Beauty and Beast: How a Dismantled Airport Bred Ingenuity and Recklessness

The former site of Woodbridge Airport hides an area where ingenious planning and reckless behavior coexist.

In hopes of capturing photos of local bikers doing aerial jumps, I went to the dirt field located behind Griffith Avenue in Woodbridge on July 13 to complete my weekly  

In the late afternoon, I found nothing more than the leftovers of clandestine parties, eerily ensconced in the branches of spindly pines or half-buried in the ground. I felt like a trespasser in a land of teenage rituals, among the stash of discarded razors, energy-drink bottles and unidentifiable debris.

The silence of a burnt desert and the colors and shapes of the landscape reminded me of Western scenery and the sandstone hoodoos of Southern Utah. Unlike natural formations, the mounds in this field have been crafted over two decades of handmade and hard-won labor by a group of anonymous teenagers.

The structures of these dirt jumps speak of a subtle engineering art: each formation is packed upon old tires, concrete pipes, or wooden crates. I’d like to imagine the boys and girls who planned the shapes, calculated the risk and the distance between each rise and fall of earthy waves, and lost hours dreaming of their own biking bravado.

In this picture I would place a younger version of Martin, a man I met while I was shooting scenery, performing stunts on his bicycle in the early 1990s. No longer willing to ride the jumps, Martin likes to watch others bike. 

As he spoke of the heyday of the field in which we stood, he told me what he would do with this land. His ideas, which included managing and extending the area, were reasonable. Potentially, if the community supported such management, the field could once more host a group of biking aficionados. Properly maintained, the field would be free of waste and illicit behavior.

The history of the area is difficult to research. Martin told me of the earlier days of the biking field, but he didn't know that we stood near the former site of a small airport.  

From the early 1960s to May 1987, the land surrounding Dillingham Square was known as Woodbridge Airport, built with a single 2,246-foot-long runway perpendicular to Old Bridge Road. 

My friend Jim Lucore, a former charter pilot, remembers well flying clients to and from the airport, before housing developments popped up at increasing speed in Lake Ridge. The airport was replaced with the usual trappings of suburbia: a strip mall, a gas station and a few banks and restaurants.

Sometime after the airport's landing strip was parceled and bulldozed –after Dillingham Square shops were built and a parking lot firmly poured into place–plans were laid for the biking field. 

No one has been able to tell me who shaped the mounds or exactly when. The genesis of that land seems imbedded in as much mystery as the nearby patch of dirt containing an alarming number of disposable razors and empty medicine bottles.

Perhaps more puzzling is the answer to these questions: Where have the bikers gone? At what point did the balance between ingenuity and recklessness tip towards a teenage wasteland?

On my way home, I had a single thought. The field was a representation of beauty and beast and the divide between Jekyll and Hyde. Yet as I later edited the photographs, it was beauty that moved me: not the prettiness of the wildflowers, but the masterful landscaping of unknown bikers. 

Perhaps someone will read this article and tell me that the dirt field is no mystery at all, that the land was planned by middle-aged, paunchy councilmen eager to create a space in which to contain the angst of adolescence. If such is the case, so be it. In the meantime, I will continue to think of the field as a monument to the passions—good and bad—of youth.

Zachary Quinn September 18, 2011 at 10:22 PM
For everyone who doesn't know the Jumps got plowed last week and the construction of a day care center has begun... RIP
Chocolate December 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM
Read all the comments on here. Great article, and sounds like some great people that helped shape this place. Its a shame they destroyed them again. When this place was being shaped in the early 90s by Robbie and everyone else, I was just being born (1992). I got into skateboarding/bmx/inline in the late 90s. The best thing about this article is I can relate to it so well because I had the very same thing in my neighborhood in Dale City. If you go to the closest water tower near Saunders Middle School, you will see a small strip of several jumps that me and my buddies put together in elementary school.They are baby jumps compared to what was at Village, only dirt mounds now, and we had a lot of less space to work with. But, it was the same type of bond. Our jumps evolved overtime and we made the best of what we had. There were about 6 of us, and these guys are basically family. Only people I chill with are the ones I met in this said neighborhood building these jumps together. 3 of us are working jobs, another is serving in the USMC infantry division, and we had another friend pass away in an drunk driving crash as a passenger. Crazy how time flies. We went to the village jumps here and now, honestly they were so big we couldn't even jump most of them, just the mid-sized ones. I remember at the time, even though I was 11 or 12 years old, seeing the whole lay out of those jumps... i just thought it was such a unique place that i just wasn't used to seeing.
Chocolate December 18, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Not trying to compare it to what was done at the Village jumps, it was on a bigger scale. We didn't have snap magazine come and do shoots. But when we all got off the bus from grade school, we dropped our backpacks off at our individual houses, ride our bmx bikes up the street and meet up at the water tower jumps for a session, or to improve the jumps. Just as you all would do. Miss those times to man. I'm always feeling nostalgic about my past, and a lot of it had to do with action sports and the people I enjoyed riding/skating with. I feel like in the 90s and early 2000s, action sports was so raw. Anything went. Building dirt jumps in a vacant dirt field, or in an area behind a water tower, its an escape man. Love it. I miss Vans a lot, if you were a local there you already know. It sucks to see a piece of history like the jumps behind Village be demolished. With both these spots gone though, it is disappointing. However, when this article came out mid-summer, and comments were made about needing a skatepark, officials were just about ready to break ground on the renovation of the skatepark at Veterans Park. Now about 5 months later we are nearing the completion of a new spot at Vets. Its still in progress, but they have a good portion of the street course poured, a huge kidney bowl, along with the vert ramp that was already there. Check out the progress in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTrNdWFwafY
Chocolate December 18, 2011 at 12:22 AM
I haven't skated nearly as much as I did when Vans closed. A lot of it is because there wasn't a park near me to skate. But I'm glad it is getting done and although im late to see this, I just wanted to share that video and my thoughts Here is to the ones we lost
seemore butts August 17, 2012 at 06:09 AM
I also rode these jumps in 94-96. I knew them as Weiss Jumps. bought my first bmx, a chrome GT, in the bike shop on the corner of the strip mall. Everyone who rode was cool. Gave me something to do besides drugs, smoking, gangs, ect. The (Common Weath) should give the youth a chance at something like this park.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »