Although much is known about the origins or our town, one thing that we do not know for sure, is how the town of Westchester got its name.
Tradition tells us that an early developer of the town named it for Westchester County, New York, or the Village of Westchester, Illinois. Or maybe it was one of the Westchester’s in Indiana or Florida, or even Chester, England. Of course if you live on the west side of Chester, England, then you live in West Chester. And yep, you guessed it, there are South Chester’s and North Chester’s and East Chester’s, all over the planet
By the way, Chester is an old Roman word (castra), meaning “camp of soldiers” or simply, a military camp or fortress.
But the naming of our town begins far from a battlefield or any of those other places. In fact the origin of our town begins in Inglewood, formerly known as Rancho Sausal Redondo. However, it just might be connected to another old British town; Plymouth, England, an ancient trading post of the Roman Empire.
Daniel Freeman, Father of Inglewood, owned a great deal of land, including a large section near his northwestern border. Today, his original home, La Casa de la Centinela,is a part of a small park located at 7634 Midfield Avenue.
He and his family at one time occupied the Mexican adobe, but later he built a huge mansion on Prairie Avenue, and let out the areas first home. He began selling town lots after 1900, and until 1912, when the Los Angeles Extension Company purchased the last 4,000 acres surrounding the old Centinela Adobe. The company proceeded to subdivide the land into small farms available for lease. Eventually this area evolved into the community of Westchester (named so, many years later), and was annexed to the city of Los Angeles on June 16, 1917. During this period the Centinela Adobe was transformed from a home into an exclusive riding academy.
In 1923, Martha Crawford, the wife of a Los Angeles Extension Company executive, Charles Crawford, moved into the adobe with their two children. For 25 years, Mrs. Crawford resided here and maintained the aged structure. The east side of the house was used as the main entrance.
It was Charles Crawford who named the town of Westchester, and brokered the deal with Fritz Burns and Co., selling the land for $1100.00 an acre! The center of the town’s first development was at the intersection of Sepulveda and Manchester Boulevard’s.
During her occupation of the adobe, Mrs. Crawford operated a nursery school here and opened the house to the public periodically, hosting several small social events. In 1937, she had the Centinela adobe placed in the National Register of Historic Places and recorded in the Library of Congress.
Well, it turns out Charlie Crawford needed a good reliable automobile to traverse the then, mostly road-less farming community, and legend tells us, his car of choice was a new 1936 Plymouth station wagon; the Westchester.
It’s full name was; the Plymouth Westchester Semi-Sedan Suburban. These were7-8 passenger “woodies,” and would later become the car of choice with local surfers. All three seats were upholstered in Spanish grain leather. The rear seats were removable for greater cargo carrying capacity. Glass was used in the front doors but the rest of the openings were covered with storm curtains; although rear glass was an option. The wood bodies on the Plymouth Suburban were made by the U.S. Hame Co., later called the U.S. Body and Forging Co., and constructed of cottonwood panels, red gum, oak and ash.
Incidentally, a “hame” is one of the two curved wooden or metal pieces of a harness that fits around the neck of a horse or other draft animal to which the traces of the reins are attached. The U.S. Hame Co. and its antecedents manufactured hundreds of thousands of them in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before moving on to wood panels for automobiles.
A very large section of the Rancho Sausal Redondo; the Bennett Brothers Rancho’s, had also been acquired by the Los Angeles Extension Co. The 2000 acre sheep ranch, lima bean and barley farm, is known today as another part of Westchester, CA; LAX-Los Angeles International Airport.
Andrew Bennett’s home sat very close to the intersection of Lincoln and Sepulveda Boulevards, and near the current site of the In-N-Out Burger. Back in the day, all of the airport land was located south of Century Boulevard. The balance of the land, where the airport is situated today, had been owned by Daniel Freeman’s daughter; Grace Howland Freeman.