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LAX Is Considering Plans to Turn This 1960s Building Into Part of an Airport Hotel

By Sarah Buder

Jun 13, 2019

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The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was completed in 1961—one year before the TWA Flight Center in New York.

Photo by pictureforlife/Shutterstock

The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was completed in 1961—one year before the TWA Flight Center in New York.

Los Angeles International Airport officials are looking into reviving a largely defunct midcentury modern landmark as part of a massive site overhaul.

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In New York, a former 1960s flight center at John F. Kennedy International Airport officially reopened as the 512-room TWA Hotel (located in Terminal 5) this May. Following the successful reboot of JFK’s abandoned terminal into a midcentury modern hotel, an international airport on the opposite side of the country is considering a similar idea.

Officials at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) are reportedly looking for ways to repurpose the site’s historic Theme Building, a striking Space Age structure that was built in 1961 by Pereira & Luckman Architects to “symbolize a jet-age future.” (The Theme Building at LAX was completed one year before the TWA Flight Center in New York, which opened in 1962.) The proposed overhaul of the 1960s landmark comes as LAX moves forward with major expansion and modernization plans in advance of L.A.’s hosting role in the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

A New Train and Terminal Upgrades Promise to Reinvent LAX

According to the Los Angeles Times, airport officials are considering different options for the revival of the historic Theme Building, one of which might be to convert the space into a restaurant or conference center that would either be connected to—or located near—a new airport hotel. (If constructed, the on-property lodging would become the first at LAX.)

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Since the start of the 1960s, the Theme Building has loomed over LAX’s runways as a symbol of the Space Age and a beacon of midcentury modern design. The flying saucer–like building features an 8,000-square-foot former restaurant space suspended from white arches made of concrete and steel. However, after September 11, its 360-degree view Observation Deck became off-limits to visitors for security reasons, and just a few years later, the dining hall closed for business as well. Today, the only part of the building in use is the ground floor, where the Bob Hope USO (short for United Service Organizations) has a lounge that accommodates current U.S. military members in transit, as well as their family members.

The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport is situated between a runway and the San Gabriel mountains.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officials say that transforming the Theme Building at LAX would require passing several logistical hurdles, from dealing with city planners to winning approvals from federal authorities. Still, LAWA put out a call earlier this year for architectural, engineering, and construction companies to submit their visions for the proposed complex. Currently, no plans for the project are official and a potential timeline has not been specified. 

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