Rubidoux, California, located in Riverside County, is nestled in the Jurupa Valley between the Santa Ana River and the Santa Ana Mountains. This fertile valley is known for its citrus, as one of the first areas in eastern California to be settled by Europeans and more recently, as the birthplace of baseball’s infamous Barry Bonds. Aviators and aviation enthusiasts know Rubidoux as the home of Flabob Airport (KRIR).
Often overshadowed by nearby Riverside Municipal Airport (KRAL), Flabob Airport, originally founded in 1925, is one of California’s oldest continuously operating airports. Flabob is named for machinists Flavio Madariaga and his aeronautical engineer partner Bob Bogen. Legend has it that in 1943 they were looking for a place outside of Los Angeles for their burgeoning machine shop with room for an airstrip. This would enable them to make aerial deliveries of supplies and parts. A little airstrip adjoining the village of Rubidoux was purchased and history was made.
Flabob is home to EAA Chapter One and a chapter of the Antique Airplane Association. EAA Chapter One, the mother of all chapters. Founded by pioneering aircraft designer Ray Stits, Chapter One is the first and largest locally authorized chapter outside of the original Milwaukee, Wisconsin, location. Over 11,000 Young Eagles have taken flight from the airstrip. Legendary stunt pilot Frank Tallman had a hangar that housed a military aircraft restoration shop and a production company that produced aerial photography and flying sequences for movies and television shows. Stunt pilot and acrobatic legend Art Scholl owned and operated an aerobatic school here. Needless to say, Flabob has a long and deep history in homebuilding, experimental and antique aircraft and aviation stewardship.
Like many precious gems, time, neglect and Flavio’s passing took its toll. In 2000, the Wathen Foundation, founded by the former head of the Pinkerton security company Thomas W. Wathen, bought the airport and saved it from going under. Since then, the Foundation has restored existing structures, upgraded the runway and taxiways, built a new large hangar and meeting place for EAA Chapter One and thankfully for the foodies, returned the airport café to its original splendor.
The Flabob Airport Café is housed in a building which was originally the cookhouse of the NCO Club at Camp Haan. Madariaga, the ultimate scrounger, bought the building for a dollar and dragged it from March Field (today know as March Air Reserve Base - KRIV) back to Flabob. He added a spacious porch and stone fireplace and erected in its present location on the flight line. The current incarnation of the café does its legacy proud. As Marshall Lumsden wrote in the November 2004 issue of Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine, “…the café is a portal to the old Flabob.”
I believe that Flavio would appreciate the 12-foot replica of the Wright Flyer outside the café scavenged from a former Rose Parade float. He would also be pleased with the “Flabob Express.” This classic 1940’s DC-3 has been housed at Flabob since 2001. It continues to fly at air shows, do scenic flights, tours and funeral fly-overs. It even gives the DC-3 personal flight experience to those who want to put some DC-3 time in their logbook.