CityDig: A Westside Story

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Angelenos are proud of their neighborhoods and can often become prickly when defending their towns against slanderous naysayers. Take the Westside, for example, which has many admirers (and its fair share of detractors—have you tried to drive east between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.?). It may be unfair to lump places as different as Venice and Bel-Air or Mar Vista and Westwood under the same umbrella, but west is west. The question this map starts to answer is, “When did the Westside become the place as we know it today?”

Maps created around the turn of the century identify the area around USC as “West L.A.,” but what we know as the true Westside began to take shape in the 1920s. Here, E. F. Hill’s city map shows a landscape with large expanses of open ground, golf courses galore, and plenty of real estate potential. What jumps out immediately is the penciled-in campus of the “University of California Southern Branch,” or UCLA, which in 1919 offered two-year programs in its Teachers College on Vermont Avenue. (The university issued its first degrees in 1923 and started their move to Westwood in 1926, the year this map was published.) USC students derisively referred to their future rival as “the twigs,” a reference to the branch attachment, which the Bruins quickly left behind as they found their home on the Westside, officially dedicated in 1930.

At the same time the campus was being designed and built, the city of Westwood Hills was in development by the Janss Investment Company. Its span covered Pico to Sunset and Sepulveda to the Beverly Hills border. Beverly Hills was already thriving, and Sherman was, too, years before it came to be called West Hollywood. Pieces of the Westside were getting annexed one after another: Westgate in 1916, Sawtelle in 1922, Venice in 1925, and Mar Vista in 1927. Palisades Del Rey on the above map was mostly comprised of deluxe custom-built homes for the new film celebrities, eventually becoming Playa Del Rey when the glitterati moved south toward Malibu.

The west side of Hill’s Westside map also shows the brand new (and certainly terrific) “Culver City Speedway,” where auto racing drew crowds up to 70,000 strong. The top cars in the country roared around the board track at speeds of over 100 mph, including the then-world record of 116 mph. Also of note here are the piers of Venice, especially the Pickering Pleasure Pier (which was destroyed by fire in 1924) alongside the Lick Pier and the Crystal Pier (which was finished in 1926 and still remains today). This was a big year for the piers, as the U.S. Navy celebrated its 150th anniversary by sending the destroyer “Hull” to Venice for inspection by the people of the Western shores. Lastly, notice the map nightmare of Sunset Boulevard labeled as Beverly Boulevard—one of the 16 Los Angeles streets named Beverly in 1926— heading west from Beverly Glen.

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