Gillespie Field Grooves

The fifth Rolly Waters mystery, arriving March 15, 2023, is titled Gillespie Field Groove. Like all of my books, it uses an actual San Diego County location as part of the title (ie Black’s Beach, Border Field, Ballast Point), as well as a setting for some of the action. In this case I’ve used Gillespie Field, a small airport located in the eastern part of the county, in the city of El Cajon.

Gillespie Field runway approach

Like much of San Diego’s infrastructure, Gillespie Field’s history begins with World War II. The land was originally commissioned as a Marine Corps parachute training facility during the war. Marines practiced their parachuting skills there from 1942 to 1944. The field was named for Marine Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie, who commanded various California regiments during the Mexican-American War. In 1946 the County of San Diego leased Gillespie Field from the U.S. government and converted it to a public airport. The County was granted full ownership of the land in 1952.

Control Tower at Gillespie Field

As a I explained last month, part of the plot of Gillespie Field Groove is the search for a “lost” Jimi Hendrix guitar. So how was I going to work Gillespie Field into that? I found a couple of ways.

Surrounding the airport on both sides of the runway are a number of industrial parks. Since I’d already come up with a Russian gangster character, it was easy to imagine him running an illicit business out of one of these buildings, perhaps using the airport for moving contraband. A record producer is also one of the characters, so I created a professional recording studio in the area (as I realized later, Doubletime Studios, one of San Diego’s more durable and long-running studios, wasn’t far away).

Last, but not least, the headquarters and showroom for Taylor, San Diego’s high-end guitar manufacturer, is located in one of the surrounding industrial buildings, just a couple of blocks west of the airport. Since one of my characters was a luthier, I decided to have them work at Taylor (although I changed the name to Taybor).

On a reconnaissance visit to the area, I ate at the Gillespie Field Cafe, which sits just below the control tower on the concrete apron with dozens of small planes parked nearby. The restaurant’s patio provides a good view of takeoffs and landings through a widely-spaced metal fence. For those in the know, a pass-coded gate allows access to and from the parked planes. I worked the cafe into the plot as well, although I changed the name of the cafe to Archibald’s in honor of the airfield’s original namesake.

Eat your breakfast while you watch the planes outside
View of the airplanes from a patio table
Biplane takes off from Gillespie Airfield

In addition to all of the above, the San Diego County Sheriff’s aviation division, ASTREA, is headquartered at Gillespie Field. The San Diego Air & Space Museum (located in Balboa Park) maintains a museum annex as well as buildings for restoration work and storage. It all worked out well for the book. I even managed to work in some white-knuckle flight time for Rolly.

Part of the Air & Space Museum’s restoration and repair shop.