I set out to explore San Diego’s historical landmarks back during the Great Recession. Exploring became my staycations. It wasn’t until I moved my blog to WordPress in January 2012 that I decided that these historical landmarks would make a nice blog series. Long-time readers know how much I love blog series—they bring structure to my life: Music on Mondays, Friday Flower Fiesta….
I had always skipped San Diego Historical Landmark #13 because I perceived it to be in a bad part of time, often defined as “old” and “historic.” Those are exactly the places I wanted to visit, though!
Number 13 is the Montgomery Memorial Park, designated a historical landmark on November 6, 1970. The park currently is known as Montgomery-Waller Community Park.
According to the San Diego History Center: “At Otay Mesa, in August 1883, John Joseph Montgomery made the first heavier-than-air craft flight. He was assisted by his brother, Jim, who related the story this way…
I towed John into the air in his little glider at the end of a 40 foot rope. He flew over my head and landed beautifully about six hundred feet down the hill…
This was 20 years before the Wright Brothers had their successful flights.
John Joseph Montgomery (1858–1911) was an American aviation pioneer, inventor, physicist, and professor. He was born in Yuba City, California, earned a Bachelor of Science in 1879 and a Master of Science in 1880 from Saint Ignatius College, forerunner of the University of San Francisco, and taught at Santa Clara College in Santa Clara, California.
A subheading to this blog post might be “San Diego: First In Flight.” And you thought it was the Wright Brothers in North Carolina. Ha! Actually, in addition to Montgomery, there were many people who flew before the Wright Brothers’ flight: Sir George Cayley of Britan, Jean-Marie Le Bris of France, Otto Lilenthal of Prussia, Percy Pilcher of Britain, and Octave Chanute of the United States.
The Wright Brothers’ flights in 1903 are recognized as “the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.” Montgomery’s flight in August 1883 was the “first controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft in the Western Hemisphere.” In other words, other pioneers had unpowered flights or their flights were not sustained or controlled, or they were in different parts of the world…. Semantics are wonderful…..
Montgomery’s contributions to the science of flight still are not fully recognized, but such scientific greats as Alexander Graham Bell gave him the accolade he deserves: “All subsequent attempts in aviation must begin with the Montgomery machine.”
There are two California Historical Landmarks honoring Montgomery, one of them being Montgomery Memorial at Otay Mesa in San Diego:
The Montgomery Memorial features a fixed airplane wing on the hilltop in Otay Mesa that is visible from miles around. The wing actually is a test wing panel for the Consolidated B-32 Dominator, an aircraft built here in San Diego by Consolidated Aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. First flight for the B-32 was September 7, 1942. It had a short production run of only 118 planes used by the Army Air Forces between January 27 and August 30, 1945.
Interstate 5 in San Diego, from downtown to the Mexican border is named the John J. Montgomery Freeway.
There are five California schools that have been named in Montgomery’s honor, four of them here in San Diego:
John J. Montgomery Elementary School, Chula Vista
Montgomery Middle School, San Diego Unified School District
Montgomery Middle School and Montgomery High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District
Additionally, there is the John J. Montgomery Memorial Cadet Squadron 36 of the Civil Air Patrol, Montgomery Chapter 338 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, and San Diego’s Montgomery Field (MYF), one of the busiest airports for small planes in the United States. The entrance to Montgomery Field is on John J. Montgomery Drive.
John J. Montgomery was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1964 and U.S. Soaring Hall of Fame in 2002. His 1883 glider was recognized in 1996 as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Montgomery-Waller Community Park has four baseball fields, four basketball courts, two sandbox playgrounds, and many paved walking trails throughout the rolling hills. The recreation center, shown in the first picture below, has some weird hours in my view: 1:00 PM to 7:45 PM on Monday through Thursday, 1:00 PM to 6:45 PM on Friday, 10:00 AM to 3:45 PM on Saturday, and 11:00 AM to 3:45 PM on Sunday. What’s with this closing at :45 stuff?
Lastly, a movie was made in 1946 titled “Gallant Journey” and starring Glenn Ford, Janet Blair, and Charles Ruggles, and directed by William Wellman, all names that probably are familiar to movie buffs. Here’s a clip from the movie:
Previous research on San Diego’s historical landmarks revealed that “memorial parks” are parks that used to be cemeteries but were abandoned. I could not find anything about any cemetery that might have been here at one time.
Next, I have to find out who Waller is and why he gets to be part of the Montgomery-Waller Community Park. All I know at this point is that Waller is Luckie Agee Waller (1939-1963). I know that because it says so on a plaque at the bottom of a flag pole:
For the introductory blog post
to San Diego’s historical landmarks,
click on San Diego’s Historical Landmarks.
For previous posts in the
San Diego Historical Landmarks series,
Need a unique gift?
Anniversary? Birthday? Graduation? Marriage?
Choose Photographic Art by Russel Ray Photos at Fine Art America.