By Jill Diamond | Uptown News
The B. Franklin and Helen Mahoney/Richard Requa House, located at 4105 Alameda Drive in Mission Hills, has been home to several occupants including B. Franklin Mahoney, a man who helped make history.
Mahoney was the one-time owner of San Diego’s Ryan Aircraft Corp., the creator of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the first airplane to cross the Atlantic Ocean nonstop in 1927. Lindbergh’s flight brought international attention to aviation and to San Diego as a center of aviation manufacturing and innovation (although Lindbergh has become a controversial figure for being a Nazi sympathizer during WWII).
According to local historic home researcher, Alexandra Wallace of Landmark Historic Preservation, Mahoney “was a pioneer and innovator in the new field of aviation in San Diego and was also the creator of one of the first U.S. airlines with daily passenger service which ferried passengers from San Diego to Los Angeles.”
The B. Franklin and Helen Mahoney/Richard Requa House is “an excellent example of Spanish Eclectic architecture and an excellent example of the work of established Master Architect Richard Requa,” according to Kiley Wallace, president and architectural historian of Landmark Historic Preservation.
“Requa designed this home in 1921 in an early form of his Spanish Eclectic ‘Southern California Style.’ The period of significance, 1921-1951, encompasses the date of construction of the home. This house has been well maintained and has excellent integrity within the public view,” he said.
Mahoney and first wife Helen owned the home from 1921-1951 and were residents from 1921 to 1925, when they separated and divorced. Mahoney retained ownership until 1951.
Benjamin F. Mahoney was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1901. Dad Franklin B.F. Mahoney, Sr. owned a large general store in Wilkes-Barre called Mahoney & Co. When Franklin Jr. was about 12 years old, his father died.
He attended the Bordentown Military Academy in Bordentown, New Jersey, the Rosenbaum College Preparatory School in Milford, Connecticut, and Mercersburg College in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.
In 1919, Mahoney and his mother Jennie moved to San Diego. After arriving, he worked as a bond salesman and then at an investment firm.
On Aug. 2, 1902, Franklin’s wife, Helen Ann Post, was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and in 1912, she moved to San Diego with her parents and brother.
She attended Francis W. Parker School, San Diego High School, and in June 1920, graduated from Bishop’s School in La Jolla. Six months later, she married Mahoney against her family’s wishes. The newlyweds resided briefly at Casa Grande Apartments in Hillcrest. In 1921, Helen purchased the lots on which the home would be built.
Soon after, Requa was hired to design the home and in December 1922, B.F. Mahoney’s name was added to the deed.
Franklin and Helen reportedly had a rocky marriage, which peaked in a shooting incident on July 13, 1924. Apparently, Mahoney drove to 4105 Alameda Drive with a private detective. According to Mahoney’s statements published in the July 23, 1924 issue of the San Diego Union, his car was being followed by the car of Edward H. Post, his father-in-law.
There are various reports of where Mahoney parked his car, too. A San Diego Union article dated July 23 states he parked at the “rear entrance” of 4105 Alameda Drive, although there is no rear entrance, Alexandra Wallace added.
A Union article from the next day reported the car was parked across the street, at the entrance to an alley leading to Helen’s parents’ home at 3929 Alameda Drive. Helen came out of 4105 Alameda “brandishing a revolver.”
Helen told the private detective, who was still in the vehicle, to leave the area, at which point B.F. Mahoney took the gun away from her. Moments later, Helen’s father fired five shots at Mahoney from a .32 caliber automatic pistol. “Neither Mahoney nor the private detective was hurt. Her father was arrested and charged with assault with intent to commit murder, and bail was $5,000. Helen filed for divorce shortly after the incident,” Wallace said she learned while researching.
Newspaper articles following the shooting incident continued to report the alleged problems in the Mahoney marriage. For example, Helen accused B.F. of serial infidelity, having an affair with a married woman, “extreme cruelty,” a gambling addiction, and alcoholism.
Articles from August 1924 reported the couple reconciled and charges against Helen’s father were dropped. The reconciliation was short-lived, however, and by 1927, Franklin had remarried, Wallace added.
Fascinated by aviation and wanting to learn to fly, Mahoney took lessons from T. Claude Ryan’s flight school, the Ryan Flying Co. He noticed the business potential due to the many airplanes located in San Diego. Most only flew within the immediate San Diego area, but he thought money could be made by giving flights between San Diego and Los Angeles.
He convinced Ryan to take a chance and put up the money for a share of the airline’s profits. The inaugural flight was March 1, 1925, and to bring attention to the new airline, Mahoney invited celebrities to be its first passengers.
However, after some issues, the San Diego-Los Angeles route failed and the men could not agree on how to raise new funds. By Nov. 23, 1926, their partnership ended, and Mahoney bought Ryan out for $25,000.
Mahoney continued to use the name Ryan Airlines, while Ryan stayed on the payroll for a bit. Ryan Airlines began airplane manufacturing in fall 1925.
Wallace said in February 1927, Lindbergh, who had been working as an airmail pilot, wired Ryan Airlines with the following message: “Can you construct Whirlwind engine plane capable flying nonstop between New York and Paris?” according to the New York Times..
Mahoney said he could build a plane but it would take 90 days instead of the 60 Lindbergh wanted.
Lindbergh sent another wire saying the 60-day timeframe was needed as he was planning to compete for the $25,000 Orteig Prize by flying nonstop between New York and Paris. He didn’t want a competitor to get a plane before him. The same day, Mahoney wired Lindbergh: “Can complete in two months.”
A few weeks after he had initially contacted Ryan Airlines, Lindbergh arrived in San Diego to tour the factory. He discussed the specs for the plane and Mahoney agreed to build it in 60 days for $10,580, although some sources report the figure was $12,000, Wallace said. The money came from financial backers in St. Louis, as well as Lindbergh’s own savings, according to an article in the San Diego Union, April 26, 2008.
The plane was completed on time and made its first test flight over North Island on April 28. After 20-plus more test flights, Lindbergh flew the plane to Long Island, New York on May 12, 1927.
Mahoney followed by train on May 20 as weather conditions over the Atlantic Ocean improved and Lindbergh took off from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field in the Spirit of St. Louis. At 10:22 p.m. on May 21, 1927, after 33-plus hours of straight flying, Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget field in Paris to throngs of supporters.
On Dec. 31, 1927, Mahoney sold the company, reportedly for $1 million to a group of St. Louis investors, including some of Lindbergh’s original backers. Mahoney Aircraft Corp. was formed, with Mahoney serving as president and director, Wallace said.
Later, the company was renamed the Mahoney-Ryan Aircraft Corp. producing several airplanes. However, it was acquired by the Detroit Aircraft Corp. in June 1929 but went bankrupt in October 1930. Some say Mahoney was badly impacted in the 1929 stock market crash, and never fully recovered financially, Wallace said.
The 1940 census shows that B.F. Mahoney was renting a home in Beverly Hills for $70 per month with his wife Lillian. His occupation is listed as “flyer” in the aviation industry; however, it is unknown where exactly he was working, Wallace added.
B. Franklin Mahoney died on July 31, 1951, at Studio City Sanitarium where he had lived for the past eight years.
— Jill Diamond is a local freelance reporter with a penchant for history.