On July 8, 1987, three longtime workers at the Issaquah Skyport, a center for sky sports for nearly 30 years, make one last early morning sky dive. After years of controversy over the future of the airfield, located on the historic Pickering farm just north of Interstate-90, its lease has expired, a bond issue to buy the property and keep the parachute and gliding center operating has narrowly failed, and the Skyport is forced to make way for a shopping center development. Shortly after Skyport operator Jamey Woodward flies the last two planes from the field ahead of an 8 a.m. eviction deadline, developers Lang Sligh and Dennis Scholl mark large white X’s at each end of the runway, the international sign for a closed airfield. The Pickering Place shopping center is subsequently built on the site.
Parachutes and Balloons
The airfield in Issaquah was originally built on Pickering family land in 1941 by partners Ab Davies and Al Lockwood, who called it the Seattle Sky Ranch. Business at the Sky Ranch boomed when World War II ended and former soldiers took advantage of the G.I. Bill to go to flight school. The Sky Ranch operated until 1951, when the end of the G.I bill and rising rent forced it to close.
In 1961, Linn Emrich leased the airfield, now called the Skyport, from the Pickering family. Emrich founded the Seattle Sky Sports Club, which provided training in parachuting, gliding, and ballooning, and hosted weekly air shows that attracted large numbers of spectators. The Skyport became part of Issaquah’s identity. Issaquah T-shirts showed parachutes and balloons floating over the Issaquah Valley.
By the late 1970s, a boom in housing and commercial development in Issaquah began to encroach on the Skyport. The Pickerings sold their property to a real estate company in 1975. The new owners continued leasing the airfield to Emrich, but soon sought to terminate the lease, touching off years of controversy and litigation over the site’s future.
The legal battle eventually reached the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the property owners, and in 1987 the Skyport’s lease came to an end. That May, 55 percent of voters supported a $5.2 million bond issue for the public to buy the Skyport and keep it operating. However, the bond issue needed 60 percent approval to pass. The same month, following two years of debate, the Issaquah City Council approved a plan for a business park on the site.
One Last Flight
The Skyport was to close on June 30, 1987, but Jamey Woodward, the parachute center operator, went to court, arguing that he had a verbal agreement with the developers to operate through the summer. However, Woodward chose not to pursue the case, and agreed to vacate by 8 a.m. on July 8, 1987. Early that morning, Woodward piloted the plane for his three workers to make the final parachute jump, then flew the final two planes off the field shortly before developers Lang Sligh and Dennis Scholl marked it closed.
Woodward moved the parachute center to Harvey Airfield in Snohomish. Skyport operator Linn Emrich stored his airplanes and gliders while he looked for a new location.
The former Skyport is now (2003) the location of the Pickering Place shopping center.