No one can forget the night in 1942 when Japanese planes attacked Southern California in the “Battle of Los Angeles.”
Over 1,400 anti-aircraft rounds were fired at the Marauder planes during the night of 25 February, each one missing its target. The attacking “planes” were so thin air – the skirmishers and civilians in fear of a Japanese attack were fired upon. And once the shooting starts, it becomes difficult to stop them.
What is little remembered – in fact, completely forgotten – is the night in 1933 when two military planes shot down a Japanese plane taking pictures of Riverside’s March Field – today’s March Air Reserve Base.
In fact, looking back on this event – almost nine years to the day before the “Battle of Los Angeles” – you’d think it might have been our first UFO sighting.
One night between March Field and Lake Elsinore someone—we never knew—someone saw something and immediately came to their party line to raise the alarm. Word spread quickly, no doubt becoming more menacing and scandalous each time it passed from caller to caller.
But despite the intensity of these reports, what happened never happened.
An account of this aerial battle appeared on the front page of the Elsinore Leader-Press in Lake Elsinore on February 23, 1933. The newspaper reported the fantastic story of a Japanese plane being shot down over Elsinore after a Nippon airman claimed it. An aerial view of the March Field was attempted. The article also includes a staunch denial by Army officials that no such thing happened.
The story claims that a Japanese plane was seen taking pictures over the field that night. This should be the first clue as to the likely nature of the scene. Who knew what Japanese aircraft looked like in 1933, and how could anyone on the ground determine what the pilot was actually doing that night?
The report also said that two army jets shot down the plane, killing the pilot. But no remains were found and the military said no March field planes were sent for such a purpose.
The newspaper quoted an army spokesman as saying: “This is yet another lie that does nothing but inflame feelings between two great nations.” The Army also pointed out how foolish it was for any nation to pull such a stunt, which would have grave diplomatic consequences.
After things calmed down, March Field was featured two months later in a Los Angeles Times article: “Flyers ‘Bomb’ March Field, Enemy Planes Penetrate Defenses in Attack.” Detailed war games are being organized this May 16.
Imagine if this happened today – social media conspiracy theories would spread faster than a bullet claiming the dubious timing of the war games so close to February 25, the “incident” would prove that the downing of the Japanese plane actually happened. You never know.
School Show Biz
Another strange – and equally difficult to explain – incident occurred in Ontario in 1928 when a motion picture cameraman began filming students at Chaffey High School and Chaffey College.
A week later, Ontario’s California Theater advertised the filming production: “The Rose of Ontario” was set to debut starring students from the two schools.
And to add to the production, the film also featured a fairly well-known silent film star, John Lowell. Don’t bother looking up “Rose” in your movie history – the film aired three times in California theaters and was never seen again.
On Jan. 12, 1928, the movie – initially called “The Reporter” – was filmed by the Pacific Motion Picture Producing Company on campus and in other parts of the city, according to the Sun newspaper.
It’s a little hard to understand why a famous actor like Lowell would come to Ontario to appear in a small silent film with a group of students. The paper said California theater owner and future Ontario councilman Jack Anderson arranged the filming.
The plot revolved around a young man – played by Chaffee student Stanley Reeder – who came to Ontario to find a job at a local newspaper. He falls in love with the newspaper owner’s daughter – played by student Betty Hill. Stanley gets the job and everything ends happily. There were more than 50 students in the film. The only adults in the lead roles are Lowell and Ruth Hill, Betty’s mother, who aptly plays her mother in the film.
I suspect there are more twists and turns to the story, but it was only two reels long, about 15 to 25 minutes.
Advertisements for “The Rose of Ontario” may provide a clue as to why this all happened. Advertisements promoting “Rose” stated that it was showing one of Lowell’s own films each night between January 18 and 20.
Things weren’t going too well for Lowell at the time – whose real name was John Lowell Russell. Apparently he was one of those actors who had difficulty transitioning from silent films to the newly emerging talkies.
If California also agreed to show three of Lowell’s older films, a skeptical mind might conclude that Chaffee must have made a deal with Anderson to make the film.
The Ontario Daily Report enthusiastically declared on January 19 that “Rose” was a “wow”. David Ballou, who wrote the screenplay for the film company, introduced the cast to a large crowd jamming the theater and clapping. The paper did not comment on Lowell’s films.
My thanks to the help of Amanda Michaels, an intern at the Ontario Museum of History and Art, who basically deciphered these oddities of the film.
The Historical Society of the Pomona Valley will host a “Summer Adobe Barbecue” on August 13 featuring the Palomares Adobe, 491 AD. Will include the dedication of the Wager exhibit at Arrow Highway, Pomona.
5 pm Dinner, followed by tours of the 1854 adobe cost $10 for Society members and $20 for non-members. Youth 5 and under are free. Info: pomonahistorical.org.
Joe Blackstock writes on the history of the Inland Empire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeBlackstock. Check out past columns from Inland Empire Stories on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IEHistory.