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TOPICS / LIFESTYLES : Roar of Jets Fuels a Passion for Some Residents

March 31, 1994|ADRIAN MAHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At sunset, Jason Boss often heads out to the balcony of his third-floor apartment, leans back in a deck chair with a highball in hand and watches the world roar in beneath his feet.

Boss, 22, is a resident of Park West Apartments, a 444-unit building in Westchester with a panorama of Los Angeles International Airport. His bedroom window is less than 100 yards from the northern runway of the world's third-busiest airplane hub, and Boss wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'll often have friends over, and we'll just sit on the porch for hours watching the flights come and go," Boss said. "It's absolutely hypnotic."

Despite numerous complaints over the years from many of the roughly 80,000 people who airport officials say are most affected by noise from the facility, a significant contingent swear by the planes, rather than at them.

They include airline mechanics, airport employees, retired engineers and aviation buffs who live on the airport's perimeter and thrive on the airport's international flavor and commotion, which some regard as a soothing, reassuring presence.

Andrew Cover, the Park West Apartments' leasing agent, said he was initially perplexed by the high demand for the building's units.

"It's strange, but most of these people just love watching the airplanes," he said, gesturing beyond an apartment's triple-pane glass, installed to dull the noise. "Funny enough, inside it's a real quiet building, with lots of professional types including pro basketball, hockey and football players, as well as CEOs stationed here during the week."

Many of Park West's neighbors exhibit the same devotion to the clamor.

Reginald Shribbs spends his days as a customer service agent at British Airways; at night, he returns to his noisy haven in Westchester: a three-bedroom, $240,000 home on Glider Street near parking Lot D. An ex-military man with two children who has lived on air bases for most of his life, Shribbs likes the affordability of Westchester's housing and the short walk to work.

Sure, there are inconveniences, such as having to set his TV remote control to high volume to cover the noise. And the airport's thousands of lights often blot out the stars and bathe the neighborhood in a surreal glow. But Shribbs retains a fondness for the peculiarities of life at the airport's edge.

"On walks in my neighborhood, I'm always giving people directions," he said. "There are always lost tourists in rental cars looking at maps with their lights on, and backing into driveways. . . . It's a gateway for international travelers, a reflection of this city."

LAX encompasses more than one-third of Westchester, a community of 50,000 people living in tract homes, boxy apartment buildings and on tidy cul-de-sacs, brushed by cool ocean breezes.

During the airport's expansion in the 1970s, the Board of Airport Commissioners demolished more than 3,500 homes in northwest Westchester and relocated about 10,000 residents to make way for construction of the northern runway. Many residents next to the site faced increased jet noise. Some sued. A few fled. Many stayed.

The noise was never a problem for Harry Stephens, who first came to the area after World War II as a field engineer for Milwaukee-based AC Sparkplug. During initial visits, he often stayed in airport motels because of his affinity for the roar of the jets. Now retired and living in a house on 91st Street, Stephens sometimes dozes off at night with an air-traffic-control radio on full blast.

"I like listening to the banter of the pilots, how they strike up personal conversations," he said. "There's always something going on. I once heard Air Force One coming through on the shortwave and went down to spy on it while it was parked at the end of the runway."

Up the street from Stephens lives Randy Crespo, a maintenance engineer for British Airways, whose house is separated from runway 24 Right by a jumble of weeds and a few chain-link fences. By late afternoon, the house reverberates with the whine and roar of aircraft, the scent of jet fuel wafting in the air.

"Just look at that--the epitome of man's ingenuity," Crespo says as he bounds onto his driveway pointing at a parked TWA 747. "By tonight, that thing will be filled with 350,000 pounds of jet fuel, hundreds of passengers, food, luggage, movies, drinks--everything totally in control."

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