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Oceanside, Spruce Goose (and the CIA?)

by Logan Jenk­ins

It’s a soar­ing sea­son for biopics.

“Ray” (musi­cian Ray Charles) and “Kin­sey” (sex researcher Alfred Kin­sey) have drawn great reviews. “Alexan­der” (as in “the Great”) is epic in scale though his­tor­i­cal­ly lame, accord­ing to crit­ics.

Fly­ing high above com­peti­tors at the Acad­e­my Awards may be “The Avi­a­tor,” direc­tor Mar­tin Scors­ese’s antic­i­pat­ed film about Howard Hugh­es, sched­uled for release this month.

Star­ring Leonar­do DiCaprio as Hugh­es (Cate Blanchett as Kate Hep­burn; Kate Beck­in­sale as Ava Gard­ner), “Avi­a­tor” charts the bil­lion­aire pilot’s tur­bu­lent life from 1927 to 1948, begin­ning with Hugh­es’ first movie, “Hel­l’s Angels,” and end­ing after the one-mile test flight of the Her­cules HK‑1, the wood­en fly­ing boat com­mon­ly known by its deri­sive nick­name, the Spruce Goose.

I’m remind­ed that a dozen years ago Ocean­side was in the run­ning to cre­ate a nest for the sud­den­ly loose Goose, five sto­ries tall with a wingspan of 320 feet.

Why, if it had­n’t been for the machi­na­tions of the CIA, Ocean­side might even have cashed in on the Goose’s gold­en eggs.

Well, that might be a bit of a stretch­er.

The CIA part, I mean.

Truth is, I want­ed to pique your inter­est with a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry. But I swear, every­thing else is God’s hon­est.

In 1992, Coun­cil­man Don Rodee warned the res­i­dents of Ocean­side that there was no time to lose. For­tune favors the dar­ing. “This com­mu­ni­ty has the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a mil­len­ni­um pass­ing before it,” he said at a coun­cil meet­ing.

For months, Rodee had been tout­ing the pur­chase of both the fly­ing boat and its 3½-acre, six-sto­ry-high hangar, locat­ed in Long Beach next to the Queen Mary. Rodee had his eye on a spit of land just north of town, on Camp Pendle­ton. But oth­er sites to the east of Inter­state 5 would do.

Tourists trav­el­ing down the high­way would flock to the vis­i­ble Goose, he pre­dict­ed. A com­mer­cial pilot with almost 200 com­bat mis­sions in Viet­nam, Rodee was dream­ing like Cecil B. DeMille, in Tech­ni­col­or.

May­or Lar­ry Bagley expressed the skep­ti­cism of many O’siders when he dis­missed the Goose as an alba­tross.

At one meet­ing, Bagley scoffed, “If Rodee will fly it down here, I’ll back him.”

Rodee was unde­terred by the sar­casm. He plot­ted how to trans­port the sea­plane on the ocean, pos­si­bly under the pow­er of its eight 3,000-horsepower engines.

“Nation­al Geo­graph­ic was going to pay us for the rights of a doc­u­men­tary pro­gram of the event,” Rodee e‑mailed me recent­ly. “The dome was going to come by large barges and sec­tioned up here for a move­ment to its final posi­tion. . . . The Smith­son­ian (Muse­um) backed the posi­tion of the plane here in Ocean­side because it was a big part of the air­craft indus­try era of WWII.”

In the end, O’side fin­ished sec­ond in the bid­ding, beat­en by Ever­green Inter­na­tion­al Avi­a­tion Inc.

“The issue turned into a moot point,” Rodee recalled, “as Delford Smith of Ever­green Air­lines – the CIA’s (con­tract) air­line that replaced Air Amer­i­ca of the Viet­nam era – worked an insid­er deal with the Aero Club of SoCal (the Goose’s own­er) and came out as the first choice on their list.”

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, McMin­nville, Ore., Ever­green’s head­quar­ters in the wine coun­try 35 miles south­west of Port­land, wel­comed the Goose with open arms.

The plane was sep­a­rat­ed into 38 pieces and shipped on trucks 980 nau­ti­cal miles to the new Ever­green Avi­a­tion Muse­um, which dis­plays 60 oth­er air­craft next to the Ever­green airstrip.

Still, the Goose is the muse­um’s star attrac­tion, housed in a grace­ful hangar-like struc­ture that also serves as a restau­rant. Vis­i­tors enjoy din­ner under the out­stretched wings of Hugh­es’ wood­en fol­ly.

“Avi­a­tor” is like­ly to cre­ate a surge of inter­est in vis­it­ing the Goose, agreed Kather­ine Huit, direc­tor of col­lec­tions. The muse­um’s vin­tage col­or footage of the Long Beach sky­line has been blend­ed into the end of “Avi­a­tor,” Huit said. The muse­um also helped with the cre­ation of a Goose mod­el as well as tech­ni­cal sup­port.

Rodee – these days, he’s hang­ing out in New Zealand, “tak­ing a long break and enjoy­ing life” – said he’d heard a rumor at anoth­er air muse­um that the CIA secret­ly under­wrote the build­ing of the Ever­green muse­um, offer­ing a finan­cial edge to McMin­nville.

Well, that wild goose shall remain unchased.

I’d rather go see the movie.


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