SMO's History

First Air Carnival 1947–Back To The future!

  • Air_Carnival ProgramAir_Carnival Mayor's Dedication

  • Santa Monica Airport in 1950


 We've come a long way towards clean and quiet since then!

SMO has always played a key role in aviation history

The Santa Monica Airport was originally called "Clover Field" after World War I aviator lieutenant Greayer “Grubby” Clover. Cloverfield Boulevard retains the airport’s original name. Clover Field was once the site of the Army’s 40th Division Aviation, 115th Observation Squadron and became a Distribution Center after World War II.

First Women's Air Derby 85th Anniversary

(Courtesy of Cinda Rosenberg and the AERLEX Law Group)

womens-air-derby.jpgThis week in August marks the anniversary of the First Women’s Air Derby in 1929, a transcontinental air race that originated at Clover Field — now Santa Monica Airport (“SMO”) — and concluded eight days later in Cleveland, Ohio. Here at Aerlex Law Group, our offices overlook SMO, and it seems like a fitting occasion to remember the remarkable women aviators who took flight in the competition that humorist Will Rogers dubbed “The Powder Puff Derby.”

Major air races had been held nationally and internationally since 1909, but accomplished female pilots were not permitted to participate. Finally, in 1929, the Women’s Air Derby was established as part of the National Air Races. To qualify, the women had to meet the same standards that were required of men competing in the National Air Races.

In August 1929, seventy women held a United States pilot’s license. Of those, twenty young female aviators assembled at Clover Field on the afternoon of August 18 to take part in the groundbreaking competition. Navigating the 2700-mile course with only road maps on their laps, the women flew from Santa Monica to Cleveland via stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Along the way, there were continuous mishaps and a constant need for maintenance. Some competitors were forced to drop out of the race. Florence “Pancho” Barnes and Ruth Nichols crashed their aircraft. Margaret Perry contracted typhoid fever. Claire Fahy’s plane was found to have suspicious mechanical damage. Sadly, pilot Marvel Crosson, who had just set an altitude record at 23,996 feet the previous May, perished in a tragic crash. The race continued despite these perils, malfunctions and calamities. And at every stop, enthusiastic crowds gathered to meet the female flyers they had read about in the press.

Some of the female aviators who competed in the first women’s transcontinental air derby which began in Santa Monica on August 18, 1929. Amelia Earhart is fourth from the right. Louise Thaden, who won the 2700-mile race, is fifth from the right. Photo courtesy of Saint Louis University Libraries.

At the Cleveland Municipal Airport, a throng estimated at 18,000 people greeted the pilots as they finished the race. Louise Thaden came in first, and she was followed by fourteen others: Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Edith Foltz, Mary Hazlip, Jessie Keith-Miller, Opal Kunz, Blanche Noyes, Gladys O’Donnell, Phoebe Omlie, Neva Paris, Thea Rasche, Bobbi Trout (finished untimed because of two forced landings), Mary von Mach, and Vera Dawn Walker.

The Air Derby set the stage for other major air race competitions for women and supported the notion, highly suspect at the time, that women could be accomplished pilots. The race also strengthened the bonds between the participants and inspired them to organize. A few months later in 1929, most of these female aviators became founding members of The Ninety-Nines, an organization of licensed women pilots founded to promote and support women in aviation.



The Clover in Cloverfield


Lt. Greayer "Grubby" Clover, the airfield's namesake, was an American aviator killed in World War 1, circa 1918

1917 - Pilots flying World War I biplanes begin using the site as an informal landing strip.


Typical of the "barnstorming" type of aircraft flown in and out of Clover Field in the late teens and early 20's

1922 - Donald Douglas forms the Douglas Aircraft Company

Douglas starts producing and testing military and civilian aircraft at the future site of the Santa Monica Airport and also at an abandoned movie studio on Wilshire Boulevard, which is now the site of Douglas Park.


Clover Field (SMO) looking NW with greater Santa Monica and the bay in the distance. 1922

The notice announcing the public dedication of Clover Field, April 15, 1923




1924 - Douglas Aircraft and Clover Field gain fame

Douglas World Cruiser biplanes are the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe in the weeks between April and September. The U.S. Army with Douglas World Cruisers, took off from Clover Field on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, 1924, and returned there after some 28,000 miles (45,000 km).


