Best Way to Spy on the Old Neighborhood ?(As Long as You’ve Got a Wad of Cash)

You can’t go home again, especially in Los Angeles, where the old homestead you grew up in could be replaced by an offramp or, even worse, stuck next to a Rally’s burger place. You can, however, recapture the glory days of Van Nuys, Westwood and other parts of the city at the Benjamin and Gladys Thomas Air Photo Archives — a treasure-trove of aerial photos, taken between 1918 and 1971, housed at UCLA.

Soaring above the city in a Super Cub airplane, Spence Air Photos captured black-and-white aerial images of our burg, sometimes hitting a spot as often as every two years, photographing parks, shopping districts, residential streets and neighborhood landmarks. The company also spent considerable time in Orange and Ventura counties and strayed as far away as Oregon and Nevada. A second collection, Fairchild Aerial Surveys, is also available for viewing at the archive, which operates out of UCLA’s department of geography.

The only trick is, looking isn’t cheap, so knowing what you want can save you money. The archive charges $40 for the first hour, then $10 for every 15 minutes after that. Visitors are warned that it’s easy to lose track of time while you peruse the decades-old images of hillsides, landscapes and residential grids. When you’re done, however, you can purchase copies of your favorite images, from laser prints to 16-by-20 glossies. That, after all, may provide the only proof that your house was once the only one on the block, or that there really was an era when Los Angeles had no freeways.

UCLA Air Photo Archive viewing by appointment only, (310) 206-8188 or

LA Weekly