Title

The Early History of L.A. International Airport

Relive the excitement of man’s first steps on the moon and the long journey it took to get there with 20 new hours of out of this world programming KCET'sSummer of Space"  Watch out for “American Experience: Chasing the Moon” and a KCET-exclusive first look at "Blue Sky Metropolis," four one-hour episodes that examine Southern California’s role in the history of aviation and aerospace. 

 

Originally named Mines Field after a real estate agent who brokered the site's land deal, the facility was L.A.'s first municipal airport but not the first airfield to serve the Los Angeles area. Dominguez Field, at the present-day site of Cal State Dominguez Hills, hosted the first U.S. air show, and Rogers Airport at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue (then Crescent Avenue) hosted many air shows as well as passenger air service to San Francisco.

1939 aerial view of Mines Field before its transformation into Los Angeles Airport. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
1939 aerial view of Mines Field before its transformation into Los Angeles Airport. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Charles Lindbergh's famous transatlantic flight in May 1927 convinced Los Angeles city leaders of the need for a permanent, municipal airport. In September 1927, Lindbergh himself, in Los Angeles on a nationwide victory lap, told a Coliseum crowd of roughly 60,000 that "airports are the most important factor in the development of aviation...I wish to say that if you expect to keep your city on the air map, it will be necessary to construct a municipal airport."

Story continues below

See the birth of the aviation and aerospace industry in Southern California on the four-part documentary series "Blue Sky Metropolis." Watch a preview.

Within months of Lindbergh's recommendation, the city had begun surveying suitable airport sites. The city decided on Mines Field. On September 26, 1927, the city signed a ten-year lease for 640 acres, and L.A.'s first municipal airport was born.

Though it had already hosted an air show and opened to plane traffic, Mines Field was officially dedicated in June 1930. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, USC Libraries.
Though it had already hosted an air show and opened to plane traffic, Mines Field was officially dedicated in June 1930. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, USC Libraries.

In 1937, the City of Los Angeles purchased Mines Field outright. Four years later, it passed a $3.5 million bond issue for new construction, renamed the site Los Angeles Airport, and began converting the modest aviation facility into the major airport that would escort Los Angeles into the Jet Age.

By the end of 1946 the new runways, passenger terminals, hangars, control tower, and maintenance sheds were ready. (Work on the airport's first parking garage, with space for 125 cars, lagged behind.) On December 9, 1946, four major airlines -- American, Trans World, United, and Western -- more or less abandoned Burbank in favor of the expanded municipal airport. Pan Am joined them in January 1947. William Pereira's iconic Theme Building and other modern additions were still years off, but by 1949, the former bean fields were rechristened Los Angeles International Airport.

Learn more about the old LAX here.

 

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading

Clips & Segments