By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Downstairs, the museum's executive director Dan Ryan was trying to explain the museum's possible future, and wasn't having an easy time of it. "We're in conversations with several different sites," Ryan told a man named Walter Downs. "I don't yet know whether we'll go to an extant location or start our own. You can trust me."
Downs, whose uncle flew P-51s with the pioneering African-American Tuskegee Airmen, looked skeptical. "The number-one reason for my being here is to assure the future of the display up on the third floor," he told me, noting that the collection includes many irreplaceable memorabilia.
Downs wasn't the only skeptic at the museum. Some wonder whether the official explanation for the closure jibes with the facts. Ryan has claimed that since a sudden rise in local insurance costs after September 11, "we've had to ground our entire fleet" of vintage aircraft. But a Santa Monica Airport official, not speaking for attribution, noted that most of the museum's flyable vintage fleet moved to Mojave Airport in the mid-1990s. At Mojave, a sparsely populated longtime haven for unorthodox aircraft of all sorts, flight insurance ought not to be much of a problem. And despite the promise that a new location will be found, some of the museum's memorabilia collection is already for sale on its Web site (www.museumofflying.com).
Others say the museum's fate could be linked to fiscal problems of its key supporter, David Price of American Golf Corp., who had an agreement -- under the name of Supermarine of Santa Monica -- with the city to lease space for both the museum and the associated, now-defunct DC-3 restaurant. It isn't clear now what will happen to the lease, which apparently remains in effect, and there is some speculation that Price will find higher-paying tenants to replace the museum.
In any case, its passing signals the end of a Santa Monica aviation era that began when Donald Douglas set up operations on this same site over 70 years ago.
Docent John Quinley hired on at Douglas as a young engineer in 1941: "I thought I was in heaven, making 80 cents an hour." The 83-year-old recalled that, while it stamped out thousands of the planes that fought in WWII, the entire vast plant (long since demolished) was camouflaged to resemble a Westside suburb: "They even had fake laundry on clotheslines." He said he'll miss the afternoons he's spent as a volunteer, teaching the history of flying to the young. But at his age, Quinley has learned to put things in perspective, even the death of a favorite institution. "I'm happy still to be on the right side of the grass," he said.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city