Architect Helped Camouflage Boeing Plant During WWII
John Stewart Detlie didn't design, build, or fly aircraft,
but he did ensure others could at a time when America needed those
planes the most.
Detlie, the architect who designed the effective camouflage used
to disguise the Boeing aircraft factory during WWII, passed away
last week after battling lung cancer, just a few weeks shy of his
97th birthday. A noted Hollywood set designer, artist and
architect, Detlie left a promising career behind the scenes in the
movies to work for the Army Corp of Engineers during
According to an obituary published by the Associated Press,
Detlie left filmmaker Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1942 to oversee the
camouflage of Boeing's Seattle aircraft plant, where the B-17
Flying Fortress and later B-29 Superfortress were produced. In an
effort to confuse enemy bombers, the 26-acres of Boeing's Plant
2 complex was covered with chicken wire, plywood and canvas
structures to make it appear, from the air, to be just another
Northwestern town -- including trees, houses, and schools.
As you can see from the picture above, it looked like anything
but an aircraft factory when Detlie's work was completed.
Instead of returning to
Hollywood after the war -- he had been nominated for an Academy
Award in 1940 as production designer on the film "Bitter Sweet" --
Detlie joined the architecture firm that hired him for the Boeing
job. He eventually became a partner of that firm, and went on to
design Seattle's Children's Orthopedic Hospital as well as several
University of Washington buildings, and Temple De Hirsch -- all
After leaving Seattle with his second wife, Virginia, following
the death of their 3-year-old son, Detlie went on to become a noted
architect in LA, Baltimore and Honolulu.
"He was an amazing man," Virginia Detlie said last Friday. "He
accomplished so much."
According to retired newspaperman Lou Guzzo, Detlie was also a
pioneer in the Seattle arts movement in the 1950s as a member of
the Beer & Culture Society, a small group of academics,
architects and artists who later formed Allied Arts of Seattle. He
was the group's first president.
Aero-News doesn't know if Detlie ever piloted an airplane, or if
he especially wanted to. Nor do we know if he'd ever heard the term
"gone west," an acclamation given to pilots and airmen who have
left the Earth's firmament and moved on to whatever awaits on the
other side. Nonetheless, for his work during wartime we believe
John Stewart Detlie has earned the honor, and we are saddened to
hear of his loss.