Riverside Chamber of Commerce key to March Field beginnings

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Erik Figi
  • 452 AMW/HO

The story of March Field began at a time when the United States was building its military forces in response to calls for the country to enter World War I. By late 1916, the United States had begun what up until that time, was its largest military buildup. In May of 1917, one month after the Senate and Congress concurred on President Woodrow Wilson’s request for a declaration of war against Germany, Congress appropriated $640 million for military aviation. This meant not only was there a need for more planes, but also fully trained military aviators.


Arthur N. Sweet, who was the newly appointed “official observer” for the Riverside District, Aero Club of America, recognized the potential benefit an Army cantonment base would bring to the local economy. During the remainder of 1917, Sweet, and other partners from the Riverside Chamber of Commerce, would make three separate proposals to the War Department. A proposal in Nov. of 1917, given at the now historic Mission Inn, pushed for an Army aviation field at the Alessandro Plain site. Follow-on correspondence helped solidify Riverside’s position as a suitable aviation field to train pilots for the air war in Europe.


On Feb. 7, 1918, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce received word that the government had approved the Alessandro site on the Hendricks Ranch. On Feb. 23, 1918, Sgt. Charles E. Garlick, being stationed at Rockwell Field near San Diego, was given orders to establish a temporary camp at the Alessandro strip alongside the Perris highway and the California Southern Railway tracks. Garlick and his crew left Rockwell Field on Feb. 25 and arrived on Feb. 27, 1918. They set up a temporary and where then instructed to service cadet flights from Rockwell Field. Garlick, the installations first commander, met his first flyer, aviation Cadet Harold Compere, on March 1, 1918. The Alessandro Aviation Field was officially open for business.


In an interview 50 years later, Mr. Compere recalled:

“[I was] supposed to find Alessandro with the aid of a map. But I was advised by a veteran of the Alessandro trip, ‘forget the map.’ Locate Fallbrook from the air. You can recognize it by lights shining on the windows. Go there, look north, and you will see a big lake. That’s Elsinore. From there follow the railroad going north until you come to a small, brown, isolated [railroad] station with the name Alessandro in large letters. The gas truck will be in the field adjacent to the station where you land.”