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The legacy of LAX

Merdies Hayes | 5/23/2012, 5 p.m.

Rising about 132 feet above the tarmac, the new Tom Bradley terminal at Los Angeles International Airport--or el-a-ex (LAX), as it is more popularly known--evokes thoughts of a cresting wave breaking to the west. The new terminal is part of a $4.11 billion upgrade of one of the world's busiest airports.

It could easily be symbolic of the great wave of prosperity and growth that swept over the city during Bradley's 20-year term as mayor, from 1973 to 1993.

This second terminal is another tribute to the longest tenured mayor in Los Angeles history, and at least one of the greatest champions of the airport. In fact, Bradley could be termed the "transportation mayor," having not only fostered expansion of the airport into the international terminus it came to be, but also having fought for a subway system, which has morphed into the light rail system that Angelenos now enjoy.

Additionally, during the Bradley years, the Port of Los Angeles reportedly became the largest and most productive in the nation. He has been called by some "the mayor who reshaped L.A."

"He was a prism through which we can see both the rise of Los Angeles as an international city and the reemergence of a vibrant Black community that reaches back to the very beginnings of the pueblo . . .," said a biography on Black America On Line. "His mayoralty was a time in which Los Angeles reconfigured itself, redefined itself."

"This airport has always been a point of pride for the city," said airport spokesman Albert Rodriguez. "We believe these improvements will carry us well into the 21st century. The Pacific Rim is vital. The Chinese market is opening up. Citizens there can travel more, and that means more local tourism and trade. We are looking forward to a bright future."

Bradley, proved somewhat prophetic in focusing on the strategic importance of the Pacific Rim. He courted Latin and Asian countries, traveling to Pacific Rim nations often in his attempt to "position Los Angeles as its unofficial capital for an era of growing trade."

However, there were consequences, according to the New York Times: "For years, as a new wave of Hispanic and Asian immigrants were drawn to the city, both residential and commercial development went virtually unchecked"

"Mr. Bradley reached the height of his popularity, when he brought the Summer Games to Los Angeles in 1984," said the Times article . . . . He had fought hard to bring the event to Los Angeles, but at the same time he forced a tough agreement with the International Olympic Committee to indemnify the city against any possible financial losses. The Los Angeles games were the first privately financed Olympics, and they turned a huge profit."

The airport's history, of course, extends back 83 years to Mines Field and beyond--long before Bradley came to power--to a lonely, dusty and frequently foggy Spanish Revival hangar similar in design to Union Station downtown amid acres of cows, crows, wildflowers and wetlands.