Charlotte Gunter has only one regret about her time with the Kentwood Players: She wishes she’d joined sooner.
The 90-year-old great-great-grandmother, known as “Miss Kentwood Players,” joined the Westchester thespian troupe two years after she first encountered them at a venue called “The Barn” in the 1950s. She hasn’t stopped contributing her time and talents since — and hasn’t missed an opening night in more than six decades.
Gunter has been a producer, director and even president of the organization, and she’s played a number of roles on stage, too. She’s especially proud of portraying three different characters in a 1958 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” But what brings her the most pride is her work behind the scenes, particularly the costume department — “which I absolutely adore,” she says, “because I love clothes!”
Gunter was born in Oakland and fell in love with song and dance watching Shirley Temple on screen and attending the Bay Area’s plethora of world-class theaters. She and her late husband Pat moved to Westchester in 1952, partially for its proximity to LAX (they visited friends and family up north often back then). Pat worked at Douglas Aircraft and she had a job with aerospace manufacturer the Garrett Corporation on Sepulveda Boulevard. They initially lived on 84th Street and later upgraded to a custom-built home on 77th Street.
“In those days, that was considered moving up,” she says in her warm and cheery tone. “We settled into Westchester and loved it from the beginning. … Lincoln was just a road, and anything beyond Lincoln was fields. … It was very bucolic. And it was very village-like.”
The couple raised their daughter Adrienne (who passed away in 1995) in Westchester, and Gunter joined various community causes, becoming active in Westchester’s historical society, its woman’s club and the Culver City Democratic Club. She also co-founded Westchester’s annual Fourth of July Parade
The community needed “to cement the small-town flavor,” she says, “which we saw slipping with all the expansion”— meaning the development of Playa Vista beneath the bluffs and LAX’s plans to widen its north runway past Westchester Parkway.
Gunter joined community activist Denny Schneider as one of the airport’s more vocal opponents, efforts that helped to facilitate a 2016 settlement replacing LAX expansion with plans for limited commercial development and lots of open space.
“I did whatever I could, which was mainly making noise and writing letters, because I had lived through what LAX did to us previously, when they decimated Westchester,” she says.
In recent years Gunter downsized to a condo in Culver City, but her heart remains at the Westchester Playhouse and she still serves as a liaison to the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce.
“I have a finger in a lot of pies,” she says, but “you won’t find my name on a program, because I’m a behind-the-scenes person. I don’t need the limelight. I just contribute where I see a need.”
— Christina Campodonico
Photo by Courtnay Robbins