Autry National Center

More Than a Dream: Aviation Development in Southern California

An Online Exhibition from the Collections of the Automobile Club of Southern California Archives

In Los Angeles and Southern California during the first half of the twentieth century, dreams of aviation were coming to life. A combination of factors made the region particularly attractive for entrepreneurs like Donald Douglas, whose aircraft plant took shape in the alfalfa fields of Santa Monica. The climate probably played some role because the mild weather and meager precipitation allowed for many days of flying each year. Just as important was the uneven pattern of development. The horizontal metropolis was not yet filled in with housing and businesses between the major nodes of settlement, leaving ample room for airfields and the sprawling one-story factory complexes that proved optimal for aircraft production. The experimental business of aviation also found a pool of investors willing to risk their money on a promising field. Finally, the booming population of Southern California included a fair representation of dedicated tinkerers. Donald Douglas himself was known to pick up a wrench before his company grew into a massive enterprise, but for every Douglas who enjoyed distinction and riches, there were numerous engine-builders and mechanics whose efforts remain mostly invisible to us today but whose contributions played a critical role in making flight a commonplace reality for the mass of Americans.

Eddie Meyer’s Trading Post, a used-airplane lot, corner of 3rd and Vermont, Los Angeles, 1946.

Eddie Meyer’s Trading Post, a used-airplane lot, corner of 3rd and Vermont,
Los Angeles, 1946.
Automobile Club of Southern California Archives, Copyright © 2011

If aviation was a going concern in Southern California during the first half of the twentieth century, it had not yet transcended its provisional origins. We can witness the active pursuit of aviation as a line of technological development before its major components were standardized and giant enterprises dominated aircraft production. We can see the initial effects of aviation in the urban landscape, before the proliferation of informal airfields gave way to government-supported facilities for regular commercial flight. And we can perceive aviation as a social process that could reinforce or disrupt existing ideas about danger and risk, especially when the dynamics of gender entered the mix.

Visions of sky and space in twentieth-century Los Angeles expressed hopes for a bountiful future but they also had a down-to-earth quality, from the grease under a mechanic’s fingernails to the dust and sagebrush of the many landing strips scattered about the region. Los Angeles even boasted one of the nation’s few used-airplane lots, if not its only one, which offers a particularly pungent example of how salesmanship and genuinely advanced technical skills both contributed to the sense of technological optimism that fueled much of the region’s growth in the mid-twentieth century.

The Automobile Club of Southern California’s Historical Collections

The Automobile Club of Southern California was founded in 1900, and its archive provides a distinctive picture of life in the region during the twentieth century. The documents and pictorial materials relate not only to the Club’s history but also to local and regional architecture, infrastructure, public policy, and cultural and recreational history. The photo collection includes some 30,000 images that depict buildings, businesses, streets, vistas, and other points of interest in the region between 1892 and 1962.

Copyright Notice

This site contains copyrighted images owned by the Automobile Club of Southern California. These images are reproduced in accordance with the express written permission of the Automobile Club of Southern California. Any unauthorized use or reproduction of any of these images is strictly prohibited. Copyright © 2011 Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.

More Than a Dream: Aviation Development in Southern California is an online exhibition from the collections of the Automobile Club of Southern California Archives

Collection Spotlights

  • The Watercolor Works of Eva Scott Fenyes

    The History of Wells Fargo & Company
    The history of Wells Fargo & Company is inseparable from the history of the American West. The stagecoach and galloping team of six horses—the symbol that is synonymous with Wells Fargo—recalls a time when the stagecoach was the dominant means of long-distance overland transportation and communication.

  • The Watercolor Works of Eva Scott Fenyes

    The Motoring Explorer: Philip Johnston and the American Southwest
    The rise of auto tourism played out in the Auto Club’s member magazine—originally titled Touring Topics before a name change to Westways in 1934—especially in the work of Philip Johnston, the author of 120 articles between 1925 and 1962.

  • The Watercolor Works of Eva Scott Fenyes

    Capturing California’s Romantic Past: The Watercolor Works of Eva Scott Fenyes
    The Braun Research Library Collection houses more than three hundred watercolors of California adobes and California missions created by Eva Scott Fenyes. These works date from 1898 to a week before Mrs. Fenyes’s death in 1930.

  • The Colt Revolver in the American West

    The Colt Revolver in the American West
    The Colt revolver had a dramatic impact around the world, but its greatest influence was in the American West in the second half of the nineteenth century. This online exhibition features slideshows and the stories behind 130 Colt artifacts in the Autry's collection.

  • Spanish Songs of Old California

    Spanish Songs of Old California
    Charles Lummis, founder of Los Angeles's Southwest Museum, dedicated much of his life to preserving cultures that he felt were vanishing. Like a number of Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, Lummis was convinced that Native Americans’ lifeways were on the road to extinction, and that Hispanic cultures in particular were doomed by modernity. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, Lummis lamented these developments and worked to preserve at least some records of Indian and Hispanic cultures.

  • Opera in the Autry Collections

    Opera in the Autry Collections
    This online exhibition draws on the collections of the Braun Research Library, the Autry Library, and the Autry. Featured items include a rare 1912 recording of French tenor Augustarello Affre recorded in Los Angeles by Charles F. Lummis and the libretto from La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) with music composed by Giacomo Puccini.

  • New Spain

    History and Cultures of Mexico and the Southwest
    The Autry National Center’s permanent collection of colonial Latin American artifacts includes objects that exemplify the material culture of New Spain's northern frontier or "borderlands." The traditional arts of the borderlands, which developed over generations, reflect regional diversities.

  • More Than a Dream: Aviation Development in Southern California

    More Than a Dream: Aviation Development in Southern California
    This online exhibition is from the collections of the Automobile Club of Southern California Archives.

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