Spies in Santa Monica: Target Douglas Aircraft
by Ronald Drabkin
Historian, author and West LA native Ronald Drabkin reveals some of Douglas Aircraft and the historic Associated Telephone Building’s WWII era secrets in the following article, adapted from a chapter in his new work of spy nonfiction, Beverly Hills Spy: The Double-Agent Flying Ace Who Infiltrated Hollywood and Helped Japan Attack Pearl Harbor
The citizens of Santa Monica in the mid 1920’s were used to the strange sight of big airplanes being wheeled across Wilshire Boulevard, on their way to Clover Field. Douglas Aircraft was still producing planes at its original location at 25th and Wilshire Boulevard, the current Douglas Park, and needed to get the planes to a location with a larger runway.
Originally, the small Douglas planes were delivered to their customer by simply having a pilot get in the completed plane and take off from the runway adjacent to the plant, and flying directly to the customer’s location, such as the new San Diego Naval Air Station. However, the planes were getting bigger, and larger planes need more space to take off, and the eucalyptus trees on Wilshire were getting larger as well, making it dangerous to take off in this small location. Therefore, the planes needed to be moved to the location that is currently the Santa Monica airport.
Not everyone who saw those planes on the streets of Santa Monica was a friend of the United States. In the 1920s Douglas produced the first plane to fly around the world, the Douglas World Cruiser, and in the 1930’s they were making innovative level and dive bombers for the US military. This technology was attractive to foreign countries, who sent agents to try to obtain the secrets of how Douglas and other Southland manufacturers were able to produce these planes.
In the 1930s, the three countries that were most interested in obtaining this US technology were Germany, the Soviet Union and Japan. The Soviet Union had perhaps the easiest time recruiting agents. Los Angeles had a large number of Americans who were believers in communism, and with Douglas becoming Santa Monica’s largest employer, finding a local person to get a job at a plant and steal secrets was a reasonably achievable proposition. 
Germany’s local organization, the Bund, also had a large number of adherents, many of which had immigrated to California in the 1920s to escape the depression and inflation of their home country post World War I. Plant security chiefs such as John Hanson at Lockheed often had extra screening for German nationals, but agents could slip through the cracks in the process.
Japan had the hardest time infiltrating the plants; although there was a substantial Japanese population in the area, the color lines of the time made them stand out. Furthermore, throughout the 1930s and 40s, the Japanese government gave direction to their agents to not work with Japanese Americans, since they tended to be loyal to the United States. 
The Japanese government had hired a British war hero named Frederick Rutland, sending him to Los Angeles to be their spy who would be able to find the necessary secrets from the US aircraft manufacturers. It was, in theory, perfect. Rutland, an ace flier and engineer for the Royal Navy in World War I, knew as much about warplane design as anyone. Quickly buying a house on the Bird Streets in Hollywood, he established himself in the westside aerospace community, opening an office across from the runway on Clover Field and drinking with Douglas employees at locations such as the Townhouse Bar in Venice, which at the time was a members club known as the Del Monte. 
Rutland hid in plain sight; his status as a British war hero meant he was maybe the last person who anyone would suspect to be a Japanese spy. By 1940, though, the FBI had gotten wind of Rutland’s activities and began to tail him to see what exactly he was up to. One of the easiest ways to track someone’s actions is by their phone records, which they did at the then new Associated Telephone Building on 1314 7th St in Santa Monica. All long distance calls were logged in those days, and at the time, a call from Hollywood to Santa Monica was long distance. The FBI agents discovered many of Rutland’s associates via these call logs; in particular, he was closely associated with Lloyd Strickland, branch manager for the Santa Monica Commercial Savings Bank. 
 Sample phone records from the Associated Telephone Company. Cyril Chappellet was an early executive at Lockheed.

Other FBI agents were able to ascertain what kind of aircraft information Rutland was obtaining from somewhere in Santa Monica, as can be seen in the declassified memo below.
A sample FBI file showing Rutland’s activities in Santa Monica.

