60th Anniversary Coming Up : Recalling When Westwood Was 'Quaint'

Times Staff Writer

When Laurie Crumplar first arrived in Westwood in the early 1930s, there was more dirt than development. UCLA consisted of two buildings then. A tract home in the new settlement known as Westwood Hills went for about $10,000.

And the village, where she and her husband, Tom, sold malts to the likes of Joan Crawford and Betty Grable in a restaurant surrounded by vacant lots, really was one.

"It was just this sweet, darling little place with tile roofs," said Laurie Crumplar. "It was quaint."

Westwood hardly evokes images of quaintness these days, with its rows of fast-food chains, its T-shirt emporiums and its nightmarish traffic tie-ups.

But residents, merchants and historians hope to revive memories of those earlier times and preserve some sense of history when they mark Westwood's 60th anniversary this fall with a celebration that will include an art show, a photo display, a slide show and lecture, a walking tour and a UCLA parade.

Neglected Too Long?

Sandy Brown, a longtime Westwood resident and community activist who heads the committee, said the area's history has been neglected too long.

"Most communities already have historical societies," Brown said. "But for some reason Westwood never has, and a lot of this material is fast disappearing. So it's really timely that we get going with this project."

If nothing else, Westwood is certainly due for a party. The last time anyone blew out a candle on its behalf was in 1930, on its first birthday. And its 50th birthday went by unnoticed. Brown and her committee will spend the next several months trying to rectify matters by rounding up as many artifacts, people and memories from Westwood's past as possible.

Laurie Crumplar, whose husband ran the legendary Crumplar's restaurant from 1929 to 1957, and who still remembers when there was only one movie theater there, the Village, is one of those helping with the festivities.

Another supporter is Kirsten Combs, the owner of Contempo Westwood Center, who collected old photographs of the area for a permanent "History of Westwood" exhibit at her Le Conte Avenue store 13 years ago.

A Holmby Westwood Historical Society has also been established to help with the task. Wendy Kaplan, a member, said the city's notorious disregard for the past makes historic work difficult.

'Frustrating Goal'

"We hope to preserve whatever history there is," Kaplan said. "But that's a frustrating goal in Los Angeles, because anything more than 10 years old is often torn down. So we really have to search to find memorabilia."

One question that historians hope to answer is the story behind Westwood's name. Greg Fischer, a student of the area, said Westwood may have been named for Westwood Park in Holdenby, England, since that is where one of its founders was born. Others say the name is taken from the "west" in Westgate and the "wood" in Brentwood, two neighboring communities.

"We're just not positive," Fischer said. "It's all kind of vague."

What is known about Westwood is that it was carved out of a 3,300-acre ranch, known as the Rancho San Jose de Buenos Ayres, by an Englishman named Arthur V. Letts. Letts purchased it for $2 million in 1923, and the area was developed by the Janss Investment Corp., a company owned by his son-in-law.

A 1929-advertisement for homes in the Mediterranean-style development lured prospective buyers with the promise of rolling hills, easy credit terms and desirable proximity to the "new University of California." Another ad depicted a father and his son gazing at the gleaming campus of UCLA as he said: "Son! I am buying this lot in Westwood Hills to send you thru college."

Most of the work on the area known as Westwood today--the UCLA campus, Westwood Village, the Westwood residential community and the exclusive Holmby Hills area--was completed by World War II. Commercial growth in Westwood accelerated again during the postwar years, and the quaint village that served as its centerpiece gave way to shops, theaters and restaurants.

Busiest Intersection

Today, Westwood Village boasts 17 movie theaters and more than 70 restaurants and snack shops. It also contains the busiest traffic intersection in Los Angeles. Officials say more than 100,000 cars per day pass through the intersection at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue.

UCLA has also grown quite a bit in 60 years. It now sits on 411 acres of land and boasts about 34,000 students, up from about 6,000 in 1929.

And housing prices have obviously soared. The average house in Westwood now sells for around $600,000, and the $2 million that Arthur Letts paid for the tract in the 1920s would buy one home in the Holmby Hills section today.

Some say that Westwood has lost its historic charm in the years since trendy shops replaced family-owned markets and automobile traffic replaced foot traffic. But those organizing the 60th anniversary celebration say Westwood is still one of the most unusual and enjoyable spots in Los Angeles.

"People who knew it when it was a village miss that aspect of it," Brown said. "There wasn't so much cement, and the stores were more inviting. There were also less cars. But . . . it's still a great place to stroll and enjoy the outdoors. And that's something we want to preserve."

Crumplar, whose husband died in 1977, concurs.

"It's like everything else in L.A.," she said. "It's grown a lot. It's gotten very, very big. But it's still a great place. I don't think there's any place like it. . . . I love it, and I guess I always will."

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