Four Hidden Pieces of History at LAX

Thanks to Chris Sloan of Airchive, I recently had the chance to take a couple hour tour around the grounds at Los Angeles International Airport. I’ve spent a ton of time at LAX ever since I was young, but I was amazed that I learned a couple of new things on this tour. While many people would call LAX a living piece of history in itself, there are a few tucked-away gems that you might not know even exist.

You can see my entire slideshow including great shots of an American CRJ in the new livery, a Qantas A380, two Virgin Australia 777s facing off, and more, but this post is going to highlight those four pieces of history.

Hangar One at LAX

1) Hangar One

In the southeast corner of LAX, south of the runways, you’ll see a hangar that looks different from all the others. While most hangars are just big boxes, this one has some style to it, an old school Spanish style, actually. That’s Hangar One, and it’s the first building built on the site back in the 1920s. At the time, it was a minor airport called Mines Field with no hint of what it would become decades later. I knew about Hangar One and always watched it as I drove by on the 105 freeway, but I hadn’t seen it up close until this trip.

The building is now a registered historic building so it’s not going anywhere (unlike the other early buildings on the site which are long gone). Our guide told us the building is used by Menzies today, a company that handles aircraft and cargo services.

Original LAX Terminal

2) Original LAX Terminal

LAX was really nothing until after World War II when airlines began flying to LAX as the primary airport in the area. Between then and the early 1960s, terminals were built at the east end of the airport, on the north side of runways 25L/R. In 1961, the central terminal area we know today started opening to the west, and those old terminals were replaced by maintenance, cargo, and administration facilities… or so I thought.

Apparently the current United (pre-merger) maintenance facility sits in what was a terminal building back in the day. The structure was never razed. The photo above shows the old United logo (from pre-2004) hung over the door. You can’t get any closer unless you’re with United. If you’re driving by on Century Blvd, you won’t see it because there’s that new white and yellow building blocking it from the street. And if you taxi by on an airplane, you’ll see the back of it which is a hangar with a big “United Air Lines” written on the top. If you look closely at the asphalt, you can still see where some of the concourses used to sit before they were removed.

Old Western Headquarters at LAX

3) Western’s Headquarters

Though it’s hard to imagine it today, LAX used to be the home base for more than one large passenger airline. One of those that called LAX home was Western Airlines which kept its base there until it was acquired by Delta in 1987. Though I knew that the headquarters was around, I never knew exactly where it was. What I remembered was that there was a reservations center on Century Blvd just before you entered the terminal area, but I didn’t realize that was also the headquarters building along with maintenance base.

The photo above was taken from the old control tower looking east down Century Blvd. That building with the tan top with the Delta jets to the right is the current maintenance base at LAX for Delta. Just to the left of that, you can see what looks like an attached brick building with white on top. That was Western’s headquarters, and you can still see it as you drive by on Century. Sadly, I believe it is mostly if not entirely empty today, though the maintenance base behind remains active.

Continental Headquarters LAX

4) Continental’s Headquarters

When most people think of Continental, they think of Texas, but for 20 years Continental called LAX home. The legendary Bob Six moved the airline to LA in 1963. He built a headquarters complex west of where the current terminals are. (It’s accessible today on World Way West with access from Pershing Dr.) The picture above is of the courtyard area with the headquarters building on the left and the maintenance facility on the right. When Frank Lorenzo bought Continental, he merged it with Texas International and moved the headquarters to Houston, almost exactly 20 years after the airline arrived in LA.

Chris Sloan reminded me of a darker side to this building. This was the place where Al Feldman, chairman and CEO of Continental, killed himself. He was hit hard by the death of his wife and put all his time into running Continental. When it appeared that this efforts to engineer an employee buyout were going to fail and the takeover by Lorenzo was inevitable, Feldman lost hope and ended his life.

The ghosts of this building remain locked inside. As you would imagine from that picture, it’s empty today and not likely to be used again soon. The maintenance base, however, is still used by United. For the last couple of months, it’s been home to a 787, waiting to fly again.

[See the rest of my photos]

32 Responses to Four Hidden Pieces of History at LAX

  1. great pics, interesting stories, cool stuff Brett!

    • oh yeah, i don’t know why but i love the peter nygard 727! and the new american livery is wretched. please doug parker, save us from this last bad decision made by AA’s former leadership!

      • Sanjeev M says:

        I actually like the Eagle livery on the CRJ. The tail flag is more appropriately sized and gray is much preferred to white.

