LAX Theme Building reopens July 10

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The theme of the spidery structure with the soaring arches was the unbridled optimism of the future when it was built 50 years ago in the center of Los Angeles International Airport.

It was called the Theme Building, in fact, as jet-age passenger terminals arose in a U-shaped cluster around the 135-foot-tall, restaurant-topped building.

Part spaceship, part flying saucer, the unusual-looking circular structure was sometimes mistaken as the LAX control tower. A year after it rose, the futuristic animated show “The Jetsons” aired for the first time.


Over the years, the Theme Building became as much an iconic symbol of Los Angeles as the Hollywood sign.

That was the plan, according to the man who directed the design of the $2.2-million structure through a partnership with three major architectural firms: Pereira & Luckman and Associates, Welton Becket and Associates, and Paul R. Williams.

Architect Gin Wong set out to create a futuristic building that would both reflect its relationship with aviation and stand the test of time.

It did the latter for 47 years. But in 2007 a half-ton chunk of stucco fell from the upper portion of the eastern arch and smashed into pieces when it hit the restaurant roof.

Airport officials found that foggy Westside weather had caused the stucco-clad steel parabolic arches to begin rusting. That discovery prompted a three-year, $14.3-million repair and seismic-upgrading project financed by airport revenue funds.

Now 87, Wong returned to the Theme Building on Friday as airport operators and city officials commemorated the project’s completion and the reopening of the rooftop observation deck. It has been closed to the public for security reasons since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the deck, which offers a 360-degree view of the entire airport, will be open free of charge Saturdays and Sundays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting July 10. He indicated that it might eventually reopen on a daily basis.

That was welcome news to people such as Winfried Giese, a 61-year-old retired airline company supervisor from Garden Grove whose hobby is “plane-spotting” — recording the tail numbers of jetliners. “This is the only place you can see everything, even though you’re totally removed from the aircraft,” he said.

Wong gazed out from the observation deck too. But he was looking at the juxtaposition of airport access roads to the terminal buildings, not at planes.

Before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Wong designed the LAX master plan, which created the double-decked roadway system that separates traffic into arriving and departing levels.

Wong said he was pleased but not surprised that the seismic retrofitting and installation of a new ventilation system, which uses fans to prevent moisture buildup inside the Theme Building’s arches, was accomplished without changing the look of his structure.

He’s always had unbridled optimism about his landmark’s future, he said.