Theme Building - LAX

 
Theme Building, LAX - llustration by George Townley*  

 

Historical Notes

The Theme Building is an iconic Space Age structure at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Influenced by "Populuxe" architecture, it is an example of the Mid-century modern design movement later to become known as "Googie". The Theme Building Exterior and Interior was designated as a historic-cultural monument in 1993 by the city.*

 

 

 

 

 
(1960)^ - View showing the Theme Building under construction.  

 

Historical Notes

The modern parobolic arches of the Theme Building would dominate the center of the terminal area, with four “legs” rising 135 feet from the ground and 340 feet across the base.  It would contain a restaurant and observation deck, with an employee cafeteria at ground level.

 

 

 

 
(1960)*** – Aerial view showing LAX under construction with the Theme Building in the foreground and two terminal buildings in the distance.  

 

Historical Notes

The distinctive white googie "Theme Building", designed by Pereira & Luckman architect Paul Williams and constructed in 1960/1961 by Robert E. McKee Construction Co., resembles a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs.

 

 

 

 
(1960)^* - Close-up view showing the Theme Building under construction in 1960. Airport Commission president Don Belding waves a flag in the foreground.  

 

Historical Notes

The Theme Building became an iconic landmark structure at the LAX. It opened in 1961, and is an example of the Mid-Century modern influenced design school known as "Googie" or "Populuxe”.

 

 

 

 
(1960)^* - View of the new 'Theme Building' as last steel girder is put in place.  

 

Historical Notes

The original design for the airport created by Pereira & Luckman in 1959 had all the terminal buildings and parking structures connected to a huge glass dome, which would serve as a central hub for traffic circulation. The plan was eventually scaled down considerably and the terminals were constructed elsewhere on the property. The Theme Building was subsequently built to mark the spot intended for the dome structure, as a reminder of the original plan.

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1961)* - Structural steel and scaffolding, Theme Building LAX  

 

Historical Notes

The appearance of the building as a single homogenous structure is a cleverly constructed illusion. The building's two crossed arches actually consist of four steel-reinforced concrete legs that extend approximately 15' above the ground, and a hollow, stucco-covered steel truss constituting the remaining lower arches and entire upper arches. To avoid changing the appearance of the structure with overt reinforcement, the Theme Building was retrofitted with a tuned mass damper to counteract earthquake movements.*^

 

 

 

 

 
(1961)^*^# - New streetlights being assembled in the foreground as construction continues on the Theme Building. Click HERE to see more in Early Los Angeles Streetlights.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1961)*** - Maintenance garages and Theme Building LAX  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)* - Maintenance garages and Theme Building after completion.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1961)^.^ – View showing traffic in front of the newly constructed Theme Building at LAX.  Note the vintage looking fire truck and also Corvair at center of image.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1961)*** - LAX Theme Building, by Julius Shulman.  

 

Hitorical Notes

The distinctive white building resembles a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs.  It was designed by a team of architects and engineers headed by William Pereira and Charles Luckman, that also included Paul Williams and Welton Becket. The initial design of the building was created by James Langenheim, of Pereira & Luckman.*^

 

 

 

 

 
(1962)**# - View of the Theme Building and its parking lot. Note the stylish multi-head streetlights surrounding the building. Click HERE to see more in Early Los Angeles Streetlights.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1961)^* - Photograph of a close-up of the parabolic arches at the Los Angeles International Airport, in November 1961 shortly after the building was completed. The arches sweep over a large circular restaurant at center, and a round area lined with windows sprouts from an unseen base.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)#^* – View of a cab driver walking around his car while two women, luggage in hand, cross the street.  The Theme Building stands in the background.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)* – A classic 1953 Studebaker Champion Starliner parked in front of the Theme Building.  

 

Hitorical Notes

Studebakers boasted spectacular European-inspired styling for 1953 courtesy of designer Bob Bourke of the Raymond Loewy studio based in Studebaker’s hometown of South Bend, Indiana. Demand for the new coupes outpaced sedans four-to-one catching Studebaker product planners off-guard. The car received numerous design awards and today serves as a landmark of modern design.*

 

 

 

 

 
(1963)^*# – Poster drawing advertising a '63 Split-window Corvette Stingray with the Theme Building seen in the background.  

 

Hitorical Notes

As a road car, Bill Mitchell’s design was an overwhelming success. For the first time, the Corvette was offered as a coupe and featured a split rear window that caught almost everyone's attention. Realistically, this styling cue was a mistake as it impeded rearward vision and had to be later removed in 1964.*

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)^ - Curbside at LAX with the Theme Building and Control Tower in the background.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)^*^# - Night view of LAX showing a line of taxis waiting in front of a terminal with the Theme Building in the background.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)^ - United stewardesses pose with a DC-8 Jet Mainliner and Los Angeles LAX Theme Building in the background.  

 

Historical Notes

United Airlines entered the jet age with the Douglas DC-8 in 1959. Although Delta Air Lines is the official launch customer of the aircraft, United did put a DC-8 into revenue service on the same day Delta did.

The DC-8 Mainliner was the most advanced of the original-length DC-8s, and made the backbone of United transcontinental services in the 1960s.  It was first placed into service in 1966, before being retired and stored in Las Vegas in 1980, and becoming part of the California Science Center collection in 1984. Initially in the 1970s Saul Bass-designed "Rainbow" livery and parked on the ground, it was later painted back to the original 1960s "Jet Mainliner" livery and mounted on a custom stand.*

 

 

 

 

 
(1961)* – View showing a 707 Continental Airlines Jetliner taxiing along the south ramp of Los Angeles International Airport's new jet age passenger terminal. The newly completed Theme Building stands in the background.  

 

Hitorical Notes

In 2010, Continental Airlines announced that it would merge with UAL Corporation, the parent company of United Airlines, via a stock swap. Continental's shares were acquired by UAL Corporation. The acquisition was completed in October 2010, at which time the holding company was renamed United Continental Holdings. In 2013 the name of Continental Airlines, Inc. was changed to United Airlines, Inc.*^

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)^ - Close-up view of the magnificent Theme Building.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)^ - A Studebaker Avanti sits in front ot the Theme Building, both beautiful in their own way.  

 

Hitorical Notes

The Studebaker Avanti is a personal luxury coupe manufactured and marketed by Studebaker Corporation between June 1962 and December 1963. A halo car for the maker, it was marketed as "America's only four-passenger high-performance personal car."

Described as "one of the more significant milestones of the postwar industry, the Raymond Loewy-designed car offered safety features and high-speed performance. The fastest production car in the world upon its introduction, a completely stock Avanti could reach over 178 mph with its supercharged 289-cubic-inch engine. In all, it broke 29 world speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.*

 

 

 

 

 
(n.d.)* - The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport is a true Modern icon, recognized worldwide as the space-age landmark of one of the world’s youngest and most influential major cities. Sign in front reads: Encounter Restaurant. Photo courtesy Architectural Resources Group  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)* - Interior view of Encounter Restaurant on top of the Theme Building.  

 

Historical Notes

Originally the the restaurant rotated slowly giving the visitors a 360-degree dining experience, however, it is now stationary.

The Encounter Restaurant closed for business in December 2013 with no future plans to reopen, although the building's observation level is still open on weekends.

 

 

 

 

 
(1960s)^ – Continental 707 departing LAX as seen through the arch of the Theme Building.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(2020)^ - Close-up view showing the Theme Building.  Photo by Ted VanCleave  

 

 

 

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