Donald Douglas on the wing of one of his World Cruisers


A growing crowd of spectators inspect the World Cruisers before their epic flight.



Douglas World Cruisers return to Clover Field, Santa Monica, CA on September 23rd, 1924



July 10, 1926 - The City acquires a portion of Rancho La Ballona commonly known as the Clover Field Parcel for $755,000. 


June 15, 1927 - Santa Monica City Council changes the name of Clover Field to Santa Monica Airport (SMO).

1928 - The City acquires an additional 60 acres to expand the Airport.


The city adds 63 acres to the east end of the field, to accommodate the expanding Douglas plant. Its new production buildings visible at the top center of the picture.


An early biplane, more like an ultralight circa 1928, flown by Al Wilson


Santa Monica Airport February 25, 1929

1929 - Douglas enlarges its Santa Monica Airport operations, closes other facilities, and begins to develop its early DC-2 and DC-3 airliners as well as other projects.

August 19, 1929 - Pioneer women aviators participate in the first Powder Puff Derby, taking off from Santa Monica and flying to Cleveland, Ohio, where the race ends one week later. Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, and 18 other participants bring international attention to women aviators and to Santa Monica.


Launching aircraft at the start of the Powder Puff Derby , Clover Field, August 19, 1929

 1930 - 1940


The original three big hangars on the north side of the field. The large hangar at the back is the first Douglas Aviation hangar on the field, circa early 30's.


Looking east 1931


Douglas B-18 Bolo Fabrication


Douglas XB-19 being built at Santa Monica Airport



Douglas XB-19

1940 - 1950

1941 - 1944 - During World War II, Douglas Aircraft becomes a major defense contractor, employing up to 44,000 workers who work three shifts, seven days a week. This economic engine transforms the city as thousands of new homes are built for the Douglas workers, creating Sunset Park and other neighborhoods.


Santa Monica Airport August 7, 1940, looking towards the south east with the Douglas plant filling the bottom half of the photo.


1941 - The federal government leases most of the airport from the city to provide protection for Douglas Aircraft and participates in expanding the facility to 227 acres to accommodate the burgeoning production of military aircraft. The expansion includes replacing the old, two-runway, "X" configuration with a single runway, approximately 5,000 feet long, designated as Runway 21 (for departures to the west) and Runway 3 (for departures to the east) and two, full-length parallel taxiways. 


First Take-Off of the Douglas DC-4


Fake houses and streets covered the roofs of the Douglas Aircraft plant at Santa Monica Airport during the war. A-20 Havocs line the ramp and there are anti-aircraft balloons floating in the distance.





Douglas Aircraft under the camouflage netting.



Secret photo of camouflaged Douglas factory at SMO.


Hollywood Set Designers create landscape.


 Douglas workers entering plant.


Douglas A-20 Havoc Plexiglass Nose Sections


This December 1944 cover from the company magazine Airview shows the new DC-4 flying over liberated Paris..


Douglas Aircraft plant entrance on Ocean Park Blvd.

1948 - With the War ended, the federal government relinquishes its leasehold, the city and federal government execute the instrument of transfer, and the city resumes operation of the airport. The airport continues to grow during the 50's and 60's as pilots return home from the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

1949 - Bill Lear opens a manufacturing facility on a ten-acre parcel immediately south of the airport on Bundy. The company grows to 5,000 employees.

 The 1950's & 60's

Douglas continues to expand its propeller-driven commercial airliner business - culminating in the production of the 166,000-pound DC-7C, which is capable of transporting 110 passengers at speeds of up to 400 mph for 5,600+ miles. 1959 - Douglas develops the DC-8 to compete with Boeing’s 707, and Douglas proposes that the city lengthen the runway to accommodate this new aircraft and also acquire additional acreage to build new corporate offices. The city declines, and Douglas later shifts jet manufacturing to the Long Beach airport. However, research and development, missile production, and sub-assembly work continue at the Santa Monica airport plant for a time. Ultimately, after 50 years at the airport, Douglas closes down its Santa Monica operation, having manufactured a total of 10,724 aircraft at the airport plant. 


