June 2021 Article

WESTCHESTER/PLAYA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

PIONEER SERIES

HOWARD DROLLINGER

By: Cozette Vergari

We have already written about the courageous visionary, Ella Drollinger, taking the risk in 1944 of building the first commercial property in Westchester, an area that was beginning to evolve and take shape out of the wheat fields surrounding the small Los Angeles Air Port. And, no that is not a typo. Initially, on March 17th, 1928, the headline for The Daily Californian read “Air Port Here Chosen.”  On July 26, 1928, the Los Angeles Examiner’s front page headline read Council Votes To Lease Mines Field For City Airport, land owned by rancher Andrew Bennett comprised of acres of wheatfields. The original terminal built in 1928 still exists at the eastern end of LAX. Will Rogers and Charles Lindbergh landed in the first passenger plane at Mines Field. Commercial aviation was developing its foundation, with an eye to the future

And, as the future unfolded, Ella’s vision of a commercial district to support the community of Westchester and its new stakeholders working in the aerospace and defense industries following WWII, was shared, embraced  and carried on by her son, Howard B. Drollinger. After returning from serving his country in WWII, having been awarded the Purple Heart, four air medals and two Presidential Unit Citations, while serving in the Army Airforce, Howard joined Ella to grow the commercial district of Westchester. He earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees at USC and went on to build and manage much of Westchester’s central business district. 

During the expansion of LAX, in the 60’s and 70s, taking over 3500 homes and displacing approximately 10,000 residents, coupled with the opening of the Culver City Fox Hills Mall, the retail and business district of Westchester was hit hard. Howard fought back even harder, for nearly 20 years, buying up the real estate that was being abandoned and left behind by major retail companies, who were moving to the malls. Single screen movie theaters could not compete with the new multiscreen cinemas, usually attached to those same malls.

Along with those who fought for the preservation of the historic landmark, the Loyola Theater, which stands near the southeast corner of Manchester Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard, Howard fought hard on many levels to preserve the Paradise Building at the southeast corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Westchester Parkway, which had been the site of many star-studded movie premieres in the 1950’s. Search lights lit up the evening skies over Westchester, as the Paradise Theater hosted the many Hollywood celebrities. Opening on August 23, 1950, it’s close proximity to the Los Angeles Airport made the Paradise Theater ideal to host those celebrities traveling from afar. Howard’s battle to save the Paradise Building lasted over several decades.

His redevelopment of the Sepulveda commercial district culminated in 1995, with the opening of the Ralphs Supermarket Center, along with cultivating other large retail businesses to tenancy along Sepulveda Boulevard, including the first building constructed by his mother on the southeast corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and La Tijera, which opened as a Thrifty Drug Store in 1945.  The Ralph’s Supermarket Center, now known as Westchester Village, is the hub of the Sepulveda Boulevard commercial district and is bordered on the south by Howard Drollinger Way.

Howard was a not just a developer. He was a philanthropist, who gave back to his community and to the region at large. Raising his family in the Westchester / Playa del Rey community, with this wife Jewel, he appreciated the concept of giving back and established the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation. The Foundation gave and continues to give, through his legacy, to countless charitable and educational causes.

On November ___ 2017, the Rotary Club of Westchester honored Howard and the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation, by installing the Rotary International Clock that sits at the west end of Howard Drollinger Way, near the Ralphs  Supermarket across from Pizza Hut. The clock is dedicated to Howard and his family for all of the years of dedication to our community, past, present and future. Howard joined Rotary International as a member of the Rotary Club of Westchester in 1952, just two years after its inception in 1950. The Rotary Club of Westchester and Howard Drollinger served the local community, jointly for nearly 50 years. Through that association and partnership, Howard donated 100s of thousands of dollars over time. The Rotary Clock was  dedicated to the business community of Westchester in honor of the combined efforts of the H.B. Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation and the Westchester Rotary Foundation, and symbolizes their close partnership in community service to the citizens of the area, as well as maintaining a sustained quality business environment.

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