Sharing Westchester and Playa del Rey’s history

Westchester/Playa Historical Society supporters and volunteers including Christina Davis, Karen Dial, Jaren Rhodes, Darlene Fukuji and David Russell pose in the storefront located in the Westchester Triangle. Photo by Bill Ballerini.

Take a step inside the Westchester/Playa Historical Society Room located in the Westchester Triangle for a glimpse into the past of these two connected communities. The room, dubbed Westchester’s Jewel and Playa’s Treasure, has been open for just over a year and volunteers are encouraging people to stop by, share their memories, chat about the neighborhood and view its mementos.

While the Westchester/Playa Historical Society was once a robust community organization, after the passing of its founder, Mary Lou Crockett, the treasures of the group’s collections–old photos, yearbooks, poetry collections and even a gold record from 1960s Westchester rock band The Turtles–laid hidden away until unearthed by her daughter, Patty Crockett, and handed to the LAX Coastal Chamber for safekeeping. From there, chamber president and CEO, Christina Davis, contacted Drollinger Properties president, Karen Dial, to ask for support to house the collection until the organization could be restarted. Dial, who has a long history of philanthropy in the community, not only offered to provide a storage location, but also donated a storefront on 87th St. to display the items for people to view and enjoy.

“Understanding our history and embracing it provides an important perspective as the next generation works to create a cohesive and progressive community,” said Dial. “Westchester/Playa is our treasured hometown and my brother and I, along with the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation, are committed to creating inclusive gathering spaces throughout our community, so this was another perfect opportunity to do that. A historical society is a must for preserving the legacy of our parents, honoring our local aviation heroes and creating a future for our families.”

With one exhibition of pictures from the 1940s and 1950s currently on display, volunteers, including Westchester residents Mike Heffernan and Marsha Parkhill, artist David Russell and local students Aidan Dwyer and Jaren Rhodes, have been diligently working on the daunting, yet rewarding, task of cataloging, archiving and digitizing the collection.

“The people who are supporting the historical society are doing it out of a labor of love,” said Davis who was born and raised in Westchester. “It’s a hard job to organize and archive, but it’s so important to preserve what we have.”

Since the collection is small, preserving what the historical society has is crucial and the reliance on donations from longtime Westchester and Playa del Rey residents will be key in helping make sure the organization continues to grow and thrive.

“In order to have a robust collection we’re going to have to rely on the kindness of our neighbors, especially those that don’t like to throw things away. Westchester and Playa del Rey are such special communities and there are so many families who have lived here forever,” said Davis. “Next time you’re cleaning out the garage or the attic and you see anything related to Westchester or Playa del Rey, please consider donating these items so they can be preserved and displayed for the enjoyment of the community. If you have an old Westchester High letterman’s jacket, we want it! Pictures of your home from the 1940s, we’d love to have a copy.”

For Russell, who volunteers to help organize the collection weekly, a historical society holds an important function that can’t be overlooked, especially in a town like Westchester that continues to grow and change.

“I think the historical society hosts the fabric of this community,” said Russell, who is also an instructor at Otis College. “In terms of revitalizing a community, it’s important we preserve its history so we know where it’s been and where we’re going.”

On a recent Sunday, the historical society played host to a group of old friends and Westchester High School alums that made the trek from all over Southern California to meet up and check out the room’s treasures. An hour later, they were still there with yearbooks in their hands reminiscing about the past and the good old days of growing up locally.

“That’s really the magic of the historical society,” said Davis. “Our collection is small and we rotate our items on display, but just being in the room with the old photos and yearbooks sparks people’s memories and gets them talking about the past. We’re happy to be able to provide a bit of nostalgia. The room is definitely a conversation starter, so stop on by for a cup of coffee.”

Westchester’s Jewel and Playa’s Treasure recently expanded its hours and is open Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 7 p.m. and Sundays during the Westchester Farmers’ Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The room is located at 6205 W. 87th St. in Westchester.

Interested in donating your Westchester or Playa del Rey pictures, trinkets or treasures? Please email info@laxcoastal.com.

Posted November 2018.