Currently, Brown Field looks like a ghost town — the Landing Strip Cafe and the Jet Engine Museum are always closed. An artist colony once existed here thanks to cheap rents, but they all left. Today planes come and go, but they’re private craft, so people don’t linger here for much of any reason at all.
History of Brown Field
Steven Schoenherr of the South Bay Historical Society has written a brief history of Brown Field that I’ve summarized here:
Brown Field, first known as East Field, was established April 7, 1918 on approximately 650 acres of leased land on Otay Mesa. Following World War I, East Field was deactivated, but the Navy began using the field for naval aviation in the 1930s.
In 1942 it was named after former local naval aviator, Cmdr. Melvin S. Brown.
Chula Vista High School used the empty barracks from 1947 to 1950.
One of Brown Field’s “claims to fame” happened in 1954 when Convair tested a unique vertical takeoff airplane called Pogo XP1.
The City of San Diego bought Brown Field in 1962 and it has been used as an airfield ever since. The airport does not include air carriers or military aircraft. Instead, it operates private, corporate and charter aircraft as well as air ambulance, law enforcement, fire rescue, flight training, cargo, skydiving, banner towing, and airships.
Interestingly, the Agape Foundation used Brown Field as a refugee center for Vietnamese in 1975. It then expanded in 1976 to become a temporary home for refugees from 10 other nations.
In 1987, Larry Val Dumlao established a colony for visual and theatrical artists at Brown Field. The very next year a Jet Engine Museum was opened.
Auto Wreckers, Recyclers and Auto Salvage
Brown Field is also surrounded by what people colloquially refer to as “junkyards”. If you’re an aficionado of auto parts, however, you know this is “The Brown Field Hill” where auto recyclers, auto wreckers and auto salvage companies create a bustling “swap meet for cars” every weekend.
Food trucks give visitors and employees excellent grub. Nowadays, if you’re looking for used auto parts, you can’t just roam around. Due to liability, you have to enter the trailer offices and employees look up the parts on a computer.
There’s something oddly beautiful about this place and it’s popular too. Take a look at the story these pictures tell:
On the other side of the auto recycling shops, you’ll find unpaved roads that lead to storage facilities used for cars, trailers and boats. There’s also a Border Patrol storage facility building and… the bunkers.
The bunkers are unmarked, but they’re a historic site. Unkept and forgotten, these are the tidbits of the South Bay that remain unknown to most of us.
Stay tune for my interview with an auto wrecker of Chula Vista, my “One Perfect Day in Otay Mesa” and quite a few other delights from what some people call “Dystopia”.