John H. Bower described the history of the airport property recently. Some of the gaps were filled once we found the deed for the property.
Gualala’s Golf Resort
In the early 1960s William “Bill” and Jane Segerstrom of Sonora, California purchased acreage on the ridge above Gualala with the goal of developing it into a 200-lot residential golf resort (much like The Sea Ranch). Then, as now, road access to the remote Gualala community was limited and they felt that a fly-in resort was the best option for their development. Just down the road from the golf course, John J. and Ida Bower had their own private dirt landing strip referred to as “Bower’s Field.”
The Segerstroms built their public airport with a paved runway so tourists and part-time residents could fly in to their golf development. Unlike modern airport installations, it did not have a thick base layer below the surface; instead it was just a thin layer of asphalt over compacted river run material. This was the beginning of what would become Ocean Ridge Airport. The airport’s original permit is dated September 3, 1963. At the time it was referred to as Segerstrom Airport.
Bower’s Field dirt strip is still down the road, although it has been abandoned for many decades. This property was donated to the school district and currently houses bus barns for the local schools.
Once the Segerstrom airport was built, they went to work digging wells for an irrigation system for their golf course turf. The wells were dug in the winter time and there was plenty of water only forty feet down. Then they worked with some local men to start construction on the golf course, building two ponds and hauling in large amounts of sand and top soil. However, once summer hit the coast, it was clear that the golf course would fail: the 15 or so ridge wells dried up completely so there would be no way to irrigate the golf course. At that time, Gualala’s municipal water service was in its infancy and could not supply enough water for the extensive irrigation so these wells were the only hope for the golf course.
The golf course development was abandoned. Eventually the Segerstroms defaulted on their property payments and were forced to sell it. John J. Bower purchased the parcels in 1974 and 1975 at a public auction and gave the land to his son, John H. Bower. The Segerstroms left the coast and headed inland to Imlay, Nevada and established a tungsten mining company.
Par for the Course—Gualala Gains a Park
Gualala may have lost out on its golf links, but it gained its first—and only—public park. When the Bower family purchased the Segerstrom property, a ten acre portion was immediately donated to the County of Mendocino for a park. It was a relatively easy transition to become a park since the land had already been graded and cleared of most trees. One of the golf course ponds remained in place and soon became home to flocks of ducks and geese.
For decades, children have enjoyed the park amenities, including tennis, basketball, baseball, the play structures, and fishing in the pond.
Ocean Ridge—More Than an Airport
At that time the airport was nothing more than a paved runway/taxiway with a small tie down area on the east side that could hold five airplanes. There was also a small office and garage.
Over time the Bower family built twelve hangars, a mini storage facility, and an industrial building that has housed everything from a brass garden fixture manufacturing company to a video game cartridge manufacturer to Gualala’s arts center before the current facility was built closer to downtown.
John H. Bower has lived at the airport since 1975. He and his wife, Peggy, converted the airport office into a cottage when they married and eventually turned it into a proper home as their family grew.
Ocean Ridge as a Community Asset
Today the airport continues to serve the community in a variety of ways. John and Peggy still live at the airport and enjoy seeing airplanes land and take off from their dining room window. There are several hangars rented by local pilots and the mini storage units are always full. The industrial building now hosts a cabinetmaker, a glass shop, and an machine shop. John H. Bower utilizes the property for his contracting business and logging operations. Once or twice a month an emergency helicopter ambulance flies a patient out from the airport, often when the landing pad at the Redwood Coast Medical Services office downtown is inaccessible due to fog. The South Coast Fire Department uses the open space surrounding the runway for fire drills, taking advantage of the windy conditions to train their crews for wildland emergencies.
John and Peggy’s children share their vision for the property—to keep the airport open to the public while continuing to utilize the property for a variety of industries.