Sawtelle is a district in the Westside of the city of Los Angeles, California, partially within the West Los Angeles subregion like the Palms district, that may refer to (1) a larger district that is part of the city of Los Angeles, (2) a smaller unincorporated area of the County of Los Angeles that by definition is not part of the municipality of Los Angeles, or (3) a combination of these, sometimes known as the Sawtelle area. The name "Sawtelle" has also been used to refer only to the Veterans Administration complex, including the modern hospital (West Los Angeles Medical Center) and north of Wilshire Boulevard, the former site of the historical Sawtelle Veterans Home and outbuildings. This area is on unincorporated land west of the Interstate 405 freeway. The entire Sawtelle area includes portions of zip codes 90049, 90064, and 90025 and all of zip code 90073 (a P.O. zip code within the 90025 area, used exclusively by the West Los Angeles Medical Center/Veterans Affairs Wadsworth Medical Hospital). The community was initially established in 1899 and named after a manager of the Pacific Land Company that initially was responsible for its development and promotion.
The incorporated (i.e., municipal) area of Sawtelle, which lies to the south of the unincorporated area, includes the Sawtelle neighborhood, a district of the city of Los Angeles. This district (see below for history), was at one time an independent municipality, but it was consolidated with Los Angeles in 1922. The area extends about to either side of Santa Monica Boulevard, running westward about 1.3 miles (2.1 km) from the California Interstate 405 freeway (San Diego Freeway) and Sawtelle Boulevard, toward the city of Santa Monica. Within this incorporated (city) district lies a Japanese American community and business district along Sawtelle Boulevard, as well as the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle.
The smaller unincorporated (nonmunicipal) area of Sawtelle, about half the area of the incorporated area, consists of 576.5 acres, or , and it is completely surrounded by the city of Los Angeles. On the south, the unincorporated area abuts the Sawtelle city district that is now a part of West Los Angeles and the greater city of Los Angeles. On the north, it is bordered by Brentwood and Westwood. This unincorporated area consists of six parcels near the intersection of the San Diego Freeway and Santa Monica Boulevard, owned either by the US government or the state of California. A private utility company owns the seventh parcel. This area is under the zoning and governmental control of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors within the Third Supervisorial District. This unincorporated area contains the major Wilshire Federal Building, the Los Angeles National Cemetery for veterans, the Wadsworth VA Hospital/West Los Angeles Medical Center, the site of a former major veterans home, and many smaller federal office buildings.
In 1896, the Pacific Land Company purchased a tract, which lay just south of the veterans home, and hired S.H. Taft to develop a new town named Barrett, after Gen. A.W. Barrett, Local Manager of the veterans home. When the Pacific Land Company attempted to secure a post office for the new town, the postal authorities objected to the name "Barrett" on account of its similarity to Bassett, California. In 1899, the name of the town was formally changed to Sawtelle (for W.E. Sawtelle who superseded Taft as manager of the Pacific Land Company).
The Pacific Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers served as an attraction for both tourists and local real estate speculators. In 1904, the Pacific Branch became a stop on the “Balloon Route” - a popular tour of local attractions conducted by an entrepreneur who escorted tourists via a rented streetcar, often from downtown Los Angeles to the ocean and back. In 1905, residential lots and larger tracts in the new Westgate Subdivision, which joined “the beautiful Soldier’s Home”, and which was owned and promoted by Jones and Baker’s Santa Monica Land and Water Company, were for sale. The new community of Sawtelle developed around the Pacific Branch when veterans’ families, as well as veterans themselves who were drawing relief, settled there. Most of the community of Sawtelle thus grew up after the veterans home was established.
In 1918, the voters of Sawtelle decided by a margin of three votes to merge their city with Los Angeles. The vote was 519-516. However, the Board of Trustees, equivalent to a city council, refused to accept the decision and "ordered a challenge in the courts."
The city of Los Angeles, however, did not wait for a court decision but instead "rounded up a squad of policemen and 'swooped' down upon the Sawtelle City Hall, as one account put it at the time."
Sawtelle city officials were locked out of the City Hall, and the city of Los Angeles took over all the municipal and school activities.
In the meantime, the ousted Sawtelle trustees continued their case in the courts, and on September 15, 1921, the California Supreme Court decided the consolidation had indeed been illegal because the voters "had not been told on their ballots that they would have to pay a proportionate share of all Los Angeles debts for bonds."
"Thirty-two days later the city of Los Angeles moved out of Sawtelle as quickly as it had moved in. Nine policemen packed up the records and left; eight firemen abandoned the fire engine and reported for work elsewhere." The city of Sawtelle was back in operation.
In 1922, another election was held, and once again Sawtelle voters decided to join Los Angeles. This time the merger was permanent, and the municipal district or neighborhood of Sawtelle was created. Sawtelle was the fourth city to be merged with Los Angeles, after Wilmington and San Pedro in 1909 and Hollywood in 1910.
A northern residuum of the Sawtelle area, containing federal lands that were the site of the Soldier's Home, as well as the Veteran's Administration hospital, cemetery and federal office buildings, remains unincorporated. It is not part of Los Angeles City, but rather is administered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors within the Third Supervisorial District of this county.