Reclaiming Westchester

Westchester residents share what makes their community more than the “Home of LAX”

One of the several murals painted around Westchester by art students at Otis College of Art and Design, located in the community. (Location: Airport Office Center, Drollinger Properties in Westchester Village) Source: Keilyn Abe

After enduring the snowy winters in Minnesota and the never-ending rain in Washington, in 1954, 6-year-old Barbara Stone and her family escaped to sunny Southern California and settled in a quaint neighborhood called Westchester.

The “Home of LAX” is a small part of Los Angeles County with 40,567 residents among 10.81 square miles, and according to the Los Angeles Times’ “Mapping L.A.”, this number is among the lowest densities for the city.

Living in a big city like Los Angeles with people coming from all over the country to get their shot at living the “L.A. lifestyle,” a common question that Angelenos get asked is, “Where are you from?”

“You have to mention LAX!” Stone exclaimed, laughing at the common misconception that people think she’s from Westchester, New York. She recalled one of the few times she saw her hometown covered in the media. “When the Space Shuttle [Endeavor] went through Westchester a few years ago, then it was like, ‘Oh, we do exist, OK,’” she said.

To locals, living in Westchester is so much more than easy access to the airport. It’s about reviving the community that has been evolving and adapting to environmental changes since the ‘50s.

In the ’50s, Westchester was a new community. The homes were newly built, sophisticated restaurants and department stores slowly moved in, and movie theaters and other spots for residents to socialize were established. Soon enough, the Westchester community was formed.

Within the past few years, Southern California has watched the development of Silicon Beach, another branch off of Silicon Valley, with the rise of tech company residencies in L.A. While they have been setting up shop all over L.A., “Playa Vista is where everyone’s going once they acquire scale,” entrepreneur-financier Mark Suster said in Los Angeles Magazine.

Just a seven-minute drive from Playa Vista, Westchester residents are seeing the most change happen to the neighborhood since the expansion of LAX in the early ’60s that demolished thousands of homes and pushed out thousands of residents.

As these changes to the community continue to happen, locals remember Westchester to be their quiet neighborhood in L.A. Here are the stories of just a handful of people who call this overlooked piece of L.A. their home.

BARBARA STONE

When Stone was a child, she and her neighborhood friends would roam around the town at just 10 years old. They would go to local restaurants with some extra change in their pockets just in case they needed to call home.

One of her favorite places in Westchester used to be Westchester Park. As a child, she would play in the playground, swim in the pool and watch Little League games. Once she started teaching at a nearby school in Playa del Rey, she would take her students on special trips there every year where she watched them enjoy the same amenities.

After teaching for 24 years, Stone retired and remains living in Westchester. She says that she didn’t think she was going to live in Westchester her whole life, but after marrying a local boy that also grew up in her neighborhood, she’s happy to have stayed.

CHRISTIANA SALDIBAR

25-year-old Christiana Saldibar experiences a similar confusion from strangers when she tells them that she’s from Westchester.

“Whenever people ask, ‘Where do you live?’ I say LAX because they know that,” Saldibar said. “Then they ask, ‘Do you like seeing the planes?’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah, we see them every day.”

Growing up, she remembers riding around her neighborhood on her bike and going to play glow-in-the-dark mini golf with friends. Although places like that have since closed, Saldibar has come to realize her favorite quality about Westchester.

“We don’t have a lot of things to do [in Westchester], but we are the middle spot; we can do anything,” she said.

Like many other Angelenos, Saldibar’s friends come from all over the city. When they all get together and try to decide what to do, the meeting place is always her house because of Westchester’s close proximity to surrounding L.A. neighborhoods.

From her house, popular locations like Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and Korea Town are all a 20-minute or less drive away. For Saldibar, this is what has made and continues to make Westchester home to her.

DAVID ABE

Following years of moving all around the country, from a small village in Hawaii to the Bay Area in California to a suburb in New York, 56-year-old David Abe remembers finally settling in Westchester at the age of 16.

While his family has moved outside of Los Angeles County since, Abe stayed around the area until getting married in 1995, moving back to the community and starting his own family there.

A longtime golfer, Abe’s favorite spot in the neighborhood is Westchester Golf Course where he practices his game when he’s not working at the local Vons Grocery Store.

When asked what makes Westchester home to him, Abe said, “The location being close to the beach and an hour’s ride from everything else you could want to do. Overall, it’s a great place to raise a family.”

NAZZAR MAROF

28-year-old Nazzar Marof moved to Westchester in February 2021 after living all over L.A., from the valley to downtown. His girlfriend, a Loyola Marymount University graduate, has lived in the Westchester area consistently since she attended school in the area.

After having lived in numerous L.A. neighborhoods, Marof recognizes what makes Westchester different for him.

“I lived in places like Mar Vista and Santa Monica,” he said, starting to compare them to Westchester. “I see more people of color and Black people here; I see more people that look like me. I feel more comfortable here than I do living somewhere where I would ask myself, ‘Do I belong in this neighborhood?’”

Although he has only been living there for four months, like many other locals, his favorite spot is The Coffee Company, not only for its close proximity to his apartment but for the good food and live music on the weekends.

ALYSSA ABE

Alyssa Abe grew up in Westchester and currently splits her time between her childhood home and her apartment in Koreatown. At 25-years-old, when she looks back on her childhood, she chooses her description carefully: quiet and peaceful.

“Living in my apartment now, there’s noise outside all the time. When I go back home, I feel at peace. I don’t feel like I’m in a huge city; I feel like I’m at home,” Abe said.

Growing up in this small community within L.A., Abe remembers riding her skateboard to neighbors’ houses and playing T-ball at Westchester Park.

For Abe, those days she spent outside with neighborhood friends that ended with walking to the local 7-Eleven for a Slurpee feel like forever ago, but every time she comes back home, she’s reminded of those memories.

PATTI MATSUBARA

35 years ago, after Patti Matsubara got married, she and her husband settled in a house in what Matsubara described to be the family-oriented neighborhood of Westchester.

The couple raised their two sons in Westchester while Matsubara worked at the local Vons Grocery Store. As her children grew up, they spent time at Westchester Park and Carl Nielsen Youth Park, but her favorite places in the community are the diverse selection of restaurants.

“I used to take a Mommy-and-Me class at [Westchester-Emerson Community Adult School] where I met local moms. All our kids are around 32 now, but we still get together for lunch,” Matsubara said.

A few of her favorite restaurants are The Coffee Company, Truxton’s American Bistro and Chicago for Ribs. “I like food,” she said with a laugh.

To learn more about Westchester locals’ favorite spots around the community, check out the map below!