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The Academy Museum, Fairfax/Wilshire Los Angeles (Photo: John Flett)

Aviation History: Academy Awards Museum at Intersection of Past LA Airfields

Dec.7 marked ICAO’s International Civil Aviation Day giving pause for reflection on how the aviation industry has shaped our lives for over one hundred years. Aviation has long been a passion but prior to being involved with the industry directly, I had an involvement in cinema. Interest in the film still looms large in my life, and sometimes the two passions intertwine beyond the obvious of a flight being used to explore destinations that have been featured in movies.

Last year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science (AMPAS) opened a museum in Los Angeles dedicated to the film industry. AMPAS is the organization behind the Academy Awards that will hold the 95th celebration of motion pictures on 12 March. Visiting the museum in the city’s Miracle Mile district alongside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits was an interesting cinematic experience. What was totally unexpected was discovering an intriguing link between the fledgling U.S. commercial airline industry and the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue on which the AMPAS Museum is located.

The Academy Museum is located on the northeast corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in a stunning art deco building that used to house the May Company department store. On the southeast side of the intersection is the Petersen Automotive Museum. However, in the late 1910s through 1930 on the northeast side of Fairfax and diagonally opposite the Academy museum on the southwest side were two airfields. De Mille Field No. 2 on the northeast and across the road on the southwest corner was Chaplin Airfield. These were just two airfields of the 55 ‘airports and landing fields identifiable on a map of Los Angeles county from the first few decades of human flight.

Cecil B. De Mille — the Academy Award-winning director of movies such as The Greatest Show on Earth and The Ten Commandments — had owned an airfield further north on Fairfax imaginatively named De Mille Field No. 1. De Mille’s airline Mercury Aviation Company relocated to Field No. 2 in 1920 and among the airfield’s peculiar characteristics was a gas station that fuelled aircraft on one side and cars on the other.

According to the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) website’s ‘Aviation History of the Miracle Mile,’ Mercury Aviation flew with surplus World War I aircraft and purchased its first new aircraft in 1920. With the new Junkers aircraft joining the fleet Mercury Aviation operated flights to destinations such as Santa Catalina Island, Calif., San Diego and San Francisco.

Chaplin Airfield was owned by Sydney Chaplin the brother of legendary Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin had formed the Syd Chaplin Aircraft Corporation offering services to San Diego and scenic flights. According to the MMRA Chaplin advertised “a fleet of newest Curtis one and two-passenger airplanes, large shops with complete equipment and hangars for our own ships as well as those belonging to business firms and individuals.”

The MMRA states that the airfields were the first in the world to offer commercial flights to multiple destinations and that De Mille Field No. 2 was the destination for the first commercial flight, originating in New York operated to Los Angeles. However, both De Mille and Chaplin’s airline endeavors lasted a little over two years, and research shows conflicting reports as to which airfield would be sold and renamed Rogers Airport. Rogers airport operated until the early 1930s, when the demand for residential real estate rose considerably marking the end of an aviation era in the area.

A number of online sources have images of De Mille and Chaplin airfields and the renamed Rogers airport and those viewed for this article were on the Los Angeles Public Library digital collection,  Water and Power Associates and Martin Turnbull websites.

Author

  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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