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Monday, June 2, 2014

Retracing Charles Lindbergh’s Steps in San Diego



Nothing is quite as good as dear Corvette friends.  Corvette friends who are also pilots make for very interesting events.  In May, 2014 I enjoyed two excellent examples.  This story is the first of two.

Larry Barnes (Marine Pilot, and owner of a 2003 50th Anniversary Corvette) and I decided back in January that we would spend a day retracing the steps of Charles Lindbergh as he (im)patiently  waited for the completion of the Spirit of St. Louis in San Diego in 1927.  We chose May 20th for our adventure, which was the 87th anniversary of Lindbergh’s departure from New York for Paris.  Our advance planning paid off handsomely.

Our quest was to find and visit every Lindbergh statue, plaque, photo, airplane replica, ribbon and memento.   With one exception, we saw it all!

We began our journey by driving (in a Corvette, of course!) by the Torrey Pines Gliderport, a location Charles and Anne frequented (Anne Morrow Lindbergh became the first American woman to earn a first-class Glider Pilot’s License).  Charles set a regional distance record for sailplanes at the time, launching from the lift at Torrey Pines Gliderport and landing on the beach at Del Mar.  From Torrey Pines we drove across the Coronado Bay Bridge to the Naval Air Station on Coronado Island, stopping to have lunch at the Sea N' Air Restaurant.  Adjacent to the active Navy airstrip is the land that served as Rockwell Field, a spot where Lindbergh made the first test flights of the Spirit of St. Louis.  We were disappointed that there was no marker at this sacred site.  


 Our next waypoint was the San Diego United States Post Office on Midway Drive.  The Post Office was constructed on an area known as “Dutch Flats”, the location where Ryan Aircraft completed the final assembly of the Ryan Model “NYP” (New York to Paris).  Just minutes away from the current San Diego International Airport, more properly “Lindbergh Field”, the Post Office has three different plaques commemorating Lindberg’s accomplishments and the pioneering Ryan Aircraft Company.  We tried to buy Lindbergh stamps or other memorabilia at the Post Office, but came away empty-handed.  No one at the Post Office realized the importance of May 20th.





A quick drive to the south found us at Lindbergh Field.  At the west end of Terminal Two we found Paul T. Grunlund’s famous sculpture of a youthful Charles Lindbergh in his flight suit accompanied by Charles as spirited boy.  The statue seemed to be portraying the joy and freedom of flight.  Inside the terminal, down in baggage claim, we found a 100% scale model of the Spirit of St. Louis hanging from the ceiling.  Beneath it were some display cases with Lindbergh items and other artifacts of aviation in San Diego including a bust of Lindbergh created by Paul Fjelde. 




A pretty nice display.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a coffee cart called, “Ryan Bros. Coffee”, and a gift shop appropriately named “Lindbergh Field News” with a huge Lindbergh photo.  No one that we talked to at Lindbergh Field was aware of the importance of May 20th.

Our next waypoint was the San Diego Air and Space Museum.  We talked our way into the Museum free-of-charge after informing the cashier of our important quest (she did not realize the importance of May 20th).  What a display!  In the center of the main hall was an actual, ready-to-fly, recreation of the Spirit of St. Louis, “Spirit 3” (unlike the fake model at Lindbergh Field).  The docents (who were all pilots!) gave us a warm greeting and explained the extensive exhibit to us.  In addition to the airplane, they have photos, plaques, medals, paintings, and other memorabilia.  Best of all they have a free-standing replica of the cockpit so you can appreciate what it was like to fly 450 gallons of fuel for 33.5 hours across a big ocean sitting on a lawn chair peering through a telescope over the gas tank!  Bob, the most interesting docent, told us a story about his mother, who was graduating from Stanford University in May 1927.  She told Bob years later her memory that the graduation ceremony was halted to announce that Lindbergh had landed safely in Paris!  The museum display reminds us of the enormity of the accomplishment – six men, everyone who attempted the flight, had died in the trans-Atlantic effort.  With little more than a compass and courage, Lindbergh had accomplished the “impossible”.  We left the museum with a souvenir newspaper from May 21, 1927 and the joy knowing that we had reminded the docents of the importance of May 20th.



Our final stop was a rendezvous with Nan for celebratory drinks at the US Grant Hotel on Broadway Street in downtown San Diego.  



Lindbergh was frugal so he probably slept at the YMCA for many of the 60 days it took to construct N-X-211.  But folklore has it that he spent at least a few nights sleeping in room 447 at the US Grant.  We asked the Concierge about room 447. He was unsure of the importance of May 20th.  But he was familiar with the Lindbergh connection.  He apologized that due to a remodel of the famous hotel, there was no longer a room 447.  Bummer.  But we enjoyed a few drinks in the lounge and toasted the famous flight and our completed quest.



Just a week prior to our adventure Nan and I were visiting with friends on Bainbridge Island in the Seattle area.  I mentioned the upcoming quest and my affection for Charles Lindbergh to our friends, Ron and Mickey Santina.  They said to my astonishment, “We have met Erik Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, right here in Bainbridge.  He is a wonderful guy!”  Ron gave me Erik’s business card.  You may know that Erik duplicated his grandfather’s trans-Atlantic flight in May 2002 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the historic flight.  So the night before our adventure I sent Erik an email message telling him of my quest with Larry.  In an email reply I knew that Erik understood the importance of May 20th!

P.S. The only plaque that Larry and I did not see on May 20th was one in the Solar Turbines Building – the exact location where the Ryan Aircraft factory was located in an old tuna packing plant.  The nice public relations people have promised us a tour in the coming weeks so we can see the very last Lindbergh artifact.  When Larry and I go for a visit, we are also going to the Hotel Del Coronado where Lindbergh stayed in September 1927 after his successful flight to Paris.

4 comments:

  1. Cary,
    We were in Bainbridge a week after you and Nancy. We visited my sister and went to both the Lemay auto museums in Tacoma.

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    1. Cool. Too bad we could not have been there together. Maybe next trip!

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  2. Hello Cary - I just returned home to Colorado after a great visit to San Diego. I was hoping to find the Lindbergh plaques at the Midway Post Office and in some way, stand as close as possible to the place where he lifted off on the first leg of his journey across the Atlantic. But the folks at the Post Office told me the plaques were in the "old building" next door, that the area was secured and I'd have to find a security person if I wanted to pursue further. Too bad, but I was out of time. Do you have any idea whether the plaques you photographed in 2014 are still intact, or where they might be? Thanks for any info you might have. TR

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    1. Hi Ted, I'm glad that you enjoyed your trip to San Diego, and the Lindbergh quest. If you will send me your email address, then I can share photos of the plaques with you and explore their current location. I can be reached at cary@carythomas.com Thanks!

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