Los Angeles 99s Fight to Save Santa Monica Airport’s Compass Rose

Historic airport landmark is in jeopardy of being destroyed along with the runway.

Members of the Los Angeles 99s
Members of the Los Angeles 99s and other supporters are hoping to save the compass rose at the Santa Monica Airport.Los Angeles 99s

The City of Santa Monica is in the process of demolishing segments of the east and west ends of the runway at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport after the runway distance was shortened recently from 5,000 feet to 3,500 feet. Along with the destruction of this national resource, the city could potentially destroy a historic landmark – the compass rose near the approach end of Runway 3. The 99s created the compass rose on the SMO tarmac decades ago and now the group is fighting to save the symbol.

According to the Los Angeles 99s, the national organization's history of air marking began as early as the 1930s. One of the founding members of the 99s, Phoebe Omlie, was appointed as the special advisor for air intelligence to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (which later became NASA). Omlie's air marking program included painting 12-foot letters on the roofs of barns, factories, warehouses and other large structures to help pilots identify towns or other significant landmarks. She hired 99s members to help execute the air markings.

The 99s compass rose logo and monogram was designed in 1939 by Los Angeles 99s member Wilma Fritschey. The same design is still used today and 99s members volunteer to maintain the symbols at airports around the country by repainting them when they begin to fade. The main purpose of the compass rose is to calibrate the compass, which is still a required piece of equipment for airplanes.

Los Angeles 99s members and other advocates for the cause are meeting with the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission on Monday September 9 to voice their support for the compass rose. The meeting will be held at the Santa Monica City Hall at 7 p.m. Anyone in support of the compass rose is encouraged to attend.