Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Santa Monica Municipal Airport
(Clover Field)
 
B-18A "Bolo" bombers being manufactured at Clover Field (National Museum of the US Air Force)
 
Extract, World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne

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.

 

An advertisement touting the concrete runway at Clover Field.
 
 
Undated US Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District History
 
The site, used by the Army Air Force, consisted of a total of 392.48 acres. Of these, 18.958 acres were acquired by condemnation (by Declaration of Taking with judgements dated from May 1944 through November 1946) from private owners and the City of Santa Monica, 373.214 acres by lease from the City of Santa Monica and private owners, and 0.308 acres by lesser interest (0.087 acres by two permits dated 25 September 1942 for a sewer line right-of -way and 0.221 acres by four easement deeds dated October 1942). The Board of Public Works of the City of Los Angeles gave revocable permission (dated 12 March 1945) to the U.S. government to close the northwesterly 400 feet of Cabrillo Boulevard and portions of Stanwood Drive and Santa Monica Avenue, extending northeasterly from Cabrilio Boulevard.

The site was used by the Army Air Forces as a factory school giving a 30-day course of advanced instruction in 1st and 2nd echelon maintenance and field emergency repairs on C-54 type army aircraft. The property was also used for housing and messing of students. Improvements to the site included warehouse, dispensory, hangars, bomb shelters, maintenance shop, school, and student quarters.

The site was declared surplus by the Army effective 22 January 1946. The War Department sold 0.414 acres of the 18.958 acres originally acquired by Declaration of Taking to the City of Santa Monica (quitclaim dated 14 September 1945). Custody of the remaining 18.544 acres was assumed by the War Assets Administration (WAA) dated 6 August 1947. Of the 373.214 acres originally leased to the War Department, custody of 222.284 acres was assumed by the WAA on 6 August 1947 and the leases on the 150.93 acres remaining were terminated between January 1944 and January 1947. The 0.308 acres of land obtained by lesser interest by the War Department became lesser interests of the WAA. Records of disposition of the remaining property by the WAA were not available. The property is currently owned by the City of Santa Monica and private ownership. Land usage includes the Santa Monica Airport, single-family residences, a school (Los Angeles Unified School District), Clover Park, and some commercial (restaurants) and heavy manufacturing (Lear Siegler Astronics Corp.) land uses.
 
Officers, enlisted personnel and civilian staff, 35th Army Air Forces Technical Training Detachment (Civilian Contract Factory School, Airframes), 13 November 1943.
 
 
US Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District History (19 May 1999)
 
The site consisted of a total of 392.48 acres. The site was used by the Army Air Force as a factory school giving a 30-day course of advanced instruction in 1st and 2nd echelon maintenance and field emergency repairs on C-54 type Army aircraft. The property was also used for housing and messing of students. The site was declared surplus in 1946. The property is currently owned by the City of Santa Monica and private ownership. Usage includes the Santa Monica Airport, single-family residences, a school, and some commercial and heavy manufacturing land uses. Several buildings are located at the airport; a terminal, operations and maintenance facilities, hangers, and a fire station. Most of the buildings appear to have been constructed after termination of Army property usage. Several old buildings, hangers and electrical transformers are located along Airport Avenue, at the southern end of the airport. However, these buildings and transformers appear to have been in recent or current use.
 
 
The Douglas XB-19 at Clover Field, 6 April 1941 (California Military Department Collection)
I
 
 
Known Army Units at Clover Field
 

 Data Source

Date(s)

 Unit(s)
US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941   1922-1929
Annual Summer Training:
California National Guard:
40th Division Air Service
115th Observation Squadron
Organized Reserves:
322d Pursuit Group,
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron
476th Pursuit Squadron
477th Pursuit Squadron
478th Pursuit Squadron
479th Pursuit Squadron
385th Service Squadron
 US Army Order of Battle 1919-1941  1924-1925
California National Guard
40th Division Air Service
115th Observation Squadron
 Army of the United States Station List  1 June 1943
Army Air Forces:
Training Detachment (Civilian Contract Factory School, Airframes), Army Air Forces Technical Training Command
 Army of the United States Station List  7 April 1945
Army Air Forces:
3707th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Headquarters Los Angeles Civilian School Area)
3714th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Factory School, Douglas Aircraft)
AAF - Army Air Forces units | AGF - Army Ground Forces unit | ASF - Army Service Forces units | WDC Western Defense Command unit
 
 
Extract of January 1945 Airfield Directory
 
 
 
Site Maps
 
 
 

Extract, War Department Inventory of Owned, Sponsored and Leased Facilities, 1945

Santa Monica Municipal Airport

Army Air Forces Tecnical Training School, Douglas Aircraft Corporation

 

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Updated 8 March 2016