How a Hollywood Director Almost Launched L.A.’s First Commercial Airline | KCET
How a Hollywood Director Almost Launched L.A.’s First Commercial Airline
Cecil B. DeMille had already pioneered one Los Angeles industry, and in 1920 he was on the cusp of launching another. As president of the newly formed Mercury Aviation Company, DeMille was pursuing the ambitious goal of inaugurating regularly scheduled airline service between Los Angeles and other West Coast cities.
Mercury’s headquarters: a barley field at the northwest corner of Wilshire and Fairfax (then Crescent Avenue) where the company had cleared a primitive runway, built a hangar, and opened a filling station that refueled airplanes on one side and automobiles on the other. The aerodrome doubled as a shooting location for aviation stunts, but the real stars here were Mercury’s fleet of Junkers-Larsen monoplanes. Built of lightweight corrugated aluminum, the planes could soar to altitudes of 20,000 feet, propelled by a single 185-horsepower engine. And thanks to a sealed cabin, passengers could fly without goggles and other special gear.
To demonstrate the comfort and convenience (not to mention safety) of air travel, DeMille staged a round-trip flight to San Diego with a few of Los Angeles’ titans of industry. On September 9, 1920, DeMille and his guests took off from the Mercury airfield at 12:25 p.m. and touched down at 1:35 p.m. in San Diego – a trip that then took four hours by train or five by automobile. The party then lunched at the Hotel Coronado before reboarding the plane and returning to Los Angeles by mid-afternoon. DeMille’s demonstration flight avoided mishaps, but an alternate fate might have created a local power vacuum; among DeMille’s passengers were Times publisher Harry Chandler and the presidents of Southern California Edison and First National Bank.
Ultimately, DeMille never succeeded in creating L.A.’s first commercial airline – an idea that was probably ahead of its time. Just a year after his demonstration flight, DeMille and his associates sold Mercury Aviation to Emery Rogers. What had been DeMille Field became Rogers Airport, and by the 1930s the city’s burgeoning Miracle Mile district had absorbed the onetime airfield.
This article first appeared on Los Angeles magazine's website on January 22, 2014. It has been updated here with additional images.
Connect with KCET
The coronavirus death toll in Los Angeles County nearly doubled today, reaching a total of 21, while another 421 cases were confirmed, a sharp rise the county's health director attributed to a significant increase in testing.
After seven weeks of a citywide shut-down, ordered in an attempt to stamp out the deadly Spanish Flu, the "influenza ban" had finally been lifted by city leaders.
These moves give us a glimpse of what the future could hold: voting during a pandemic, when election officials have to weigh the risks of gathering at polling places versus the need to make voting accessible to everyone.
As of March 23, about 5,700 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Los Angeles county, with a population of more than 10 million.
Explore the lasting impact of the Shindana Toy Company, created out of the need for community empowerment following the 1965 Watts uprising, whose ethnically correct black dolls forever changed the American doll industry.
This episode explores how Yosemite has changed over time: from a land maintained by indigenous peoples; to its emergence as a tourist attraction; to the site of conflict over humanity’s relationship with nature.
California’s deserts have sparked imaginations around the world. This episode explores the creation of the Salton Sea; the effort to preserve Joshua Tree National Park; and how commercial interests created desert utopias like Palm Springs.
This episode explores how surfers, bodybuilders, and acrobats taught Californians how to have fun and stay young at the beach — and how the 1966 documentary The Endless Summer shared the Southern California idea of the beach with the rest of the world.