Saying Goodbye to LA

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Here at the start of a new year, when the tone of the city is usually to look ahead, the local news has been full of some notable goodbyes.

The first to catch my eye was the rather pointed exit from Los Angeles of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra's principal flutist -- or if you prefer, flautist.

Mathieu Dufour has been sitting in the first chair while on leave from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was sort of testing the waters. The LA Phil seemed happy to have him and put out notices embracing him as a full time player.

This week, however, Dufour announced he's taking his flute back to Chicago. In an interview with that city's Sun-Times newspaper, he said some unflattering things about his time here.

There are some fine musicians in Los Angeles, he sniffed, but unlike Chicago there's no musical tradition. Also no tradition of "working together as a dedicated ensemble."

That hints at the kind of personal friction that suggests he won't be missed much at the interpersonal level. The LA Phil, for its part, thanked DuFour for his performances and wished him well.

The official vibes were similarly courteous in the Getty Museum's statement yesterday that director Michael Brand is leaving with a year left on his contract.

Brand isn't talking about the reasons for his abrupt announcement, and he'll be available to help as a consultant for several months. It's a very un-museum like separation, though.

The LA Times found some insiders who talked about conflicts of vision and personality with CEO Jim Wood. But this is one of those stories where the fullness of what went on behind the scenes has to wait for more reporting.

Both departures are more symbolic than anything for the rest of us.

The most heavily symbolic goodbye of the week is the decision by the Northrop Grumman Company to leave its longtime home in Los Angeles for offices in Washington.

The move will feed the political chatter over whether or not Los Angeles, and California, are too unfriendly to business. Few jobs are involved, so the real symbolism is in closing the book on a monumental era in the story of Southern California's evolution into a metropolis.

A hundred years ago, the first major air show in the United States was held down by the Dominguez Hills and drew 225,000 spectators over ten dusty days.

From there, the aviation presence grew to change Southern California forever.

Northrop and Grumman are two storied names in that story, along with Douglas and Lockheed, Rockwell and Rocketdyne, and Howard Hughes and Amelia Earhart.

If you have ties in the LA area going back awhile, chances are good that someone in your family worked for -- or prospered because of -- one of those companies or their brethren.

Donald Douglas's first airfield was located right on Wilshire Boulevard, west of 26th Street in Santa Monica. There were at least two other grass airfields on Wilshire, opposite each other at Fairfax Avenue.

One was owned by the film producer Cecil B. DeMille, the other for a time by the brother of actor Charlie Chaplin.

Communities like Santa Monica, Burbank, Downey and Long Beach were defined by their plants, which built DC-3's and moon rockets and space shuttles. These plants provided good solid jobs to the middle-class, along with hope for families who for the first time would send their kids to universities.

Hollywood and entertainment only passed aerospace as an employer in the 1990s, after the Cold War ended.

As scholar William Deverell of the Huntington and USC writes, one cannot fully grasp why Southern California is the kind of place it is without understanding the formative role of the aerospace plants.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.