When AOPA was formed in 1939, its headquarters was located at 1425 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That’s where one of AOPA’s founders, C. Townsend Ludington, had his law offices. The fourth floor was where AOPA’s first employee—and future president—Joseph B. “Doc” Hartranft toiled away at efforts designed to attract new AOPA members. AOPA had yet to publish a newsletter or magazine, so Hartranft built his mailing lists surrounded by film cans and boxes of potatoes. Why film and potatoes? Ludington produced a film titled Crime Does Not Pay, so the film reels were stored there. As for the potato storage, Ludington was working on a method of vacuum-packing them.
From November 1939 through September 1942, the “AOPA News,” “AOPA Section,” and “AOPA Pilot” inserts in Ziff’s Flying and Popular Aviation then simply Flying (the magazine changed its name three times during the 1940s) were written out of the Chicago office. Once a deal with The Ziff-Davis Publishing Company was signed (see “ AOPA’s Big Idea,” page 72), AOPA moved its offices to Chicago, where it was set up at The Transportation Building, located at 608 South Dearborn Street—right down the hall from Ziff-Davis’ editorial offices.
When World War II broke out, Hartranft was called up for duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps. His assignment was in Washington, D.C., where he served on what was called the Interagency Air Traffic Control Board, a panel of representatives who ruled on operational disputes between military and civil aviation. Hartranft still had his job at AOPA, so he relocated the organization to Washington.
AOPA’s first office in D.C. was in The Carpenters Building at 1003 K Street, N.W. (from September 1942 to November 1945). Then it was moved to the International Building at 1319 F Street, N.W. (from November 1945 to September 1947), and to The Washington Building at 15th and New York Avenue, N.W. (from September 1947 to June 1951). Hartranft submitted his articles for the AOPA inserts to Ziff-Davis’ Chicago offices during this period. There, Ziff-Davis staffers edited the copy, laid out the pages, and prepared the inserts for publication. As the AOPA inserts grew in size, it became clear that they required an editor dedicated solely to the task.
In 1948, Hartranft hired Max Karant—who previously worked for Flying—to be the first editor of “The AOPA Pilot,” as the section was now called.
In June 1951, Hartranft moved AOPA’s offices once again, and this time relocated Karant and “The AOPA Pilot” to the Keiser Building at 4644 East-West Highway in Bethesda, Maryland—a Washington suburb. In some ways, the section had become more independent of Ziff-Davis now that it had a small staff of its own. But “The AOPA Pilot” was still an insert in Flying and would be until March 1958.
As AOPA grew during the 1950s and 1960s, so did its staff—and the magazine staff, too. By 1972, the Keiser Building was too small for AOPA and its now-independent magazine, The AOPA Pilot. It was a smallish, two-story building that looked much like the squat structures you see in many of today’s office parks.
So AOPA moved once again. This time, it was a short move—just a block away, to the Air Rights Building at 7315 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. AOPA rented the entire tenth floor of this high-rise office building, and the spacious new digs gave staffers all the room they needed. The AOPA Pilot’s offices looked out over the west side of Bethesda—a tiny town back then. Today, it’s a modernistic concrete jungle, chock a block with high-rises.
The Air Rights Building was a prominent landmark in the 1970s and 1980s. A big part of that prominence was the signage on the building’s rooftop. One huge sign said “Air Rights.” And above it was another sign, this one in red neon lights. It said “AOPA.” So when you went down Wisconsin Avenue, especially at night, you couldn’t help but see “AOPA” in lights. Many people thought that the “Air Rights” part of the signage had to do with AOPA’s advocacy of general aviation’s rights to equal airspace access. But the real answer is more prosaic. The fact is that a railroad ran beneath the building. When the builders told the railroad company they wanted to build on the site, the company sold the rights to build above the rail bed—the “air rights” they needed to erect the building into the airspace above the railroad.
It was Hartranft who succeeded in getting the lighted “AOPA” sign in such a strategic location. To passers-by, or visitors from the Washington bureaucracy, the sight of what seemed to say “AOPA—Air Rights” in huge letters was an impressive display of AOPA’s rising political power. Some thought we owned the entire building!
But even the rented space in the Air Rights Building became too small for what was quickly becoming a 200-employee staff. In the late 1970s, an AOPA committee began a search for a site to build a new, purpose-built office building—one that we’d construct ourselves and own outright. One non-negotiable mandate was to secure a location on an airport. After years of searching, AOPA finally decided on a building site at the Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland. Loans were secured, the city of Frederick pitched in by floating a bond, and construction of a two-story, modern office building began in 1982.
By May 1983 the building was completed and AOPA moved into its state-of-the-art new headquarters at 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland, bearing the bold aluminum letters “AOPA” on the second floor. Perhaps the best feature of our new building is its adjoining ramp space. Visitors can taxi their airplanes right onto AOPA’s ramp, then go inside for a tour. If you come by, stop in at AOPA Pilot’s current offices. Just go in the front door and check in with the receptionist. We’re on the second floor. See the wall filled with magazine covers in our lobby. Welcome!
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