Santa Monica Airport 1952 - The view is to the south east with the Douglas Aircraft plant filling the center of the photo.


DC-7 thru DC-3 lined up in the sunup on the NE end of the airport. The view is looking towards the east. 1953




Bill Lear - A pioneer in radio navigation systems and avionics and the developer of the Lear Jet, the first small private and corporate jet.


The Lear shop was on the south side of the field.


The Lear hangar and the Aero Commander hangar on the south side of the field, circa mid 50's, where Justice Aviation is located today.

1966 - Western Commander, an established Fixed Base Operator (FBO) at the airport begins sale and service of the Jet Commander - one of the loudest jet aircraft in the fleet at the time. Western Commander flies prospective buyers to Las Vegas late at night and returns before sunrise. This marketing campaign creates significant adverse impact for airport neighbors. 


Santa Monica Airport February 28, 1965, looking west towards the shoreline.

1968 - The city, having adopted a jet curfew, prosecutes a pilot who violated it. The pilot challenges the validity of the curfew, and the Court of Appeal eventually concludes that adoption of the jet curfew is a valid exercise of the authority to regulate airport usage conferred upon the city by state law. Stagg v. Municipal Court, 2 Cal.App.3d 318 (1969).

Late 1960's - The growth in general aviation peaks nationwide. At Santa Monica airport total operations (takeoffs and landings) reach an all-time high of over 356,000 per year, which equates to 975 per day or 40 takeoffs and 40 landings per hour over 12 hours.

The 1970's


Douglas Aircraft plant 1970 with DC-3's, DC-4's, DC-6's and DC-7's parked on the ramp.

1975 - Douglas leaves the Airport to consolidate its operations in Long Beach.


Santa Monica Airport with the Douglas plant freshly demolished cir.1977

1977 - The Douglas facility is demolished. The City subsequently conducts an economic analysis of the property to determine the best use of the site and explores the possibility of closing the Airport.


The 1980's

With the exodus of Douglas Aircraft to Long Beach after failing to reach an agreement with City Government, The City Council voted to close the airport with 30 day's notice. Every tenant on the field was served with a 30 notice to quit. A restraining order was obtained and the FAA stepped in. The result was that the City signed a 30 year agreement (the landmark 1984 Airport Agreement) specifying in detail how the airport was to be run for the next thirty years.


The 1990's

Attempting to make capital on the lands released from aviation use in 1984 (the so-called residual land) the City signs a development proposal with Henry Lambert and Reliance Development out of New York to build half a dozen 6 story office buildings, reroute Airport Avenue, and add a small lake on the south side of the airport. The mantra was then, as it is now, "no significant traffic impact" (for an estimated 30k car trips per day!) Skeptics placed an anti-growth measure on the ballot and the City abandoned the project until such time as the necessary modifications could be made. That time never came. Never will!


The 2000's

In 2008 the City Council made another of its ill-considered trespasses into the FAA regulatory landscape by attempting to restrict the larger (C & D category) jets from the airport. This was an attempt to cripple the economic basis of the airport under the guise of public safety issues. The idea didn't fly and the FAA over-ruled the City which then appealed and lost in Federal Court.

The 2010's



Restoration of the Museum of Flying's DC-3 begins.

The 2010's



Spirit of Santa Monica, the iconic DC-3, sits newly installed at the site of the new Museum of Flying.


Angel Flight West - A group of pilots who make compassionate flights transporting people with medical needs who are unable to be transported in a conventional way.


Santa Monica Airport present day



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  • Mark Sohn
    commented 2018-05-22 09:25:31 -0700
    Absorbing look through time; I’m a writer here in England with neither the funds nor time to visit Santa Monica; the wartime camouflage of the plant rivals anything done by Maskelyne in the desert – and he moved the river Nile. Does anyone know the date or approximate date of the installation of those fake streets atop the Douglas plant?. I would love to know.