Reel Culver City Spring 2012

REEL CULVER CITY

by Marc Wanamaker

CULVER CITY MUNICIPAL AIRPORT AND THE MARGARET PERRY AIRPORT

One of the most important industries that helped the Los Angeles area develop into one of the world’s major cities was the aviation industry.

Beginning at the turn of the last century with ballooning in 1903, private airports were created by celebrities in the motion picture industry such as Cecil B. DeMille, Charles and Sydney Chaplin as well as some major land owners.

“AIR MEETS” BRING AREAS TOGETHER

Many areas surrounding Los Angeles created small airports due to the “air meets” in the nine-teens and twenties and for commerce knitting together outlying areas such as Pasadena, Glendale, Riverside, Santa Monica, etc.

When Harry Culver was developing Culver City and later when he was the head of the California Real Estate Board, he flew with his pilot from the newly established Culver City Municipal Airport to give the town a sense of place and to attract commerce.

THE CC MUNICIPAL AIRPORT BECOMES HOME TO FIRST WOMEN STUNT PILOTS

Located at what is today Sepulveda, Jefferson and Slauson Blvds., the Culver City Municipal Airport became a home to the first association of women motion picture stunt pilots, the Ninety-Nines.

The leading Hollywood Aviators may have appeared to be crazed daredevils, but they were actually brave precision pilots. Aviators performed in nearly 200 motion pictures during the twenties and more so in the 1930s. Their scenes sold tickets to films and aerial scenes were written into many movies in order to draw bigger audiences.

STUNT PILOTS ASSOCIATIONS INCREASE FILM ATTENDANCE

Before Harry Culver created the Culver City Municipal Airport, Ince Airfield in Venice was the nearest airfield in the area having been established there in 1919 just after the WWI. Owned by producer/director Thomas Ince, Hollywood aviator B.H. DeLay was the manager/pilot who later acquired the field after Ince’s death in 1925.

DeLay was one of the first to professionalize the stunt pilots in films. Associations such as the 13 Black Cats, Ninety-Nines, and the AMPP (Association of Motion Picture Pilots) increased their power

in the Motion Picture Industry from the 1920s through the 1940s.

THE NINETY-NINES HEADQUARTERS OPENS AT CC AIRPORT IN 1929

In 1929, in cooperation with Harry Culver, the Ninety-Nines women’s stunt pilots association opened their own headquarters at the Culver City Municipal Airport, naming it the Margaret Perry Airport.

Internationally-known pilot Amelia Earhart was their first president and Perry the second. Also, at this time the newly formed organization formed the famed First Women’s Air Derby based out of Culver City.

CHANGES COME IN THE 1930S

With the coming of the 1930s the Culver City Municipal Airport became known as the Baker Airport owned by Baker and Blair. One could get flying lessons there and arrangements were made for the Goodyear Blimp to land in Culver City from time to time.

Across the street from the airport was Joe Petrelli’s Airport Café when the airport was still called the Culver City Airport.

By the 1950s, the history of Culver City and aviation was overshadowed by the expansion of the Hughes Aircraft plant and its runway. There, the Spruce Goose was built and tested.

Most people have forgotten that Culver City had its own airport and that it was an important and historic airfield that contributed to the development of Culver City as a film factory town and the aviation industry as well.

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