Memories of the Jet Age: A Douglas F3D-2

Optimistic: 1964
| Photo: City of Lakewood Historical Collection

Lakewood is getting ready to celebrate its 60th year of incorporation in 2014. I've been assisting city staff as a sort of volunteer archivist, gathering and scanning the city's historical photographs and printed ephemera.

It's our hunger of memory, I suppose, or maybe just my own.

Memories in Lakewood don't have imposing sites to house them, but for one. It's a jet plane on a pylon in Del Valle Park.

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April 11,1959: The Jet Age Arrives
| Photo: City of Lakewood Historical Collection

The city acquired a decommissioned Douglas Aircraft Company F3D-2 Skyknight fighter from the from the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics in late 1958 after more than a year of negotiations. The jet arrived from Arizona in several parts in early April 1959, courtesy of the Navajo Freight Lines Company and assemblers from the Douglas plant in Long Beach.

Marine volunteers gave the jet a fresh coat of paint, and city crews mounted the jet belly down on a concrete pad. On dedication day, hundreds of children swarmed over the plane. The F3D-2 began its history in Lakewood as a giant play structure.

The park itself, designated as the city's space-age themed park, also featured a rocket and flying saucer, but locals called it "airplane park" with the addition of the jet.

For a few months, the jet was the most popular piece of playground equipment in Lakewood, remembers Dennis Landers. "You had to fight for the cockpit. It was very much a flight of fancy. In other city parks, there was nothing like it. We could really use our imagination."

But jets aren't jungle gyms, and the plane soon became a source of concern about safety. By early 1960, city staff members roped off the jet and began looking at alternatives for preserving it. In late 1963, the refurbished plane -- painted in the 1960s-era grey and white color scheme of Marine Corps aircraft -- was raised on a concrete pylon, nose up as if taking off over Woodruff Avenue.

On Memorial Day 1964, the jet was officially dedicated in remembrance of those from Lakewood who had fought in the Korean conflict. As wars and memories accumulated, the jet took on more meanings -- from a kids' plaything to a reminder of those who fought in the Korean War to a memorial for the young men of Lakewood who died during the Vietnam War to a place of remembrance for all the heroes who fought the battles of the Second World War and in the wars since.

War Bird
| Photo: City of Lakewood Historical Collection
Up and Away
| Photo: City of Lakewood Historical Collection
Memorial Day
| Photo: City of Lakewood Historical Collection

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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