Photo: SDASM Archives

Howard Hughes was an aviator, engineer, movie producer, entrepreneur, and one of the most successful businessmen that the country has ever seen. During his life, he was known as one of the most financially successful individuals in the world. This financial success helped build the areas surrounding his home in Southern California.

Hughes first major success happened before he was even 18 years old. In 1909 Hughes’ father Howard Sr. patented a machine that made drilling easier and revolutionized the oil industry. When Howard Sr. and his business partner passed away, Howard Jr. inherited the business and millions of dollars. The 18-year-old Hughes dropped out of Rice University, let others manage the oil-tool business and set out for Hollywood in 1925. 

Hughes started his movie career as a producer on the 1926 film “Swell Hogan,” which turned out to be so terrible it never made it into theaters. However, he soon had a box-office success with 1927’s “Two Arabian Knights,” which earned an Academy Award for best comedy direction. Hughes directed his first film, Hell’s Angel, when the first two directors he hired for the film clashed with his views. He spent nearly $4 million to produce “Hell’s Angels,” which debuted in 1930 and was one of the most the most expensive films of its time. It also was a hit and put Hughes on the map in Hollywood.

After his success in Hollywood, the young millionaire decided to start putting his money into the world of aviation. During the 1930s, Hughes began to seriously pursue his passion for flying, establishing Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, and setting a series of aviation records. Hughes Aircraft Company was created in Glendale, and over the last 80 years it has helped shape the west side of Silicon Beach. 

The company operated out of a corner of a Lockheed Corporation hanger in Burbank until 1941, when it was relocated to the Ballona Wetlands site. Here, Hughes built a sixty-thousand-square-foot, air-conditioned plant, equipped with state-of-the-art machines and laboratories. The 11 buildings, including one very large airplane hangar, stood at the end of a nine-thousand-foot runway pointing in the direction of the Pacific. It was the longest privately-owned airstrip in the world.

By the mid-1990s, Playa Vista converted the former Hughes Aircraft hangars, including the one that held the Spruce Goose, into Hollywood sound stages. Scenes from movies such as Avatar, Transformers, Iron Man and Titanic have been filmed at Playa Vista. 

Now, the legendary land that once gave rise to Howard Hughes’ aerospace empire is undergoing a transformation into Runway. Runway is a large-scale mixed-use center that will offer unique shopping, dining, entertainment and living space in the heart of the Playa Vista community. The Campus, also formerly part of the aerospace empire, has become fertile ground for innovation and connection – which is clear from the design and architecture involved. From billion dollar companies such as YouTube Space LA and Facebook to creative powerhouses like 72andSunny and USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies, Playa Vista has become the Westside address of choice, and what was once Howard Hughes’ Aircraft Company has become Silicon Beach. 

Author: Mariah Terry