This article was originally written in March 2008 for Living90045.com, a community blog featuring news, views, tips & chatter from Westchester, CA.
Like most of the rest of southern LA County, Westchester began the 20th century as an agricultural area. Rapid development of the aerospace industry near Mines Field (as LAX was originally called, reportedly named for the real estate agent who pitched the location in 1928 to the City Council) and overall population growth in LA created a demand for housing in the area. In mid-1930, the Los Angeles Municipal Airport was dedicated.
Real estate magnate Fritz Burns developed a tract of inexpensive prefabricated single-family homes on the site of a former hog farm at the intersection of Manchester & Sepulveda Boulevards. The community, dubbed “Westchester,” grew as the aerospace industry boomed in World War II and after. It’s surprising we didn’t end up with Burnschester or Fritzville. I’ll have to look into the history of our community’s name later.
Home builders such as Silas Nowell, Bert Farrar, Frank Ayers, Fred W. Marlow and Fritz Burns all contributed to build more than 3200 homes in Westchester by 1943, with Security Bank having master planned the community.
Also active in the 1040s was Ella L. Drollinger, mother of Howard B. Drollinger and an early pioneer in development of Westchester’s commercial real estate. According to its website, H.B. Drollinger Co. serves as the oldest and largest property management and commercial real estate brokerage firm in Westchester’s central business district (you can see an impressive list of property holdings on the company’s website). H.B.D. Co. completed development of the Ralphs center at Sepulveda & La Tijera in 1997. Ella’s granddaughter, Karen Dial, currently serves as President of the company. Hmmm, reading Karen’s impressive bio, I’m thinking that maybe she is the person I need to track down to find out why we have a major streetscape improvement project underway on Sepulveda Blvd. at the same time that Lincoln Blvd. is undergoing major reconstruction in conjunction with the Playa Vista development. Maybe Karen doesn’t have to commute anyplace in the morning?
Also in the 1940s, Howard Hughes, the famous aviator, movie director and business tycoon, operated a large manufacturing plant in the area now know known as Playa Vista. Hughes Airport, a private airport was part of the manufacturing plant. After the Hughes plant and its corporate successors stopped manufacturing on the site, the hangars were used for movie production. Scenes from movies such as Titanic, What Women Want and End of Days were reportedly shot here.
Hughes’ renowned H-4 Hercules airplane (dubbed the “Spruce Goose” by its detractors) was designed and built at the Westchester facility. Built to carry 700 passengers, Hughes piloted his “flying boat” only once and only for one mile at a height of 70 feet. Playa Vista’s community website reports that the hangar where Hughes created the Spruce Goose will be preserved as a structure eligible to be placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
The 1960s brought the introduction of airliners that could make trans-Pacific flights without refueling, causing a massive increase in air traffic at LAX. Westchester residents successfully blocked a northward expansion of the airport, but increasing noise problems prompted the City of Los Angeles to start buying homes on the northern boundary and decommission affected streets and demolish homes. The 18-hole Westchester golf course became a 15-hole course and a local private elementary school, the Westchester Neighborhood School relocated near the Hughes campus and renamed itself Westside Neighborhood School.
Here’s an interesting historical aside about LAX and the “X” in its name. Before the 1930s, existing airports used a two-letter abbreviation based on the weather station at each airport. At that time, LA served as the designation for Los Angeles International Airport. With the rapid growth of the aviation industry, the identifying designations were expanded to three letters in the early 1950s, and LA became LAX. The letter “X” does not otherwise have any specific meaning in the identifier.
Do you know any interesting trivia about Westchester, or see any inaccuracies in our research above? Let us know!
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See you around the neighborhood!