LAX History

The Airport we know today as Los Angeles International Airport or LAX, has quite a history. From its humble origins as a barley field where aviation buffs would go on joy rides, to the world-connecting mega-hub that it is today; LAX has gone through many transformative changes.

Presented here is a timeline based on the research by William Schoeneberger, Ethel Pattison, Lee Nichols, LAWA Staff, and the Flight Path Museum.

History is dynamic, this page will be updated as events occur and more precise information of our flying past becomes available.

1920s

Bennett Rancho

The origin story of LAX starts with a local businessperson with a barley field and some aviation pioneers. Looking for a place to fly, as early as 1925, these pioneers leased a small part of the “Rancho” and use a rudimentary dirt runway to have some fun. Several fields around Los Angeles were used in this way as airports as there was little safety regulation until the Air Commerce Act became law on May 20, 1926.

1926

The Inglewood site

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce published a survey in 1926, investigating 13 possible sites to be considered for an airport. 

One of them was an open field, planted in wheat, barley, and beans, known as the “Inglewood Site”.

July 25, 1928

Site Selection

The City of Los Angeles selected Mines Field, named after William Mines, the real-estate developer who proposed the site, as its municipal airport.

On August 13, an ordinance authorizing an agreement to lease 640 acres was approved, and on September 26 the lease was signed. Starting October 1, 1928 the City was to rent the land for 10 years with an option to buy. A lease was necessary at the outset because the voters had turned down a bond issue for purchase of the property. 

September 8–16 , 1928

National Air Races

Mines Field is selected the host for the 1928 National Air Races, a showcase for progress in aviation technology and high-speed and endurance competitions.

October 1, 1928

Los Angeles Municipal Airport

Los Angeles Municipal Airport, originally known as Mines Field, begins operation.

The front page of The Daily Californian, dated March 17, 1928, annoucing the selection of Inglewood Field as the site of the new Los Angeles Municipal Airport.

June 1929

Hangar No. 1 is Built

The first dedicated aeronautical structure is built and leased to Curtis-Wright to be used as a flying school. The Curtis-Wright company finds its roots with the Wright Brothers. Though it sold its Aeroplane division in 1948 to North American to focus on sub-components in aviation, defense, maritime and energy markets, Curtis-Wright still exists today as a diversified industrial corporation. 

October 24, 1929 – November 13, 1929

Wall Street Crash of 1929

June 7, 1930

Dedication of Los Angeles Municipal Airport

Official dedication of Los Angeles Municipal Airport took place on June 7, 1930, and that year the lease was renegotiated and extended to 50 years. 

1932

Industrialization

Aircraft manufacturer Douglas opened a plant in 1932, followed by Northrup, and in 1936, North American plus other allied manufacturers. By 1937 the Airport and its adjacent area was developing into a major aircraft center, with 2,300 skilled workers employed in industrial activity in or near the Airport. Manufacturing intensified throughout World War II.

October 1, 1937

Los Angeles buys the airport land

The City of Los Angeles purchased the title to the land  and took over full ownership of the Airport on October 1, 1937. This was a necessary step in order to obtain federal funds for further Airport development.

September 1, 1939

World War II Begins

July 1941

Los Angeles Airport

A City ordinance in July 1941 officially named the Airport: “Los Angeles Airport”.

December 8, 1941

US enters World War II

1944

Master Plan ’44

A master plan was developed in summer 1944 for a two-stage expansion. 

The first stage would provide the airlines with intermediate air terminal facilities, and the second stage called for expansion and construction of massive new terminal facilities between two sets of runways.

A look at the various master plan efforts that took place at LAX will be discussed in a future article.

1945

Temporary Airport

At war’s end, work began on intermediate facilities at the Airport. Four temporary frame buildings were erected to house airline passenger facilities, a restaurant, and offices of the Department of Airports. An airplane loading ramp with 24 positions was built and runways were extended to 6,000 feet. Though this complex was meant to be temporary, it served passengers until 1961. 

September 2, 1945

World War II ends

On December 9, 1946

Commercial Operations Begin

On December 9, 1946 four major airlines: TWA, American, United, and Western (Pan American joined one year later in January 1947) moved from Burbank Airport  and Grand Central Airport in Glendale to begin commercial operations at Los Angeles Airport. Overnight Los Angeles Airport became the major area airport.

October 11, 1949

LA is International

An official name change came in 1949, when the City Council passed an ordinance designating the Airport as Los Angeles International (LAX) in recognition of its status as a major world transportation center. 

1953

Sepulveda Tunnel

An important project was the completion of the Sepulveda Boulevard underpass, the first tunnel of its kind ever constructed. 

Completed in 1953, it cleared the way for extension of the two main runways over the highway necessary for larger and longer range-aircraft that were emerging at the time.

 

January 25, 1959

First Commercial Jet Flight

A new era in aviation dawned on January 25, 1959, when American Airlines inaugurated its New York to Los Angeles jet service with Boeing 707-123 aircraft.

June 25, 1961

Central Terminal Area

Ever growing demand combined with more demanding aircraft meant that the intermediate terminals built as a temporary measure were quickly becoming inadequate. Starting in the early 50s, the Department of Airports hired William L. Pereira and Charles Luckman to create a new Master Plan. While this Master Plan failed at the ballot box, Pereira and Luckman were brought back to the planning table with the addition of Welton and Becket & Associates and Paul R. Williams to prepare LAX for the Jet Age with a new Master Plan. This Master Plan ultimately became the template for the LAX that we know today.

On June 25, 1961, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the official dedication of the new airport, and on August 18 of that year, United Airlines became the first carrier to operate out of the new terminals. The terminal area is called Central Terminal Area (CTA).

