CityDig: LAX’s (Very) Humble Origin as Mines Field

This 1936 map shows the airport when it was anything but international
Industrial Guide and Street Index of Los Angeles and its Environs, Metropolitan Surveys, Sheet 4, 1936
Industrial Guide and Street Index of Los Angeles and its Environs, Metropolitan Surveys, Sheet 4, 1936

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The unassuming rectangle labelled “Municipal Airport Mines Field” on this map is the source of one of the most feared sentences an Angeleno can hear: “Can you pick me up from LAX?” Mines Field—named for real estate agent William W. Mines (so, no, it wasn’t a minefield)—was one of 27 airports in the area competing to become the official hub of Los Angeles’ airplane fever. While the land had once been used to grow lima beans, barley, and wheat, Mr. Mines developed it to compete in the new industry that would make L.A. the aircraft manufacturing center of America.

LindberghIn the late 1920s, air shows drew throngs in sunny Southern California—the National Air Carnival of 1928 featured 300 booths and brought in a whopping crowd of 75,000 on the last day alone. And the appearance of national hero Charles Augustus “Lucky Lindy” Lindbergh in Los Angeles on September 20, 1927—just four months after his triumphant trans-Atlantic feat—put the city in the mood for flight. His speech at the Coliseum stressed the crucial need for proper airports. City officials soon set about choosing the perfect spot for a municipal airport. The frontrunners were Sesnon Field in the San Fernando Valley, Vail Field downtown, and Mines Field in nearby Inglewood. The City quickly selected Mines Field, with its 2,000 foot runway and hangars for 40 planes, and leased the 640 acre plot for ten years.

Yet, Mines was hardly the principal airport in the area. That distinction belonged to Burbank’s Lockheed Field, where fledgling airlines chose to establish themselves. Other cities—among them Alhambra, Van Nuys, Glendale, and even the City of Commerce—had decent facilities. Despite the Great Depression, Douglas, Northrup and North American all gravitated to Southern California, brightening the local economy.  So when the city pushed ahead and purchased Mines Field the year after this map was published and attempted to rename the place the “Los Angeles Municipal Airport,” it took some time for the airport to rise in prominence. A $3.5 million bond issue in 1941 helped with that, changing the name once more to “Los Angeles Airport.”

During World War II the Army Air Corps, the Navy, and manufacturers supporting the war effort held sway over the area. As the city performed its patriotic duties and supplied the fight overseas, it simultaneously strengthened its economic muscles. Mines had two telephone lines and hourly buses and taxis running the eleven miles to and from L.A. Those adventurous enough could board a big plane that took three hours just to fly to San Francisco.

The City continued to develop the municipal airport once it returned to civilian duty. 1946 saw the addition of new runways, terminals, hangars, a control tower, and maintenance facilities that lured American, TWA, United, Western, and Pan Am by January of 1947. The rest is big-time airport history. Today, the sprawling 3,425-acre LAX is the fifth busiest airport in the world.

Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.