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What’s the Deal with People Saying Santa Monica Airport Was Here First?

The inside scoop on Santa Monica Airport

The present day question: What came first, Santa Monica Airport or the neighboring homes? The flawed argument that Santa Monica Airport was here first is crude and imperfect.  Records indicate that in 1919 the first flights were by pilots who, in early WWI biplanes, used the site as an informal grass landing strip. Over the next twenty years, the site was used primarily by the Douglas Aircraft Company along with some general aviation, sport, and movie flying activities. Dates stamped in the concrete sidewalks indicate that homes were being built in the Los Angeles neighborhood of North Westdale back as early as 1928.

In1929, the Douglas Aircraft Company completely moved to the site. Housing was built in both Los Angeles and Santa Monica to accommodate Douglas Aircraft employees, and adjoining roadways were built to accommodate the housing demand.

The Airport grew to its present 227 acres during the time when the Federal Government leased the Airport from the City to provide protection for Douglas Aircraft. Following the end of the war - the City and the Federal Government executed an “Instrument of Transfer dated August 10, 1948” in which the Federal Government relinquished its leasehold interest in the Airport and transferred it back to the City. Prior to its transfer back to the City, the Federal Government completed the relocation and expansion of the runway and taxiway system to its current configuration.

During the 1970's Douglas Aircraft relocated to Long Beach and by September 1977 the entire Santa Monica Plant had been raised to the ground leaving only a large vacant dirt lot, and leaving the airport purely a general aviation airport.

Around 1993 to 1994 more than $10 million was spent to resurface the runway to accommodate the arrival of private jet traffic, bringing to the downwind surrounding communities a new concern – dangerous toxic emissions from thousands of private jets.

There is no arguing the fact that today, Santa Monica Airport (SMO) and the surrounding residential communities are very different than what they were.

Who can be blamed for the present day situation? I’m sure there is plenty of blame to go around.

However, come July 1, 2015, the future of Santa Monica Airport should be determined by the present situation and not be based on its history. Yes there are many legendary stories about the airport’s history. But the stories are just that - history. We need to move into the future by focusing on the present. That’s just sound logic. The city of Santa Monica will need to decide what is in the best interest of everyone, especially the Santa Monica and Los Angeles areas.

Most of the information and all the photos were taken from the Santa Monica Airport's website.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nan June 17, 2011 at 04:17 PM
I believe Mr. Rubin is correct: we as members of the public must focus NOW on the future use of the land where the airport is now situated in order for an equitable and public use to be determined. Imagining the many uses to which the land can be placed in service can include endless choices for the land when the airport's lease with the city of Santa Monica expires in 2015. Which land uses are implemented and available to the public on land which is now used for the airport depends on community focus NOW to plan: planting the land with native plants; allowing the land to revert to its natural state; creating parkways and pathways so senior citizens can walk and toddlers can bicycle without upsetting one another's balance; creating more community gardening space once the soil is remediated and there are no lead or other toxic particulates in it; creating bikeways and a running track around the periphery; creating a skatepark; creating an outdoor amphitheater; making a new playground; building a new school. These opportunities are offered by way of example; if we focus on putting the land to new uses, we will significantly and favorably impact every community which can enjoy the space and activities we can design today, for tomorrow.
slim June 17, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Can anyone shed light on the legal stance the FAA will take to extend the status quo beyond 2015? I'm certain they will vigorously defend their current position. I believe the land could be used in a variety of ways that could benefit the surrounding community.
Linda Knight June 17, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Who cares if the airport was there first. Families with children live around it now. The airport is dirty, noisy and extremely unhealthy. It's time for something to go second.
SM native June 17, 2011 at 06:25 PM
If the airport is closed, there should be several uses for the land that should be excluded in perpetuity...no housing / government housing. No Santa Monica College. No Big Blue Bus / MTA / trains.
Gary Kavanagh June 17, 2011 at 06:38 PM
No housing? Where I work at in the Penn Station building in Santa Monica, the number one reason I hear for people living far away and making long car commutes is it's so hard to find housing in Santa Monica that is reasonably affordable. I would not want to see the entirety of the airport land built out, but to exude housing at all is a terrible idea. I live in Santa Monica as well, but I am sick of this "nativist" attitude I hear so often, of well "I live here, so no one else should be allowed to enjoy it".
marilyn russell June 17, 2011 at 09:01 PM
What's the difference if it was there first, it was there in a different form, it didn't allow jets. Consider the time it decided to allow jets as a new arrival, it certainly was a new arrival of serious problems for the residents who were already there.
Joan June 20, 2011 at 02:01 AM
Apparently Santa Monica Airport has always been a bit of a toxic dump on the surrounding neighborhoods of Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista, and West Los Angeles. Once there was a legitimate reason for asking the airport’s neighbors to share the burden during the war effort, but today it caters to the wealthy jet setters who could care less who they pollute.

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