All’s Right With Dan Wright

By Beverlye Fead   |   August 1, 2019

Dano (as he is affectionately known) was born June 5, 1932 at home in the small farming town of Washington Courthouse, Ohio. His mother, Hazel, was 32 years old and his sister Alice was 10 when Dano was born.

In 1935, at the age of three, he and his mother, father, and sister moved from Ohio to the San Fernando Valley, California, where they rented a house in Sherman Oaks.

In California, Dano’s mother worked as a waitress and his dad drove a laundry truck for very little pay; after three years in California they packed up the car, with their newly acquired German Shepherd, Vickie, and headed back to Ohio, where Dano’s grandfather owned a house in Leesburg. After they moved, his parents got a divorce, uncommon during the 1930s and tough for the kids.

His mother was an independent woman and a year later, Dano, his sister, and mother moved from Leesburg to Columbus, Ohio. He no longer had a father, but 17-year-old Alice became his second mom.

Once in Columbus, and at the age of seven, he sold newspapers on the street corner for three cents a copy, keeping one cent for each copy sold. On a good day he could make enough to afford a hot dog for a nickel and a 7-Up for another nickel. On a really good day he could not only eat and drink but go to a movie too (another five cents). One year later he got his own paper route, which made him eligible to own a bicycle. It was during World War II and bikes were rationed. One way to get a bike was to have a job that required the use of one. In this way he was able to buy a Schwinn. 

Back to California 

In 1941, when he was nine years old, Alice decided to move to California and asked him if he wanted to join her. His mother agreed to the plan and said she would try and join them within a year. So, the two of them packed their things and a few days later were in downtown Los Angeles, where his sister rented a studio apartment (flop house) on the third floor of an old building. 

Within a year their mother joined them. She and his mother both got jobs in Burbank at Lockheed Aircraft. With two solid incomes and the need for more room, their family left downtown Los Angeles and moved to a guesthouse in Sherman Oaks. 

About a year later after moving once more he started junior high school in Van Nuys. It was there, at age twelve, he became a Boy Scout. His Scout leader, Cecil, instilled strong values and became something of a father figure to him. 

When he was a senior in at Van Nuys High School he moved in with Roger Dittmann, a friend he had met in the Boy Scouts when they were both twelve. Roger’s stepfather, Herman “Fish” Salmon, was an engineering test pilot for Lockheed. Fish and Roger both loved flying and airplanes, and it was these two who instilled Dano’s love for flying. He had no money, so he traded his old LaSalle (worth about $50), for a motorcycle and then traded the motorcycle for flying lessons. 

Life in Santa Barbara

When Roger started school at UCSB, which was still at the old Riviera campus, Dano came up to visit. At the end of the visit he decided to stay. Roger was living with two friends who were happy to have another roommate so the four of them shared a $40/month rental on Salsipuedes Street, each paying $10/month.

Here is where all that early entrepreneurship began to pay off. He and Roger learned that UCSB was moving near Isla Vista to an ex-military facility in Goleta and they thought it would be a good idea to buy some land there as an investment. He found a couple acres for sale at ten cents a square foot, zoned for student housing. He and Roger each put up $1,000 as the down payment. At the time he had no money, so he borrowed against his car, a 1949 Mercury convertible. He and Roger paid the $30/month mortgage, alternating months. Many years later Dano built a sorority house on the property.

Shortly after, Roger introduced Suzanne, a fellow student at UCSB, to Dano. They were married in 1953. She is the mother of his children. Although not married to each other any longer, they remain good friends.

They moved back to the San Fernando Valley where he found work as a surveyor’s assistant and immediately got an apartment in Northridge for $50/month. In 1954 they bought a duplex in Northridge. The total price was $13,500. There was a $1,000 down payment, a first trust deed, a second trust deed, and a third trust deed – which the real estate broker took as his commission. Talk about leveraged buying!

For the next few years he worked for a surveying company. He was out of town all week. This was not a good job for newlyweds so after a bit he quit and became a carpenter on schools and tract houses. He became the foreman on a Harris and Frank commercial building. During this time, he got his Real Estate Salesman license as well as a General Contractor’s license. With the money they saved, they bought a lot in Northridge, built a spec house and sold it at a profit. It was the first of many.

In 1956 their son, Steve, was born followed by twins Stacey and Tracy in 1958. By 1959 he and Suzanne agreed they didn’t want to raise their children in an area with smog, so they packed up and moved into a rental in Isla Vista.

By the time he got to Santa Barbara he was determined to become successful in the real estate business. Silvio De Loreto, who owned Sunset Realty, hired Dano. He worked for Silvio for a few years and in 1961 opened his own office called “Dan B. Wright Realtors.” Six months after opening they were number one in sales, according to MLS. 

In 1964, he purchased some land on the Westside and built a 25-unit apartment building, which he still owns today. In 1969, he closed his real estate office and became a real estate investor and refinancer.

Making Movies

In the late 1960s he enrolled at UCLA Film School. As part of the course he made a student film called Rapids of the Colorado, which featured a Sierra Club trip down the Colorado River. The film was picked up by a distributor and became something of a commercial success. Since he was also an avid skier, he wanted to make a ski movie, which led to work with Warren Miller on ski films as the cinematographer on his films. When Bruce Brown began working on a feature release about motorcycles, featuring Steve McQueen, he went to work behind the camera on that film. In 1970 his last film project was Run With The Wind, a film he produced and directed about Transpac, a yacht race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. The film opened in 1970 at the Lobero Theatre and played at many theaters. Remarkably, it also made the cover of TV Guide.

Aviation has been a life-long interest of his, since those early days in Van Nuys. Over his lifetime he has owned numerous aircraft, and three helicopters. He still has one helicopter and one airplane. A few years ago, he received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot award given for achieving 50 years of continuous flying with a perfect safety record. It is the highest award given by the FAA. He also has competed in competition aerobatics and was the California State Sportsman champion in 1983. The same year he earned second place in the Aerobatic Nationals at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, flying his Pitts 2 Special. He also raced at the Reno Air Races for seven years in an experimental airplane that he helped build.

Never Too Old

In celebration of his 50th birthday, he jumped out of an airplane with a group of about 13 friends and family members. Recently he and his friend, Wayne Siemens, raced his Tesla 3 Performance at Laguna Seca and Willow Springs racetrack. In celebration of his 87th birthday, he rode his bicycle 87 kilometers, which is a follow-up to the 80 miles he rode on his 80th birthday, and the 60 miles he rode on his 60th birthday. He is hoping to make a 90-mile bike trip on his 90th birthday. Or at least 90 kilometers…

Today, at 87, he lives in Montecito with his girlfriend, Shirley, her 15-year-old son, Ryan, and their Labradoodle, Leo. His first wife Suzanne and their three children all live in Santa Barbara, as do two of his seven grandchildren. He still regularly plays tennis at Knowlwood Tennis Club and with the Montecito Mafia Tennis Group, a group of guys he has played with since the group formed. “I’m lucky,” he said, “you’re never too old to have a happy childhood. I have many old and dear friends, and a happy family. I love them all.”


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