Brookeridge Airpark (LL22), in Downers Grove, Ill., is the closest residential airport to Chicago. Now thriving, it’s hard to believe that this airpark was on the verge of being closed in the late 1960s.
In the early 1950s, pilot Austin Talbert had a vision to create a residential airpark where pilots could live with their airplanes. He purchased the 23-acre Brookeridge airport with its single grass strip and surrounding farmland.
Shortly after the purchase, he relocated the turf runway to its present north/south configuration. He did most of the grading himself and subdivided the land into five-acre and smaller ¾-acre parcels on the south side of the runway. Smaller lots had a price tag of $4,000 and larger lots were sold for $13,000 — quite a bit of money back then considering non-airport ¾-acre lots were selling for less than $1,000.
Although lot sales were modest, Talbert continued with phase two of his plan and added a longer east/west turf runway. The north side of the airport continued to be used as a farm to graze cattle.
In the late 1960s, Talbert had to sell the airport. The new owner, Bill Harris, bought it for $46,000 on a land contract with very little money down.
To the chagrin of the surrounding neighbors, he began operating a Twin Beech mail courier service in the middle of the night. It did not take long before neighbors began to complain about the noise. Those complaints soon reached the ears of state and FAA officials and the airport found itself in serious jeopardy of losing its certificate of operation.
The loss of the certificate was of no concern to Harris as he figured the land would be worth more subdivided. He knew the covenants restricted him from subdividing the airport unless the certificate was revoked.
But Neal Ridenour, a pilot who was in the process of building his home on the airport, understood the gravity of the situation at hand. He walked into Harris’ hangar in 1968 and stated, “I want to buy the airport.” Harris answered, “It’s not for sale,” to which Ridenour responded, “Yes it is, just give me a number.” So he did: “$96,000 and it’s yours.”
Ridenour left the hangar and began talking with other property owners about buying the land and saving the airpark. After a few months — and countless meetings — Ridenour gathered a group of 26 residents and land owners and successfully purchased the airport for $96,000. The airport was saved.
The commercial operation was immediately closed down and a no-takeoff restriction was imposed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., with no restrictions on landings.
With the future of the airport secure, a group of residents purchased a farm to the north and began building new homes.
During the next 10 years, construction was at a fever pitch with the majority of the 83 homes with direct access to the airport completed. At the same time, paved runways were installed with parallel turf runways on either side. Paved taxiways were also added. Other improvements included lights, a fuel farm, and an instrument approach.
As Brookeridge grew and improved, so did the surrounding townships. Today, shopping, dining, entertainment, golf, other sporting facilities, and expressways are only minutes away.
Even more important, Brookeridge is a close-knit community with many neighborhood events, parks, lakes, and a forest preserve. The airpark is home to a wide variety of airplanes, ranging from experimentals, a Stearman, AT-6s, aerobatic planes, singles of all kinds, and large twin Cessnas.
There are also a wide variety of homes ranging from $500,000 to $2.5 million, with the majority of home values between $600,000 and $800,000.