        Interesting pics. LAX is a spotter’s dream :)

  2. The LAX area was a lot of nothing before what you see there today. It’s good to keep the past alive sometimes.

    • JayB says:

      True, but pick almost any airport. Typically, a “lot of nothing” before what you see today. Like that old, old airport here called Dulles. Then, a friend says to me: “Oh child, do you remember National back when, think Hoover Field?” No…!

      I’m sure all of us here on this blog can remember the airport close to where we were born or grew up.

      Me, that grassy field, couple of guys rush out onto the runway, hold up two poles with a line between them, a mail bag hanging on the line, in comes that noisy old All American Airways Stinson, hook down, right over the line, snap, there goes our air mail (well, not ours, important people’s mail).

      Wow, now that was something for this little kid. And that airport’s long gone.

      OK, now where was I? Whatever. Airport history. Thanks David, and thanks Cranky.

  3. Bill Hough says:

    Great post today. I sort of knew about all except the story about the UA facility east of Sepulveda. As long as you’re talking about LAX nostalgia, though, you should have mentioned Flight Path, both for its historic location in the former West Imperial Terminal and for its historical exhibits inside.

  4. Todd in IAD says:

    Great post!

  5. Don says:

    When I was at Allegheny Airlines (now US Airways), I went to the Western Airlines headquarters overlooking LAX. While I don’t remember the exact reason for the visit (it would have been software related), what I do remember is that the Western people told us that occasionally, planes taking off from the runways below us would take turns that seemed like they were going to crash into their building (but they never did). But it was scary enough that they started to take cover!

  6. giles says:

    Fabulous post, Brett. Thanks.

  7. MartyNearDFW says:

    Great post! Thanks, Brett. I’ll definitely have to look for a few of these next time I fly into LAX.

    =M=

  8. It’s always interesting to look at history. I remember when O’Hare Field (a former military base if I remember correctly) opened to commercial air traffic (the runways at Midway weren’t long enough to accomodate the 707 and DC-8 before the era of reverse thrusters). My dad used to take us up to the observation deck to watch airplanes. He loved the way the new jets climbed. It certainly was a different world back then.

  9. MeanMeosh says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve seen the “United Air Lines” sign you refer to a couple of times while taxiing, but never realized the historical significance.

  10. I delivered a Jet Commander to Hangar One for Architect W. Pereira late 60′s/early 70′s. Used the link trainers at the Western Offices and did a bit of training for Air Micronesia at the Continental Offices… Great memories. There was also a great vantage point short distance away where you could sit on top of your car, enjoy a hamburger and watch the planes go right close to you on take offs…

  11. Plus I arrived at the old terminal from Costa Rica, April 28th, 1958…

  12. CoolMan says:

    Cool article. I work at LAX and I didn’t know about 3 and 4. The old Western building is now being leased out by Raytheon.

  13. JM says:

    Bravo, Brett!

    As one who actually spent a vacation at the Marriott near LAX just to see planes come and go (and yes, I did visit with family and friends in the LA area during the vacation, too), this is a fascinating post.

    Great job!

    JM

  14. Sunny says:

    #4 is actually our old employee cafeteria!!

  15. Allison says:

    Interesting stuff. I fly through LAX a lot and I never even considered the history of it before. I’ll look around more closely next time I am there. cheers.

  16. Pete says:

    Great post, really interesting stuff. As I was reading it, I was cruising around the LAX area in google maps satellite view, and the aircraft you see parked at the gates raises a question about liveries. In the current satellite image (e.g., http://bit.ly/10WgEkd), you can clearly see several planes with Northwest Airlines livery, including a 747 (I can’t quite make out the tail number, so I couldn’t do any more digging on that one). I was surprised to see that, but figured ok, maybe it’s an old picture. But if you cruise around a bit, you see Continental planes, United planes in the old United livery, and United planes in the new (post-merger/Continental) livery. So the picture is at most a few years old. Can anyone enlighten me as to why there are still planes with Northwestern livery? I would have thought those would all have been re-painted in Delta livery well before now.

    • CF says:

      Pete – Google uses hybrid images in maps so it’s not all taken at one time. For that reason, it’s probably just an older image for the Delta complex while they took a newer one for United.

