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]

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