The Airport now counts four runways. Three parallel (one to the north of the CTA, two to the south and one crosswind to the west of the CTA)

June 25, 1961

Theme Building

As a part of the Central Terminal Area, the Theme building has become the defining architectural structure that defines LAX. Designed by the architecture firms Pereira & Luckman Associates, Welton Becket & Associates and architect Paul R. Williams. Scaled down from the original 1953 Master Plan glass dome concept, the Theme Building still remains relevant as a monument to the future.

June 1970

Runway 6L-24R

The fourth full width parallel runway opens to the north of the existing north runway.

The north-south crosswind runway is converted to a taxiway.

During this period, a western portion of present-day Taxiway F is converted for use as a short take-off and landing runway.

October 1973

First Oil Crisis

October 24, 1974

Concorde!

As part of a worldwide tour, the Franco/British Supersonic Transport (SST) Concorde stops in Los Angeles on October 24, 1974, and is put on display for the public.

Though SST flights never entered regular service to LAX, master planning in the 60s and early 70s included the ability to handle SSTs as part of the future airport requirements.

November 1978

Approval for Major renovations

The final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for new facilities at LAX (study was initiated in 1972) is approved. 

Projects include two new terminals, remodeling of existing terminals, parking expansion, rebuilding of the central utility plant and airfield improvements. Previously, the Board had approved a separate EIR for improved ground transportation at the Airport, and construction of a second level roadway around the Central Terminal Area. 

1979

Second Oil Crisis

1981-1982

Groundbreaking

Groundbreaking ceremonies commemorating the beginning of construction of  the Second Level Roadway, Terminal 1 and the West-Terminal occur.

November 7, 1983

Second Level Roadway opens

The completion of the second level roadway around the Central Terminal Area. The addition doubled curb in front of every terminal, increased traffic capacity by 60 percent and separated vehicular traffic for arriving and departing travelers. 

January 23, 1984

Terminal 1 opens

Terminal 1 opens, the first new domestic terminal in more than 20 years at LAX. 

June 11, 1984

Tom Bradley International Terminal Opens

The new West Terminal is named after Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. The Tom Bradley International Terminal was officially dedicated on June 11. 

The new terminal was designed to handle the influx of international passengers for the 1984 Summer Olympics and was also one of the first terminals to use check-in islands in the check-in hall.

August 1985

Work begins on Terminal 2

Terminal 2 served as the main international arrivals terminal for international carriers until the opening of Tom Bradley International Terminal. To handle the increased international demand for the 1984 Olympics, temporary “inflatable terminals” were used to bolster Terminal 2 capacity. After the Olympics were completed, the temporary terminals were deflated, the original Terminal 2 satellite was demolished, and construction began on a new Terminal 2.

1989

Improved Terminal 2 Opens

Terminal 2 opens after extensive remodeling to the passenger processor section including a second level ticketing area and a new passenger concourse.

April 1996

New FAA Air Traffic Control Tower Opens

By the ’90s, the original 1961 air traffic control tower (ATCT) was beginning to reach the limits of its design. Standing at 172 feet with 300 square feet of controller area in the tower cab, the tower was not tall enough to see all the areas of the Airport and was becoming too crowded to accommodate all the controllers needed.

The FAA determined that a new taller ATCT with more space would be needed.

The new tower would be 277 feet tall with 625 square feet; over 100 feet taller and double the cab space.

Although the FAA had a standard ATC architectural plan for all new towers (based on the Chicago O’Hare tower), the City of Los Angeles decided that the tower, like the Theme Building would become a landmark in its own right. Additional architectural features were added to the tower, and to the trained eye, the letters L, A, and X are visible as part of the structure. The new tower was designed by architect Kate Diamond of Siegel Diamond Architects and Adrianna Levinescu of Holmes & Narver.

The tower was structurally completed in 1995 and commissioned in April 1996.

August 8, 2000

LAX Gateway Pylons Lighting Ceremony

Architect Ted Tokio Tanaka and lighting artist Paul Tzanetopoulos collaborated on the design and installation of 15 100-foot tall glass pylons that are illuminated at night with varying colors. The installation is located at the entrance of the Central Terminal Area at the intersection of Century and Sepulveda Boulevards.

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001

September 18, 2013

Tom Bradley New gates open

The original passenger concourses at Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) were designed to handle the largest aircraft at the time of its design (747-300) and only had gates on one-side of the concourse. With airlines announcing the use of larger aircraft such as the Airbus A380, the existing facilities were reaching the limits of their design. As international traffic increased at LAX, more airlines were forced to use the “remote gates”: aircraft parking on the west side of the Airport that required passengers to use busses to reach barebones boarding gate structures.

In order to accommodate the larger aircraft and increased traffic, the existing single-sided concourses would be replaced by larger, double-sided concourses able to handle not only more aircraft, but larger aircraft as well. Sixteen new widebody gates replaced eight restricted widebody gates (one gate was removed as part of the West Gates project in 2021) as well four  narrowbody gates retained from a section of the original concourse that was not removed.

The roof line of the TBIT new concourses evokes crashing waves along the Pacific Ocean on the California Coast. The architecture team was Fentress Architects and HNTB Corporation.

March 11, 2020

COVID-19

Declared a global pandemic by WHO

May 2021

West Gates at TBIT Opens

In order to handle increased passenger numbers as well as provide an “empty-chair” to move airlines around during a decade long terminal modernization process, new gates were needed.

A new satellite concourse, the West Gates at Tom Bradley International Terminal, adds twelve gates (three of which are swing gates) serving a mix of international and domestic airlines. The roof motif continues the concept initiated with the TBIT New Gates of undulating waves on the Pacific Ocean. The architects of record for the West Gates at TBIT is Corgan and Gensler.