Why the Museum is named after Louis A. Turpen

Hamilton Field
Early passion for aviation, Hamilton Field, 1963

The San Francisco Airport Commission named the Aviation Museum in honor of Louis A. Turpen, for his dedication to aviation, past, present and future. His passion for aviation started as a young man and became his primary driving force throughout his career and beyond.

A visionary with a commitment to excellence, he recognized SFO’s potential and, utilizing his impressive leadership skills, worked tirelessly to achieve it. In doing so, Lou paved the way for other airports to follow. In the 1980s he understood that he needed to address several key areas in order to make the airport the best it could be: safety and security were vital to the operation of any airport; a positive passenger experience would be key to success; concessions could be a significant driver for enhanced revenue; and that being the community’s advocate for noise and the environment would bring rewarding collaboration and partnerships. These ideas, and so many more, ultimately became models for airports across the country.

Lou’s passion for the industry was not limited to what the future of aviation might hold. He was fascinated by its rich history and knew that the future of aviation was rooted in its past. Lou wanted to insure that aviation history would not be lost in time. On December 24, 1987, as he was leaving his office, he stopped to look at a photograph of SFO’s 1937 passenger terminal.

As he looked at the photograph, which now resides in the Museum, he was struck by the idea of creating an aviation museum. It would be the first aviation museum in an airport in the USA. What better place to preserve and display aviation history than in a museum that replicated an early SFO passenger terminal? That idea became the catalyst for the creation and establishment of a permanent collection of artifacts and ephemera related to the history of San Francisco International Airport, the Bay Area’s legacy of aviation achievements, and the development of commercial aviation. Through his vision, passion, and commitment, Lou provided the support necessary to see his idea come to fruition.

Original passenger terminal, circa 1937
Original passenger terminal, circa 1937

Louis A. Turpen was the founding President of the Society Board of Directors, became an Emeritus Member in 2018, and in 2019 received the non-profit San Francisco Aeronautical Society Achievement in Aviation Medallion.

Louis A. Turpen
Working in the office at San Francisco International Airport, 1995

In addition, Louis A. Turpen has received many esteemed honors and awards for lifelong work in aviation including:

  • Induction into the Living Legends of Aviation at the 2013 Awards Ceremony by the “Official Ambassador of Aviation”, John Travolta
  • Receiving the Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) highest honor, the Downes Award, for outstanding leadership in promoting the cause of airports and aviation throughout the local, national and worldwide communities in 2013.
  • Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in Great Britain in 1991
  • Honored by the San Francisco Airports Commission in the dedication of the Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum at San Francisco International Airport in 1996.

“SFO’s success simply would not have been possible without Lou’s leadership. As Director of SFO from 1981 – 1995, Lou oversaw a complete rebuild of the terminal complex, including the two-million square foot International Terminal and roadway system that opened in 2000. At that time, he had the vision to create this museum and launch the San Francisco Aeronautical Society, which now provides exhibits and education about the development of commercial aviation over the years.”

IVAR C. SATERO, Airport Director, San Francisco International Airport