In 1941 millionaire Howard Hughes built a complex for his aircraft company on 380 acres of the Ballona wetlands. Its 9,600 foot runway was the longest private runway in the world.
The wetlands are are low-lying flats between the Ballona Creek channel and the bluffs of Westchester in West Los Angeles. When Hughes built his airport, the surrounding land was still used for farming, though winter rains often flooded the place out. A rare thing in Los Angeles, the place is wide, open, and empty.
|The Cafeteria building|
|The complex in 1968. Loyola Marymount University is to the right. Photo from Library of Congress.|
In the central core of the complex, new modern office buildings and parking garages lie empty - victims of too much ambition and the economic downturn.
During World War II, Hughes designed and built several experimental aircraft for the U.S. Government, including one designated the H-4 Hercules. The H-4 was a huge transport plane made, due to war-time restrictions on aluminum, entirely of wood. The press dubbed the giant plane the "Spruce Goose" - a name Hughes detested, since it was really made of birch.
|The interior of Building 15 - Library of Congress photo|
|Hughes at the controls of the "Spruce Goose" in 1947 - Los Angeles Public Library|
The airport property became part of the Playa Vista redevelopment project, which aspired to bring housing, commercial and industrial development, and recreational development to the Ballona wetlands. In the 1990s, DreamWorks tried to build a studio there, but failed. Even so, the property and the massive buildings were used as film locations, starting with the 1984 Goldie Hawn film "Swing Shift", set in a World War II airplane factory, and continuing today. "Independence Day," "Batman" and "Avatar" were filmed on site.
Although many buildings were demolished, and the runway itself broken up to pave Playa Vista's streets, Building 15 and the remaining Hughes Aircraft buildings are shabby but preserved. In 2010 another development purchased the property with the intent to renovate and attract "creative industry" tenants.
Still, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much going on. Building 15 was in use as a filming location - crew members covered huge flats with white canvas outside the massive doors. In the lot behind Building 17, a heap of demolished cars was tumbled like children's toys. The guard told us they were leftover from filming "Batman."
The Administrative Building, where Hughes had his mahogany-paneled office has courses of windows on either side, the front facing an empty field. Think of how filled with light that place would be!
|Building 2, Administration|
|Building 15 to the left|
The Los Angeles Conservancy conducted a tour of the place last March - I missed it, but two other bloggers went along and posted about it Here and Here. For a history of the place, and some photos from the 1990s, go Here.