The complete details of what Rutland was able to obtain from Douglas, Lockheed and others aren’t known. However, we do know what the Japanese Navy asked Rutland to obtain. It included information on the new dive bomber, which was being assembled at the Douglas plant in El Segundo, and the A20 Havoc bomber, which was being assembled in Santa Monica. This information was used to inform Japanese manufacturers on how best to improve their own planes, which would soon be in combat with US planes at Pearl Harbor and across the Pacific.
Images (1) The first Douglas Aircraft Company plant on Wilshire and 25th in 1920, where the foreign spies first came to observe the advanced planes being made. Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives. (2) A Douglas World Cruiser on world flight in 1924 with a ship traveling the ocean below the airplane. Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives. (3) A young Frederick Rutland in his military uniform, on board a seaplane carrier. He was the poor son of a migrant laborer who dropped out of school and joined the Royal Navy at age 14. In 1916, he flew his plane from an aircraft carrier over the German fleet during the Battle of Jutland, being the first person to fly a plane from an aircraft carrier in battle. Image in the public domain. (4) Associated Telephone Building, date unknown.
There's more to the story!
Writer Ronald Drabkin will be signing books at Diesel, A Bookstore in Brentwood on February 13th!
Also related to Santa Monica's aviation history, 18th Street Arts Center is hosting a free screening of “Breaking Through The Clouds: The First Women’s National Air Derby”, on Sunday, January 28 from 6-8:30 p.m. at their Olympic Campus.

This award winning documentary shares the inspiring true story of twenty women who raced across America by plane in the summer of 1929 – from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, Ohio.

The event is part of 18th Street's Artful Watching, a special series of outdoor film screenings exploring the rich history and cultural treasures of Santa Monica.
Happy Birthday Marion title graphic
We hope you will join the Conservancy and the Annenberg Community Beach House for our first big bash of 2024! On Sunday, January 28 from 1-3 p.m. we gather to celebrate Marion Davies – Santa Monica’s favorite silent film actress, famed party hostess, philanthropist, and the original Beach House resident. Come in your favorite Gold Coast era attire!

Featuring Natalie Jacob & The Vintage Quartet, magic by Tom Frank and a lesson in Social Dance steps of the 1920's with James Zimmer & Cynthia Harper. The historic Marion Davies Guest House will also be open for free, walk in tours from 12-2 pm.

Happy Birthday Marion! is a free, all ages event held at the Annenberg Community Beach House at 415 Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. Please click the link below to register and for more details. Questions can be directed to [email protected]
Mosaic to Celebrate the Darkened Civic Auditorium’s 
Glittering Past as Inspiration for a Reopened Future
Free Livestream / Sunday, February 11
Photo: Academy Awards Pre-Show at the Civic Auditorium in 1968
The Conservancy’s Santa Monica Mosaic livestream series kicks off its fifth season with a program focusing on the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and efforts to save the venerable hall, which presented world-class performers for half a century but is now shuttered and facing potential demolition.
Mosaic: Saving Our Civic airs Sunday, Feb. 11, from 5:00-6:15 p.m. and will celebrate the Civic’s illustrious history as host to an all-inclusive galaxy of world-class performers and a diverse array of popular community events. The fully illustrated Mosaic program will also honor the Civic’s enduring architectural distinction, followed by a discussion of how its past, present and future role in the community and how it might be reopened.
The episode will conclude with an opportunity for viewers to ask questions of the show’s featured speakers. They include Carole Curtin, who ran the Civic for 24 years until its closure in 2012; Lorcan O’Herlihy, an award-winning architect and close friend of the Civic’s wunderkind architect, Louis Naidorf working for Welton Becket & Associates; and Conservancy Board member Amanda Seward, who grew up with the Civic and is now involved with efforts to preserve it.
Mosaic, a joint presentation of the Santa Monica Conservancy and Santa Monica History Museum, is free for both Museum and Conservancy members, as well as for teachers and students. Admission for the general public is $10. Registration opens next week!
Our December 2023 Print Newsletter is available online! Get updates on the work of our Advocacy Committee and Docent Council, read about the potential for agency-led community outreach to determine the fate of the Civic Auditorium and Samohi English Building, as well as the status of our ongoing initiatives and programs! 
Conservancy Tours & Events
Virtual tour on January 21 / 2520 Second Street

Click HERE for more information and to register for the virtual tour.
Tours of the Annenberg Community Beach House Free walk-in tours Friday-Monday from 12-2 p.m. / 415 Pacific Coast Highway

Click HERE for more information.
Hollywood On The Santa Monica Beach – Talk and Film Screening
February 11 / Annenberg Community Beach House

Click HERE to register and for more information.
First and third Saturdays of the month at 10 a.m.
*Tour cancelled this Saturday, 1/20*

Discover the architectural gems and rich history of Downtown Santa Monica with one of our expert docents!
Click HERE to make a reservation.
Community Events
Saturday, January 27 / Symposium co-hosted by the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design and FORT: LA

Click HERE for more information.
Exhibition opens Friday, February 2 / Santa Monica History Museum

Click HERE for more information.
Exhibition opens Saturday, February 3 / Santa Monica History Museum

Click HERE for more information.
Santa Monica Conservancy