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Douglas Museum Turning Back Flight of Time

April 26, 1987|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

When David G. Price was a youngster during World War II, he used to hang around the Douglas Aircraft Co. a block from his Santa Monica home, spellbound by the airplane production that helped win the war.

"The A-20s, the Havocs, the B-19s, I watched them for hours on end," Price said. "I never got over my enthusiasm for what Douglas was doing for the war effort. The feeling of appreciation has always remained with me."

Now a 54-year-old successful golf-course operator, Price, with his partner, Gary D. Danforth, is converting that enthusiasm into a memorial to the late Donald Douglas Sr., founder of the company and a pioneer in aviation history.

Home for Museum

Price is financing and building a permanent home for the Donald Douglas Museum and Library on a site east of Clover Park, Santa Monica, where the company was located until it merged into McDonnell Douglas Corp. and moved to Long Beach in 1976.

The three-story museum will contain 35,000 square feet of display area and will be part of an $8-million airport service and parking complex to be built by Super Marine of Santa Monica, owned by Price and Danforth. Construction is scheduled to start in June and be completed next April.

It will replace the current museum, south of the airport at 2800 Airport Ave. The existing museum is, aviation buffs agree, hardly an appropriate memorial to the man who was responsible for the first around-the-world flight in 1924 and led the way in developing air passenger travel.

The museum is an under-financed, cluttered mess in an old office building. It is so cramped that there is no room to display the airplanes that made Douglas famous. It is manned totally by volunteers, when they can be found.

Symbolic of the shoestring approach to operating the museum was the recent decision by the museum's board to turn over its most valuable possession, a vintage DC-2--one of only three or four in the world--to a Long Beach group for restoration and display at the Long Beach Airport.

The new museum will have room to display between 17 and 20 airplanes, most of them Douglas products but also aircraft made by other firms for use in World War II, said Danforth, who runs Danforth Corp., a Santa Monica airport business.

Mustangs and Spitfires

The first planes to be housed there will be a P-51 Mustang and two Spitfires, basic U. S. and British fighter planes during the war. They are owned by Price.

Among Douglas planes being sought are the DC-3, the fabled transport aircraft; one of the four Douglas World Cruisers that made the hop around the world and another DC-2, the plane that started the company's passenger travel and also made the first overnight transcontinental flight.

"Once we get going on the museum," Danforth said, "we expect to get donations of planes."

Price noted that there will have to be a DC-3 because "we are building a restaurant there that will be called the DC-3."

He also would like to obtain the German Messerschmitt fighter and a Zero, the Japanese attack aircraft.

'Instantly Recognizable'

"These planes are instantly recognizable at air shows, surprisingly to even the youngest kids with no direct experience with World War II," Price said.

In addition to the planes, the museum will be a repository for memorabilia and personal papers of Douglas, who founded the company in Santa Monica in 1921. When merged with McDonnell Corp., the firm had to be relocated because the 5,000-foot runway at nearby Santa Monica Airport was too short for the company's growing jet production.

Henry E. Dittmar, Santa Monica Airport director, said the city always has been interested in finding a better home for the museum, but lacked the money to build one. What the city could do was make land available for the project.

"And that is basically what we did, giving Mr. Price a little more than an acre and a rent-free lease as long as the facility is operated as a museum," Dittmar said. "But the important point is that we found a financial angel at the right time because we are in the process of redeveloping the airport."

Dittmar said that Douglas was Santa Monica's most famous resident and one of the city's major employers.

"In the history of aviation," Dittmar said, "he ranks right behind the Wright Brothers in importance. We are particularly pleased that the museum is on land that once was part of Douglas Aircraft Co."

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