In 1922, the Douglas Aircraft Company moved to an abandoned movie studio in Santa Monica and began making military planes. At nearby Clover Field, a 15-acre landing site named for World War I pilot Lt. Greayer "Grubby" Clover, Douglas tested their aircraft.
On March 17, 1924, he made history when eight Army airmen took off from Clover Field in four single-engine, open-cockpit Douglas World Cruisers. They intended to circle the globe, but stopped by Seattle so they could designate it as their takeoff point. That would trim time off their journey--two weeks, as it turned out.
The aviators flew into sandstorms, driving rain, Arctic winds and, once, a mountain. Two planes crashed, but no one died. The two remaining aircraft returned to Clover Field 28,945 miles and 175 days later, having gone round the world and sealed Douglas Aircraft's reputation.
When the 115th Observation Squadron, 40th Division Air Service, was formed in 1924, the Unit held its meetings at Clover Field, Santa Monica, using Reserve Equipment planes for flying. Later on, the Squadron met at the National Guard Armory and also at the University of Southern California. In 1925, several months after its organization, the Squadron moved to permanent quarters at Griffith Park, Los Angeles. The site also served as a site for training Organized Reserve Air Corps units from its opening until 1 July 1929 when the Organized Reserve Aerodrome activity moved to Long Beach Municipal Airport.
Eleven years later, Douglas built the civilian DC (for Douglas Commercial) models, revolutionizing air travel as an undertaking for ordinary passengers, not just the daring. The aircraft made its maiden voyage from Santa Monica.
Douglas held on through the Depression, expanding Clover Field. But a world war loomed, sending him and his production line into overdrive.
By now fiercely competitive with Los Angeles' seven other major aircraft manufacturers, Douglas was forced to suppress his competitive spirit and play nicely with his competitors. The companies, which included Northrop and Lockheed, were required to combine operations temporarily to meet wartime demand.
He hated it, but went along for the duration.
"When the dictators are finally bombed off this Earth, we shall become rugged individualists and rivals again," Douglas wrote in a 1942 magazine article.
In 1940, as a morale booster for his employees, who were already cranking out warplanes and working round-the-clock shifts, he opened the Aero Theater on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. He kept it operating at all hours so his workers and the public could enjoy brand new Abbott and Costello comedies and other Hollywood releases.
With World War II raging in Europe, Douglas realized well before Pearl Harbor that his plant was a sitting duck for an air attack. He didn't wait for the government to protect him; he took the controls. Douglas asked his chief engineer and test pilot, Frank Collbohm, and a renowned architect, H. Roy Kelley, to devise a way to camouflage the plant. (Later, Collbohm would found Rand Corp. and Kelley would design its headquarters.)
Together with Warner Bros. studio set designers, they made the plant and airstrip disappear--at least from the air.
Almost 5 million square feet of chicken wire, stretched across 400 tall poles, canopied the terminal, hangars, assorted buildings and parking lots. Atop the mesh stood lightweight wood-frame houses with attached garages, fences, clotheslines, even "trees" made of twisted wire and chicken feathers spray-painted to look like leaves.
Tanker trucks spewed green paint on the runway to simulate a field of grass. Streets and sidewalks were painted on the covering to blend into the adjacent Sunset Park neighborhood of modest homes that housed Douglas employees.
The tallest hangar was made to look like a gently sloping hillside neighborhood. Designers even matched up the painted streets with real ones.
When they were done, the area was so well disguised that pilots had a hard time finding Clover Field. Some of them landed at nearby airstrips instead, protesting that someone had moved the field.
Douglas adapted. When planes were due, he stationed men at each end of the runway to wave red flags like matadors. Eventually, the signalmen were replaced with white markers painted on the hillsides.
(The facade was such a success that Warner Bros. replicated it, fearing that the studio looked like an aircraft plant from the air.)
The simulated neighborhood became such a part of the community that, when Douglas Aircraft shed its disguise in July 1945, it was as if a landmark had been destroyed.
In the summer of 1943 Clover Field was chosen by the AAF to be one of six locations in the country as a Redistribution Center for veterans returning from overseas who were being assigned to new state-side duties. The veterans were housed in local resort hotels.
After the war Douglas moved away from Santa Monica, but its memory is forever etched in the history of the town.
|US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941||1922-1929||
|US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941||1924-1925||
|Army of the United States Station List||1 June 1943||
|Army of the United States Station List||7 April 1945||