Wilshire Boulevard's old air fields

For some reason, Los Angeles airfields used to open almost next to each other. There were three or four in and adjacent to Burbank, another in Glendale, and another on the site of the zoo in Griffith Park. My favorite adjacency, though, was the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. In the 1920s Cecil B. DeMille had the landing strip shown above, sprawling north and west from the corner. Right across the boulevard, in the southeast quadrant, was an airfield run for a time by Charlie Chaplin’s brother Syd. BLDGBlog posts about the "lost airfields" of Los Angeles and digs the photo out of the UCLA archive.

Laminated beneath 20th century city growth, their forgotten geometries once diagrammed an anthropological experience of the sky, spatial evidence of human contact with the middle atmosphere. Perhaps we should build aerial cathedralry there, to mark these places where human beings once ascended. A winged Calvary....

Of course, many of these aeroglyphs are now gone, but perhaps their remnants are still detectable – in obscure property law documents at City Hall, otherwise inexplicable detours taken by underground utility cables, or even in jurisdictional disputes at the L.A. fire department. And they could even yet be excavated.

A new archaeology of airfields could be inaugurated at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, where a group of students from UCLA will brush aside modern concrete and gravel to find fading marks of airplanes that touched down 90 years ago, over-loaded with film equipment, in what was then a rural desert.

With trowels and Leica site-scanning equipment in hand, they look for the earthbound traces of aerial events, a kingdom of the sky that once existed here, anchored down at these and other points throughout the L.A. basin, cutting down into the earth to deduce what once might have happened high above.

The rival airports at Wilshire and Fairfax are talked about, with a period photo, in chapter six of Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles.

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