Early SDASM History

Early SDASM History

The San Diego Air & Space Museum (SDASM) was not originally hosted in the Ford Building. SDASM (formerly called San Diego Aerospace Museum, SDAM) was established in 1961 as a non–profit organization. The need for an aerospace museum was a pressing issue, especially since San Diego had – and still has – a long and rich aerospace history. The building would not only exhibit special aircraft and San Diego's aviation history, but it would also house an institutional body of dedicated people with a core mission to educate San Diegans about San Diego's imperative role in aerospace history. 

The original foundry committee was led by Preston M. "Sandy" Fleet, son of Reuben H. Fleet, the president of Consolidated Aircraft, and Captain Norvel R. Richardson of the U.S. Navy, who was in charge of the Navy's aircraft nuclear propulsion program in the 1950s.

Preston Mitchell
Preston Mitchell "Sandy" Fleet (http://image2.findagrave.com/photos250/photos/2012/307/100053685_135196162003.jpg).

Charles Brown was appointed as the first executive director and opened SDAM in February 1963, in the Food and Beverage Building built during the 1915 Exposition. The Museum hosted only four airplanes, but was a huge success. Soon after its opening, the International Aerospace Hall of Fame found its home within the Museum, with the mission to commemorate famed air and space pioneers whose contributions were worthy of special recognition. Two years after the Museum opened, SDAM was granted permission to move into the Electric Building, a larger facility also left from the first exposition. By 1965, the Aerospace Museum had added military and civilian aircraft, mockup spacecraft, and formed a new library and archives. The SDAM staff looked to make the large Ford Building their new home, but the move into the building was only accomplished through a series of difficult trials.

Electric Building (Property of the Library & Archives, SDASM).
Electric Building (Property of the Library & Archives, SDASM).

In the sixties, the Ford Building was mainly used for storage, seeing little use since the 1935-36 Exposition. In 1960, the City Council deemed that the Ford Building lacked significant architectural value and proposed that it be demolished, though no efforts were made until a decade later. Then in 1973 there was a public outcry to save the Ford Building from being destroyed and in April that year the building was placed on the National Registry of History Places. It was around this time that SDAM administration began to push to relocate into the Ford Building.

Ford Building Historical plaque (Property of SDASM).
Ford Building Historical plaque (Property of SDASM).

The Electric Building was too small and by the 1970s the Museum had reached its spatial limits. The SDAM officials desperately negotiated with the City Council to move into the vacant Ford Building. The Building was an ideal location for the Museum not only because of its size but because it was originally dedicated to technology in 1935. In 1977 the City Council finally approved of the relocation and provided a 2.64 million dollar grant to refurbish and restore the once glorious building.Many San Diegans were excited about the relocation of the Aerospace Museum, but before that could happen, tragedy struck Balboa Park.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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