  17. Thanks for the interesting post! Having grown up in L.A. along with LAX, the most “historic” thing to jump into my brain while reading this was the Theme Building – the alien tripod observation deck/restaurant. When I was a kid, that was the most fascinating part of LAX & we couldn’t wait to go there. Now its retro-ness is kitschy and fabulous. Even if you’re not a plane junky, it’s fun to go check it out and watch the aircraft come and go (on weekends). They were going with the theme of progress promising better things, but sometimes it’s fun to wax nostalgic about simpler times.

  18. Jennifer says:

    It’s great they have registered Hangar 1 as a historic building, it would be a total waste to see a building like that go same way as the other old buildings there.

    It is a highly unusual construction for a hangar, I never even noticed it. I will have to pay attention next time I fly through LAX.

  19. Ron says:

    The original LAX terminal sits behind the AMF.Western had its original GO at 6060 Avion Drive just off Centuy and it’s newest GO at the Corner of Century and Avion Drive.The Century wing was torn down and replaced with a truck terminal and the Century building was used by the airport admin last time I was there.Western also had a computer facility across Century from the Century Wing as well as a training building on the corner of Century and Avion.They had their Revenue and Accounting office in the Airport Office Building atg 8939 Sepulveda Blvd.

  20. David says:

    Great post! We had friends who lived in a house in the Westminister neighborhood back in the 1960′s–over their back fence was LAX–talk about a fascinating view. My dad was always an airplane nut, and I remember traveling from our home in Texas to visit our LA friends in 1967–I was a teenager at the time. Knowing Dad’s love of aviation, they had moved their picnic table over next to the fence, fastened a lawn chair to the top of it, creating the perfect vantage point for Dad to enjoy watching all the LAX activity during our stay. I inherited that interest from him (and spent some time in the lawnchair myself), and greatly enjoyed these LAX photos.

  21. Melanie says:

    WOW! I grew up in El Segundo and my dad was a supervisor in the flight kitchen for Continental from the mid-60′s to the mid-70′s; so your last pic really was a trip down memory lane. Did you happen to notice the “overhang” on the main entrance of the CAL maintenance building that faced World Way West? It looks like a bunch of metal fused together. I believe it is the remains of Continental flight 11 that crashed in 1962 over Iowa. It was put there as a remembrance. I spent so many hours in these buildings, and even met the chef Lucien DeKeyser a few times.

    • CF says:

      Melanie – Really? I didn’t notice the overhang, but I’ll have to swing by next time I’m in the area. I had never heard that, but it’s pretty amazing if true.

  22. Ron says:

    Hangar one was used by the Coastguard Air Sea Rescue for a long time.The old terminal sits behing the airport post office.It used to have a Mike Lymans restaurant on its roof.The original Western General Office was on Avion Drive just off Century.It was torn down and is now a truck company warehouse with docks.Delta preserved the picture wall that was in its conference room.A lot of history in those pics.

  23. Mike Guerin says:

    Check out historicaerials.com for overheads of the old terminal. I believe the UA building was always offices and maintenance. You will see that the terminals as was noted are all gone. This building was of that vintage however. Sad that nothing else remains. The restaurant is still in my memory.

  24. Maryann says:

    I’m probably out of luck, but just in case… you mentioned that you “had the chance to take a couple hour tour around the grounds at Los Angeles International Airport”. Is that still possible today?? (I grew up on Westchester and we lost our home to LAX. Very devastating. Nowadays, my husband and I ‘planespot’ there and it has been a helpful ‘healing’ experience for me.) We would love to get a chance to “tour” more of LAX, so if you have any helpful hints, please let me know. Thank you! And thanks for this interesting, helpful post!!

    • Mike Guerin says:

      Since 9/11 I would doubt they do. I’ve never heard mention of it on their website or through aviation fan boards.

      Also, for you and others that find this thread, check out these pictures from noted aviation photog and veteran Jon Proctor. The buildings and facilities in the background show more of the old terminals.

      http://jonproctor.net/lax-through-the-years/

      Keep up the thread.

    • CF says:

      Maryann – This was a private tour so it wasn’t something that the general public can sign up for. This was arranged by Chris Sloan at airchive.com since he had some contacts there.

  25. Maryann says:

    I didn’t realize that my post actually went through. :) Yay that it did! And thank you, Mike and Brett, for replying!
    I’m depressed to hear that I’m out of luck re: a tour, but I enjoyed the photos that you referenced, Mike, so thank you for that! And thank you again, Brett, for this great thread!

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