Forty Years Of Intercontinental Airport, For Better Or Worse

Monday marks the 40th anniversary of what is now Bush Intercontinental Airport, the huge facility north of town that forever banished Hobby Airport to second-class (a much more convenient second-class, though, if you ask us.)

IAH, as its known on luggage tags, was a modern marvel of little trains and massive terminals when it opened. Now it's where you tend to do a lot of driving getting to the right place.

Bush is somewhat remarkable in that it has not been the scene of a crash of any major import (neither has Hobby, really), so there's not a ton of history to tell about it.

But here are five things that probably won't get mentioned in the festivities:

5. Jetero Boulevard. This street, one of several roads leading to IAH, is the subject of a couple of (presumed to be) urban legends. One says the odd name came from a typo made when designating what was supposed to be "Jet Era Boulevard," back in the days when jets were still a big deal. Another says it was a payoff to the Jet Aero company, which was close to the notoriously ethics-casual county commissioners court back in the day. We always think of it as "Jethro Boulevard" anyway.

4. Christmas karaoke. For some reason, IAH officials decided last year that the way to relieve the incredible hassle of holiday travel was not to make things like getting to and from your car to your plane more convenient, but instead to make people listen to amateur singers wrestle "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" to the ground. Bush got international publicity for this. Not necessarily in a good way.

3. Calling it "Intercontinental."
Perhaps the lamest attempt ever at inflating the importance of something no one cares about anyway. Living so close to the border here, any two-bit strip of concrete can call itself an "international" airport, and that wouldn't do for the builders of the mighty IAH. So they had to go ahead and name it one of the more comically overblown names for any such facility, triggering 40 years of "Intergalactic" jokes.

2. Letting people build homes near future runways. We don't quite know how anyone buys a home near a major airport and then is surprised when there's a lot of airplane noise, but people living near new IAH runways had a long-running battle with government officials over the matter. The result was their homes were all bought up, creating a ghost town in the woods near Bush. Officials then offered the homes for sale for as little as a dollar. There weren't many takers, seeing as you had to agree to pay all the moving costs.

1. "Nigger International." After the tragic death of Congressman Mickey Leland in 1989, there was a push to rename IAH after him. Then-councilman Jim Westmoreland was caught on tape joking with a reporter that the city should rename the place "Nigger International. That way it would satisfy all the blacks."  Westmoreland said he used the word "Negro." In 1989. (The reporter who heard the joke worked for the Houston Post; the paper didn't write a story on it until the Chronicle did 10 days after the incident.) Westmoreland quickly lost a re-election race, and the city renamed the international terminal at IAH after Leland, and the entire airport after a white guy.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly