Meet Bankers Hill’s famous aviator

By Leo Wilson

Waldo D. Waterman Park will be dedicated on Wednesday, Oct. 25, in honor of a famous aviator from Bankers Hill.

The new park is at the corner of Maple and Albatross streets, and overlooks Maple Canyon.

On July 1, 1909, less than six years after the famed Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, 15-year-old Waldo Dean Waterman flew a homemade hang glider off the south rim of Maple Canyon, landing on the canyon bottom. Some sources say he “swooped” into the canyon.

Bankers Hill park will be named for local aviator Waldo Dean Waterman, who died in 1976. (City of San Diego)

Waterman made several flights before returning to his garage and working on a plane with an engine. The spot he took off from on the canyon rim is included within the new park that is named after him.

The 9,000-square-foot park site was formerly known as the West Maple Canyon Mini-Park. On May 18, 2017, at the request of Uptown Planners, it was renamed after Waldo Waterman.

For over a decade, it was assumed the green space would be known as Waldo Waterman Park. On May 18, 2007, the Bankers Hill/Park West Community Association included the renaming as part of its recommendations for how the new park should be designed. The recommendations also requested that: “A historic image of Waldo Waterman should be placed in the center of the site to commemorate the historic figure.”

The historic image will be a relocated plaque that was placed at the west end of the park site on July 1, 1959 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Waterman’s flight. The plaque was placed by the Early Birds of Aviation, a national aviation organization, and the San Diego Historical Society. The mayor of San Diego and other dignitaries were in attendance, as was Waldo Waterman, who spoke at the event. The day prior, Waterman, who was still a licensed pilot, flew again over Maple Canyon.

In 1911, shortly after his first flight, Waterman became involved in a project to develop a new hybrid airplane/car/boat — known as the “whatsit” airplane. An owner could: “drive his amphibian aircraft away from the landing field or water.” It got its name because when people first viewed it, their initial question was: “What is it?” Waterman worked on the project for several decades, but eventually abandoned it and the prototype plane donated to the Smithsonian Museum.  Waterman went on to become a TWA pilot, but at the same time continued his inventive work in aviation.

Waterman was not the only famed aviator associated with Bankers Hill.  In May 1927, a 25-year-old aviator left his temporary residence on Maple Street in Bankers Hill, only a few blocks east of Waldo Waterman Park, and flew a small plane that had been manufactured in San Diego to Paris. His name was Charles Lindbergh.

The dedication of Waldo D. Waterman Park will take on Oct. 25, from 10:30-11 a.m. There were dozens of people in Bankers Hill who helped make this park happen; thanks to everyone involved.

— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.

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