By Kim Rahn
Singer Patti Kim, who is celebrating the 50th anniversary of her debut, recently said on a talk show that she took a flight to Tokyo in 1960 from Yeouido Airport, central Seoul.
An airport in Yeouido?
Yes, Korea's first airport was in Yeouido, which is now the nation's financial hub and packed with skyscrapers.
Until the early 1900s, Yeouido was farming land, but in 1916 during Japan's colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945), the Japanese army built an airstrip there.
In May 1920, two Italian airmen making a cross-Eurasian flight arrived at the airfield before heading for Tokyo, and were greeted by tens of thousands of Koreans in a welcoming ceremony to see the new means of transportation.
Two years later, Korea's first pilot Ahn Chang-nam who studied in Japan flew from Japan to Korea and was met with cheers from Koreans at the airfield.
In April 1929, the airstrip was expanded and was upgraded to an official airport as part of Japan's plan to make Yeouido a stopover for flights between Japan and Manchuria.
As an official airport, Yeouido was equipped with basic facilities, including staff offices, telephones, anemoscope, anemometer and a 231-square-meter terminal.
The official opening ceremony was held on Sept. 24 that year, the same day as another airport was opened in Ulsan in the southeast of the peninsula. In addition the Japanese colonial authorities built airports in Daegu, Pyongyang, Sineuiju, Cheongjin and Hamheung.
The Japanese air force and civilian carriers used Yeouido Airport during colonial rule. In 1936, marathoner Sohn Ki-chung arrived at the airport after winning a gold medal at the Berlin Olympics under the flag of Japan, but this time no cheering crowds greeted him.
After independence, Korea National Airlines, a predecessor of Korean Air, used the airport and from 1953 international flights operated there.
However, the airport was unusable during the summer rainy season due to frequent flooding, so Gimpo International Airport was opened in January 1958. Yeouido Airport was then used as an air force base until it was closed in February 1971.
The airport was turned into a plaza where mass gatherings were held, and became a bicycle park at weekends. In 1999, the asphalt was removed, grass was planted and the site was renamed Yeouido Park.