I was working in the yard two Saturdays ago and heard the low roar of vintage airplane engines and sure enough, passing overhead was a stately Douglas DC-3. About ten minutes later the plane returned, much lower and banking hard right directly over the house. What a site! Turns out the city was dedicating the new DC-3 Monument at Santa Monica Airport (as reported in last week’s Mirror). The Monument features the static display of a DC-3 on the south side of the airport. It is open to the public.The first of Donald Douglas’ DC-3’s rolled off the assembly line in November, 1935, and by the late Fifties over 10,000 had been built in our burg-by-the-bay. The plane is famed for its durability, safety and speed. (It took about 15 hours to fly from LA to NY.) Most aviation historians agree that the DC-3 elevated commercial air travel from a novelty to mainstream transportation. An early model Eastern Airlines DC-3 is the centerpiece at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s commercial aviation exhibit on the Washington Mall. To this day, Douglas Aircraft fingerprints can be found all around Santa Monica. Douglas Park (Wilshire & 25th) is the site of the company’s design facility. Clover Park is the site of the Douglas Plant that built the DC-3. Rand Corporation is successor of an earlier Air Force “think tank” started by Douglas. The Aero (like in “aero” plane) Theater (now operated by non-profit American Cinematheque) was reportedly built by Douglas to provide entertainment 24/7 for assembly line workers who toiled three full shifts during WWII and were up and about at all hours.Douglas anecdotes abound. I recall my SMCC professor in the late Sixties telling about a tiff between the aircraft company and the City Council when our esteemed leaders tried to raise the business tax. One week Douglas paid its workers in silver dollars instead of cash, so everyone could see first hand Douglas’ economic impact on our community.Nearby Hollywood was quick to recognize the new DC-3 star in the sky. The 1937 all-time classic, Lost Horizon directed by Frank Capra, features an early issue DC-3 in the opening scenes when a group of British colonial refugees are whisked skyward to safety from a Chinese rebellion. They are, in fact, skyjacked to a crash landing high in the Himalayas, gateway to Shangri La. Along the way, the DC-3, with Chinese markings, lands on a dry lake where it is refueled by a tribe of nomads on horses and camels. It is my favorite airplane action scene of all time.Imagine my joy when the Aero screened Lost Horizon a couple of years ago. What a great connect — the airplane and the Theater back together again. I can only guess at the pride and excitement the Douglas employees felt when they first saw their DC-3 in Lost Horizon on the big screen under the same roof seven decades earlier.Kudos to all those with the wisdom, initiative and reverence to make the new DC3 Monument at the Santa Monica Airport happen. DC-3 is huge in our city’s DNA and what a great tribute. But the best display of all is that lumbering plane that banked low over my house on a Saturday, six or seven decades after its maiden flight from Clover Field. Hail to thee, DC-3, may you forever grace our city’s skies.
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