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There Used To Be A Ballpark

"Now the children try to find it / And they can't believe their eyes / For the old team just isn't playing / And the new team hardly tries." from..."There Used to Be a Ballpark" is a song written by Joe Raposo and recorded by Frank Sinatra for Sinatra's 1973 album, Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back.

In just a few weeks, one of the busiest intersections in Westchester, Century and Aviation Boulevards, will be shut down for three days. I can only imagine what it is going to be like trying to catch a flight out of LAX. Of course Sepulveda Boulevard provides north/south access to the airport, and Airport Boulevard can get you in and out in one direction, but it is going to be a mess.

A construction project will tear down an old Santa Fe Rail Road train trestle, which currently runs over Century Boulevard, which as I recall, was erected in about 1965. Prior to this time, and sadly for only about three or four years, the area near this intersection was known as McCulloch Field, and home to Westchester International Little League, owned by and named for McCulloch Motors Corporation.

How this all came to be, I will relate to you, but you can take it or leave it-- it is up to you.
My Uncle, John Thompson, along with a partner, Jim Marin, opened The Bar of Melody on Sepulveda Boulevard in the early 1950’s. In those days, there were very few watering holes in the LAX area, and the Melody, soon became a favorite of local businessmen, including Mr. Robert Paxton McCulloch, President of the McCulloch Corporation, which was headquartered on Century Boulevard.

One day, Bob McCulloch was speaking to my Uncle John, when a local man that they both knew, came into the bar and began to tell them how frustrated he was that he could not find a ball field for his new Little League. Again, and so the story goes, my Uncle began a campaign to talk McCulloch into leasing a piece of land along the railroad tracks that he was only using for testing his new helicopters, and sure enough, a few cocktails later the deed was done, for a price of $1.00 per year.
If you knew my Uncle John, then none of this would surprise you. He was a charismatic promoter, a strong supporter of early Westchester and LAX, and genuinely a great guy.

Mr. McCullough, incidentally, was an amazing man. McCulloch, along with his two siblings, inherited his grandfather’s fortune in 1925. Two years after he graduated from Stanford University, he married Barbra Ann Briggs, whose father was Stephen Foster Briggs of Briggs and Stratton. His first manufacturing endeavor was McCulloch Engineering Company, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he built racing engines and superchargers. In his early 30s, he sold the company to Borg-Warner Corporation.

McCulloch then started McCulloch Aviation; and, in 1946, he changed his company’s name to McCulloch Motors Corporation, and moved to Westchester. Building small gasoline engines, his competitors included his in-laws and Ralph Evinrude. Evinrude led the market for boat motors, while Briggs and Stratton pulled ahead in the lawn mower and garden tractor market. Later they built helicopters, chain saws, and finally, he purchased the London Bridge and had it moved to Lake Havasu, AZ. He owned most of it anyways, and wanted a unique attraction to draw tourists and permanent residents.

Anyhow, a few months later, many of the dads in the neighborhood, cleared the vacant lot and built a first class ball field. It is really some thing to think about a group of young men, including my father and uncle, donating their time and energy; and probably supplies and materials, to unselfishly create a quality ball field for the youths of Westchester. But they got it done and the following spring, Westchester International Little League was the envy of the Westside. It was not for nothing that the league would soon lock horns with the unstoppable forces of progress, and lose their lease.

Aviation Boulevard; the Old Port Road, had been a major route to the Los Angeles Harbor since the Rancho Day’s, and the Santa Fe Railroad had laid tracks along that line. Back in the day, this was a very busy Interurban rail line, and traffic jams commonly occurred at that very busy intersection, as freight trains dropped their cargo at nearby LAX based manufacturing and aerospace firms.

Additionally, Century Boulevard, which once ran west all the way to the beach in Playa Del Rey, was rerouted and finally closed off, which stopped western access to LAX. In those days, the airport was 100% south of the boulevard. The solution was to build a trestle over the intersection of Aviation and Century, and that spelled the end of the ball field.
Westchester International Little League, now field-less, moved to Diamond-3 at Westchester Park, and continues to this day as Westchester Little League, playing their games at Nielson Field.

PHOTO: McCullough Field-Westchester, California.

MCCULOCH MC-4 HELICOPTER AT MCCULOCH AVIATION, LAX, CALIFORNIA, 1951. A fifteen-acre piece of land was purchased opposite the airport and some old barracks set up to serve as offices and plant buildings, while this 80,000 sq. ft. building was erected. As well as Bob McCulloch and his family, 33 families of McCulloch Aviation employees made the move to Westchester, and as a part of the relocation, Bob McCulloch bought 13 houses and 16 apartments to house these employees, and even built them a bowling alley/sports complex, later known as Carolina Lanes. (Complements, Westchester, California-On A Wing And A Prayer, soon to be released by Author).

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