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Verdugo Views: Some soaring memories of El Miradero

February 21, 2012|By Katherine Yamada
  • L. C. Brand had this airfield built below his El Miradero home in northwest Glendale. In 1924, he hosted a party on the airfield for one of the pilots of the first around-the-world flight. (Courtesy of Special Collections, Glendale Public Library)
L. C. Brand had this airfield built below his El Miradero…

Austeene Watkins grew up at El Miradero (now Brand Library) as the ward of her aunt, Mary Louise Brand. She married in 1909 and lived in Los Angeles, returning often for her uncle’s parties.

L.C. Brand, known to Watkins as Uncle Les, enjoyed hosting elaborate events. He was one of the first locals to own a private plane, so some of his most unusual parties had an aviation theme.

By 1919, Brand had ordered a custom plane, hired a pilot, and had a landing strip built on 15 acres just below El Miradero. His new plane and landing strip attracted the attention of other fliers and, in 1921, Brand hosted a “fly-in party,” with guests arriving by airplane. One of the guests was Watson, by then the mother of two children. (She gave birth to her third child just days after the fly-in party).

But one of her most vivid memories, she told the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 1971, was of a day in March 1924 when Lowell H. Smith and his crew came for lunch. They were preparing for the first around-the-world flight and were scheduled to take off the following morning from Santa Monica, she said.

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“The party was held at the lower end of the Miradero property where my uncle kept his airplane,” she recalled. “Guests arrived via Pierce Arrows, Wintons and Locomobiles.’’ When the party was over, Brand presented Smith with a flask to take along on his flight.

The 1924 around-the-world race involved four planes (all Douglas World Cruisers) which set out from Seattle in April, according to centennialofflight.gov.

Each of the aircraft was named after a United States city. They were the Seattle, the Chicago, the Boston and the New Orleans, with Smith piloting the Chicago.

Extensive planning went into the operation. Thirty spare engines and thousands of gallons of fuel and oil were distributed to twenty-eight nations around the world through the cooperation of the Royal Air Force and the United States Navy. The planes left Santa Monica on March 17 for Seattle, the official start of the flight.

They departed from Seattle in early April, heading west. Although they were equipped with the latest in navigational aids, severe weather took its toll. The Seattle crashed in dense fog on an Alaskan peninsula at the end of April. The crew hiked out to safety.

The other three aircraft continued on, flying to Japan, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, Europe, England and Ireland.

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