Beneath a restored DC-3 airplane that is raised for display at the Santa Monica Airport stands a life-sized statue of the man whose company gave way to such revolutionary aircraft and took flight from the same location to become a giant of the industry.
The statue of Donald Wills Douglas, Sr., with his dog “Bar,” the restored DC-3 and a Founders’ Wall listing more than 1,000 names are part of a new monument dedicated at the airport as a tribute to the legendary aircraft builder and the company he founded, Douglas Aircraft Company.
The $1 million monument, which includes the statue of Douglas in a suit created by sculptor Yossi Govrin, was dedicated during a ceremony attended by more than 1,000 Saturday, March 21st. Among those in attendance at the event were Santa Monica Airport manager Bob Trimborn; Mayor Ken Genser; Victoria Douglas Thorson, Douglas’ granddaughter; David Price, Museum of Flying chairman; and Beverly Hoskinson, former Douglas Co. employee and representative of the Douglas White Oaks Ranch Trust.
Trimborn called the monument “very significant” and noted how the Santa Monica Airport is a fitting place for a tribute to Douglas, who in 1921 founded the company that became the airport’s main user and city’s largest employer for than 50 years.
“This is truly a monument to a man who literally changed the way we lived as a civilization,” Trimborn said.
“This is where his dream took flight and where modern air transportation began. What better tribute to give to his memory and his family than to honor the man at the place where it all started.”
Trimborn said the Santa Monica Airport is one of the oldest operating airports in Los Angeles County and the site has been used as an airfield since 1917. Only 17 years after the Wright brothers first took flight, Douglas began his company in a facility on Wilshire Boulevard that is now the site of Douglas Park.
An early monumental achievement for the company was the first circumnavigation of the world by air on a Douglas World Cruiser in 1924.
Douglas moved his company in 1927 to the Santa Monica Airport, where a permanent base was established for the next 50 years. During that time, the Douglas Co. produced over 10,000 airplanes off the assembly line and employed more than 45,000 people, Trimborn said.
The Douglas Aircraft Company was a major manufacturer of various aircraft for the U.S. Armed Forces, producing nearly 30,000 aircraft during World War II, a time when its total workforce was approximately 160,000. By the end of the war, the company had facilities in Santa Monica, El Segundo, Long Beach, Torrance and in parts of the Midwest.
One of the company’s signature airplanes is the DC-3, a commercial airliner that was also used for military transport and which first took flight from Santa Monica in 1935. The airplane has been credited as one of the top three pieces of equipment that helped win World War II.
“The DC-3 is the mother of the modern air transportation system,” Trimborn said.
Those involved in the Douglas monument effort explained that because of the DC-3’s significance, it was the fitting plane to incorporate in such a memorial. The plane on display, called “The Spirit of Santa Monica,” was donated to the city by the Museum of Flying and was fully restored.
“It’s a marvelous tribute to (Douglas) and the company that they picked the DC-3,” Mar Vista community historian Glenn Howell said. “It’s a marvelous plane and it has such a reputation for reliability.”
Howell and other local community members said they were impressed at the aircraft monument display, noting how it appears that the raised plane is taking off.
“It’s very impressive and I think it will be a wonderful monument to Douglas and Douglas Aircraft,” Howell said.
Howell noted how the Douglas Co. has been “such an important part of Mar Vista’s history,” as it contributed to much of the community’s growth over the years with a large part of the housing built to accommodate Douglas employees. When Douglas Aircraft moved to Long Beach, Howell said Mar Vista faced a difficult transition because the community was so dependent on the company.
The Douglas company merged with the McDonnell company in 1967 and McDonnell Douglas later merged with Boeing in 1997. Bill Wasserzieher, a historian with the monument who worked as a writer for McDonnell Douglas, says he was privileged to hear of stories of the early Douglas Aircraft workers.
“They really did make air travel what it is today and I was fascinated to be around them and to hear their stories,” he said. “I see them as heroic figures.”
Wasserzieher said the intent of the Douglas monument is to “preserve the legacy of Mr. Douglas and his company,” and those involved believe they have chosen the right place to honor the man who meant so much to aviation.
“Donald Douglas did so much for Southern California and for Santa Monica specifically,” he said. “Without Mr. Douglas, I’d have to say Santa Monica and greater Southern California would have been a far different place.”