Discovery Center celebrating the history of Westchester/Playa announces plan for fall opening

The Westchester/Playa Historical Society has found a permanent home in the Westchester Triangle after months of imaginative planning and support from the community. It is with great excitement that the nonprofit, which was launched to share the history and stories of the local area, announces its plans to open the new and innovatively designed Westchester/Playa Historical Society Discovery Center by the end of the year.

 The 75th Anniversary Celebration of Westchester, which was a year-long celebration from 2016 to 2017, quickly evolved into the desire to establish the Westchester/Playa Historical Society. 

As of June 30, the organization has now met all state and federal requirements to become a nonprofit public benefit corporation, with status as a public charity. The primary purpose of the historical society will be to gather, study and preserve the history of the communities of Westchester, Playa del Rey and Playa Vista, as well as provide education and resource opportunities.

Once buildout is completed and health protocols allow, the Discovery Center will be open to visitors on Sundays or by appointment. The historical society welcomes schools and other organizations dedicated to educating youth to arrange for field trips to the space. Volunteer docents at the space will be able to share with visitors of all ages, both local and from afar, the visual and interactive experience of our local history.

 At the center, guests will find out about the prehistoric Los Angeles Man, determined to have lived in the Westchester/Playa area circa 8000 B.C. and whose remains were discovered in the 1930s near Ballona Creek. They’ll also learn about the Tongva Native American tribe that settled along Ballona and Centinela Creeks for hundreds of years prior to California becoming a state in 1850. If you haven’t heard of the Centinela Adobe, visit the center to discover the interesting history of the first house built in the South Bay area, which is still standing at the very eastern edge of Westchester! Other locations still standing that will be highlighted in the space include the original Los Angeles Air Port terminal built circa 1930 and one of the first institutions of higher learning in Southern California, Loyola Marymount University, which moved its campus to Westchester in 1929, when it was known as Loyola University of Los Angeles.

Other topics current and future local history-buffs will discover are:

• the impact of the aircraft manufacturing industry boom in the area led by Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes.

• the roles of developers Marlow and Burns, who built the first homes in Westchester in December 1941, pouring the first foundations for affordable housing for defense workers as we headed into WWII.

• the importance of the first commercial properties built to serve this new community, which opened as Jim Dandy Market, Thrifty Drug Store and Quigley’s Department store, built by Ella Drollinger. 

These are just a few of the gems that are hidden amidst the Westchester/Playa community!

 Another key aspect of the center will be information about the pioneers involved in the early development of Westchester/Playa, along with the leaders who moved into the newly expanding neighborhood, during and just after WWII. Some of these people include Fritz B. Burns, William H. Hannon, Mary Lou Crockett, Shirley Pfeil, Howard Drollinger, Morrey Plotkin, Mary Ellen Cassman, Allan Cassman, Lloyd Hild and Rowena Ake.

 There are many stories to discover and more news to come as we work toward the opening of the Westchester/Playa Historical Society Discovery Center! Stay tuned for details.

Written by Cozette Vergari. Cozette is a lifelong resident of Westchester and is leading the charge to reinvigorate the Westchester/Playa Historical Society’s nonprofit status. Together with a group of dedicated volunteers, the organization is working on creating new programming and events to celebrate the history of the area and engage the community in preserving it for future generations. 

Posted August 2020.

Pictured: A rendering of the Discovery Center’s wall highlighting the history of the area was created with help from Otis College of Art & Design.

Please note: Westchester/Playa Historical Society is a new entity, legally receiving recognition from the State of California in December of 2019 and receiving 501(c)(3) status as a public charity in June of 2020 from the IRS. Though respectful of the Westchester Playa del Rey Historical Society, which is no longer active, Westchester/Playa Historical Society is a different and separate entity.