendly brewery and tap room can be seen already — yet another Wheeler anchor that is set to open this summer.

Long-term plans call for the playground and Terminal Commons to be the southern terminus of a yet to be built Spoke Street, with the northern end at the Wheeler Ferris Wheel that overlooks the Oklahoma River.

“The vision for Wheeler has always been to have a complete neighborhood, a mixed-use community,” Terry said. “You live here, you work here, you play here and you eat here. The idea is for anyone who lives in Wheeler is you can park your car on Friday night, come over and grab a coffee at Terminal Commons on Saturday morning, grab a beer at the Big Friendly on Saturday afternoon, and they can bike or walk from place to place.”

Ross said the cafe’s menu will include pizza, pastas, salads and light take-out meals, along with a full coffee bar and limited cocktail and beer selection.

The aviation heritage of Terminal Commons is subtly told with murals painted in the restaurant by Tulsa artist Sarah Sullivan. Terry said plans also include displaying the Haire Airport Trophy awarded when the airpark opened.

“The history of this building has informed almost every decision we’ve made from its program to the way that it looks,” Terry said. “You’ll see little touches of it everywhere.”

Related Photos
<strong>The Terminal Commons will be the first restaurant to open at Wheeler in what was the Downtown Airpark hub of operations.  [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN]</strong>

The Terminal Commons will be the first restaurant to open at Wheeler in what was the Downtown Airpark hub of operations. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-bdc0ad98c3ea4e2638c07b5fd533f912.jpg" alt="Photo - The Terminal Commons will be the first restaurant to open at Wheeler in what was the Downtown Airpark hub of operations. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" The Terminal Commons will be the first restaurant to open at Wheeler in what was the Downtown Airpark hub of operations. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> The Terminal Commons will be the first restaurant to open at Wheeler in what was the Downtown Airpark hub of operations. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-91ff39bcf61419d9242b27c87c45d17d.jpg" alt="Photo - From left, John Ross, Nick Schaefer, James Como and Robert Cote are in final preparations to open the Terminal Commons restaurant next month at Wheeler. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" From left, John Ross, Nick Schaefer, James Como and Robert Cote are in final preparations to open the Terminal Commons restaurant next month at Wheeler. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> From left, John Ross, Nick Schaefer, James Como and Robert Cote are in final preparations to open the Terminal Commons restaurant next month at Wheeler. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-356d7bdd827ca24c4310c190fb97208a.jpg" alt="Photo - The dining area in the Terminal Commons includes a fireplace and murals reflecting Wheeler's past as the Downtown Airpark. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" The dining area in the Terminal Commons includes a fireplace and murals reflecting Wheeler's past as the Downtown Airpark. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> The dining area in the Terminal Commons includes a fireplace and murals reflecting Wheeler's past as the Downtown Airpark. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e8162094b7e215db0e39cf9767765243.jpg" alt="Photo - Booths with hook-ups for phones and laptops line much of the dining area in the Terminal Commons. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Booths with hook-ups for phones and laptops line much of the dining area in the Terminal Commons. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Booths with hook-ups for phones and laptops line much of the dining area in the Terminal Commons. [CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-02e99772ed660ce42be718554ecdf29c.jpg" alt="Photo - Kay Lundy and her mother operated the Downtown Airpark Cafe from 1954 until it was forced to close in 2006 because of the bankruptcy of the airport a year earlier. The terminal is set to reopen as Terminal Commons, a restaurant with hints to the building's past. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] " title=" Kay Lundy and her mother operated the Downtown Airpark Cafe from 1954 until it was forced to close in 2006 because of the bankruptcy of the airport a year earlier. The terminal is set to reopen as Terminal Commons, a restaurant with hints to the building's past. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] "><figcaption> Kay Lundy and her mother operated the Downtown Airpark Cafe from 1954 until it was forced to close in 2006 because of the bankruptcy of the airport a year earlier. The terminal is set to reopen as Terminal Commons, a restaurant with hints to the building's past. [THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2e8fea2be5ec768584215cc2ea8e4ee3.jpg" alt="Photo - The Downtown Airpark Terminal, shown in this photo taken shortly after it opened in 1947, was a busy spot for Oklahoma City's aviation community and corporate leaders in the decades following the end of World War II. [OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY] " title=" The Downtown Airpark Terminal, shown in this photo taken shortly after it opened in 1947, was a busy spot for Oklahoma City's aviation community and corporate leaders in the decades following the end of World War II. [OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY] "><figcaption> The Downtown Airpark Terminal, shown in this photo taken shortly after it opened in 1947, was a busy spot for Oklahoma City's aviation community and corporate leaders in the decades following the end of World War II. [OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY] </figcaption></figure>
Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›

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