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Earhart Statue Is Shining Again

Times Staff Writer

Bertie Duffy, a Van Nuys pilot who enjoys cross-country flying in her open cockpit biplane, gazed up at the image of her heroine with pride.

“The look on that statue says ‘I want to explore the horizons,’ ” Duffy said with a smile. “That is what I like to do. This is the lady I like to emulate.”

In a fitting salute to North Hollywood’s hometown heroine, a squadron of World War II-era planes passed high above the street corner as a curtain of balloons was released Friday, revealing the gleaming, refurbished statue of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean.

Since 1971, a 7-foot-tall, community-financed statue of the slim woman in baggy pants and a rumpled flying jacket has overlooked the busy intersection of Tujunga Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard, just a few blocks from the North Hollywood house where she lived at the height of her aviation career.

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But 17 years of hot San Fernando Valley summers, wind, rain and the fingernails of viewers attempting to scrape off the gold paint had cracked and marred the statue.

In early July, with $13,000 from the city of Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Agency, the original sculptor, Ernest Shelton, began sealing up the cracks and returning the statue to its original gold-covered glory atop a new black marble pedestal.

A few of Earhart’s former North Hollywood neighbors were on hand to witness her second debut.

“Yep, it looks exactly like her,” said Lee Cameron, 77, who said he first met Earhart in Cleveland when she was “at the airport looking for plane parts.”

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“This statue here is real aviation history for us,” said Cameron, a retired United Airlines captain. “She was a great, adventuresome gal and did a lot to promote aviation.”

Tony LeVier, 75, a retired Lockheed test pilot, remembered the day in 1928 when he sat next to Earhart at the national air races in Los Angeles. “I was just a kid, but I sat down beside her, and we watched the show together, talking about the planes.”

It was that same year that Earhart became the first woman passenger on a flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

1st Woman to Solo Atlantic

But it was her 1932 flight, in her own Burbank-built Lockheed Vega, that catapulted her into the history books as the first woman to pilot a plane across the Atlantic and the first woman to fly it alone.

Her North Hollywood fans were quick to point out Friday that she returned to her home at 10042 Valley Spring Lane, just down the street from the statue, after the historic crossing. She usually flew out of Lockheed’s airport--now Burbank Airport--from 1935 until 1937, when her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to fly around the world.

In unveiling the refurbished statue, Jim Wood, chairman of the redevelopment agency’s board, told the street-corner crowd that “this is a statue the people of North Hollywood are intimately involved with.”

At 45, Bertie Duffy--a leader of The 99s, an organization of women pilots that Earhart helped found--is too young to remember Earhart personally, but agreed. Duffy, wearing her favorite blue T-shirt with Earhart’s face printed on the front, called her “our role model, our leader.”

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