Drawing: Welton Becket & Associates Security Pacific Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
These sketches and models depict the architectural vision of Paul R. Williams, Pereira & Luckman Associates, and Welton Becket & Associates for the Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal Construction project. Construction began in April 1960 and was completed in August 1961 at a cost of $50 million. The new look for LAX celebrated almost five decades of growth for the municipal airport from a primitive beginning in a bean field with two 2,000 foot oiled strips labeled “Land Only” and “Takeoff” to the site of multiple global airline terminals. Although the LA Chamber of Commerce and other civic groups pressed for an airport as early as the 1920s, it took the Charles Lindbergh flight in 1927 to convince city officials that aviation was not just a fad.
In 1965 a few years after the opening of the airport, Julius Shulman photographed Paul R. Williams in front of the unique white Theme Building at LAX (image 6). Dana Goodyear in her 2005 New Yorker essay, Hotel California, believes this single image may have led to the popularly held belief that Williams designed the Theme Building. Goodyear wrote, "Despite the many articles and books crediting him, Williams was not on the design team for the Theme pavilion. He was a member of the joint-venture office for the entire airport project." Alfred E. Willis, a scholar from Hampton University, presented a paper at the February 2009 College Art Association meeting supporting Goodyear's premise.
While the Theme Building with its observation deck, restaurant, employee cafeteria and bank became an "instant" landmark in Los Angeles, the airport project in its entirety symbolized the city's embrace of the 20th century space age. At the airport's dedication (June 25, 1961) FAA Administrator Najeeb E. Halaby speculated that LAX "may well achieve some of the worldwide renown ... as ... Disneyland" (Los Angeles Examiner, June 26, 1961).
The Theme Building was recently renovated, refreshed and retrofitted to better withstand earthquakes. (images 7, 8, 9) To honor and preserve its famous design, a team of architects, engineers and contractors built a 1.2 million-pound steel weight, known as a tuned mass damper, to counteract possible movement and shocks during a quake. As described by Nato Flores, the contractor on the project, "This is a more elegant way to go. Because it doesn't affect the architecture the way that reinforcing would have done." (New York Times, April 17, 2010)