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Flashback Fridays--Los Angeles International before Southwest Airlines

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Last week we looked at an airport with a rich aviation history, Chicago Midway, and this week, we take Flashback Friday to “the coast” for an airport with which everyone is familiar (thanks to television and movies), even if they have never visited the facility, and that airport is Los Angeles International (LAX).  Compared to Midway, LAX is a relative youngster because prior to the end of World War II, airlines serving the Los Angeles area primarily used Glendale’s Grand Central Airport or the Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank (today’s Burbank airport).

Like we did a few weeks ago with Dallas Love Field, let’s use some post cards to look at LAX before Southwest Airlines flew there.  The photo above is a shot of the original terminal taken in the mid 1950s looking toward the northeast and downtown Los Angeles.  This facility was located to the east of the current complex, but as you can see, it utilized a series of separate terminals also.  Century Boulevard runs from the middle left edge of the postcard to the upper middle right.  Note how full the parking lots are—there’s no doubt that Angelenos loved their cars.  Sharp-eyed airline geeks will notice the Pan American Boeing Stratocrusier parked at the end of the lower row of gates.  Our viewpoint is just over Sepulveda Boulevard, and the current terminal complex will be built behind us.  Today, the area to the left of Century is filled with hotels.

Here’s a view above from the other direction toward the west.  We get to see three of the four terminal buildings, and it’s obvious the terminals were built with California sunshine in mind.  The terrace in the middle terminal on the second floor was part of the airport’s restaurant.  The script “Los Angeles International” is where the ocean would be, and the current terminal complex would start right under the words.  The hangar with the round top at the upper right is the old Western Airlines headquarters and is currently part of Delta’s maintenance complex at the airport.  If you look just above the United DC-6B at the lower left, you will see a group of passengers standing under and next to the small building waiting for flight boarding. 

Although my postcard is damaged, I wanted to share the scene above with you because it gives a great idea of what flying was like in the late 1950s.  The passengers from the Continental DC-7B are deplaning on a gold carpet—the airline advertised Gold Carpet Service.  Look at the vintage fuel truck and the ladder behind the #1 engine for the fueler to use to climb up on the wing. 

Now we are looking at an early view (above) of the current complex.  Only the United terminal at the lower left is completed and in use.  Note the lack of cars in the rest of the parking lots.  This view is from 1961.  Terminal One used by Southwest isn’t even planned at this date, and the site is filled with the airport’s employee parking lot, which is the open site at the right of the photo.  Another later addition will be the Bradley International Terminal which will run across the photo at the top of the terminal complex.  Today, the roadway through the terminal is on two levels, and parking garages fill the space between the terminals.  In addition, the original terminals have been extensively remodeled. 

One of the next terminals to open was Terminal Four used by American.  The view above looks to the west on a very clear day.  At the bottom of the frame, we see cars belonging to the construction workers at Western’s Terminal Five.  The current Bradley International Terminal occupies the site where the North/South crosswind runway is located immediately above the American terminal, and the area beyond is currently filled with hangars and remote gates.  You can see Point Dume, the northern limit of Malibu, just under the “c” in “Pacific.”

My dad was transferred to LAX with Continental in 1962, so the airport has always been one of my favorites.  We lived in El Segundo, immediately to the left of the last photo above, and for five years, the airport was part of my daily life.  In fact, Dad took me inside the satellite for Terminal Six before it opened to the public.  Later, when I was with Delta, I went to LAX for training and got to see behind the scenes in the operations area, the old Western hangar, and the employee restaurant at the base of the signature Theme Building.  I do love LA.

4 Comments
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The Texaco truck servicing the Continental DC-7B in the third photo likely contains engine oil. Those big round engines used a lot and adding it one quart at a time could take all day.
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I love LA
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The first photo is taken from the old (then the only) control tower. But you left out one important piece of history...the expansion of the north side of the airport--Southwest's home!. When LAWA started the north side expansion in the 60s and 70s, they bought the entire Surfridge neighborhood on that hill that separates LAX from the beach. It's all fenced off now, but the streets are still there. You can see them when you depart to the west (or land to the east). http://peteofthestreet.net/gallery/MysteryNeighborhood Anyway, on the subject of the north side of the airport...you forgot to mention that T1 was opened in 1984...and hasn't been renovated since Reagan's first term in office. And don't leave out the original T1 tenant....PSA. The "original" Southwest...in California at least.
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tusphoto thanks for the comments. Actually, the "original" control tower about which you are speaking hadn't opened at the time of the first photo, although the first photo is taken from about the same perspective. (The photo was taken from a much higher altitude than the tower cab.). You can't see it in the size these photos have to be on the blog, but the original control tower is next to the farthermost terminal. It was a small military control tower that was in use almost the entire time the original terminals were until 1961. It was dismanteled in the 1964-65 timeperiod and moved to a racwetrack--I think Riverside International but not sure about that. There is also a neighborhood just north of the airport that has been leveled in addition to the houses along the beach.