Theme Building

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Theme Building
LAX LA.jpg
The illuminated exterior of the Theme Building at night
Location 201 World Way, Westchester, Los Angeles, California
Coordinates 33°56′38.76″N 118°24′8.64″W / 33.9441000°N 118.4024000°W / 33.9441000; -118.4024000Coordinates: 33°56′38.76″N 118°24′8.64″W / 33.9441000°N 118.4024000°W / 33.9441000; -118.4024000
Built 1960-1961
Architect Pereira & Luckman Architects, Paul Williams and Welton Becket
Architectural style(s) Mid-Century modern, Googie
Governing body Los Angeles World Airports
Designated December 18, 1993[1]
Reference no. 570
Theme Building is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Theme Building
Location of Theme Building in the Los Angeles metropolitan area

The Theme Building is an iconic landmark structure at the Los Angeles International Airport within the Westchester neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles. It was dedicated on June 25, 1961, by the then US Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, and it is an example of the Mid-Century modern influenced design school known as "Googie" or "Populuxe."


The distinctive white building resembles a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs.[2] 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.

The appearance of the building as a single homogeneous structure is a constructed illusion. The building's two crossed arches actually consist of four steel-reinforced concrete legs that extend approximately 15 feet 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.[3]


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.[4] The Theme Building was subsequently built to mark the spot intended for the dome structure, as a reminder of the original plan. Initially, the restaurant on top rotated slowly, giving the visitors a 360-degree dining experience. However, it was later made stationary.

The Los Angeles City Council designated the building a historic-cultural monument (no. 570) in 1993.[1][5] A $4 million renovation, with retro-futuristic interior and electric lighting designed by Walt Disney Imagineering, was completed before the Encounter Restaurant opened there in 1997. Visitors are able to take an elevator up to the Observation Level to get a 360-degree view of arriving and departing planes.[6] After the September 11 attacks, the Observation Level was closed for security reasons. Following a $12.3 million restoration of the building completed in 2010, the observation level re-opened to the public on Saturdays and Sundays starting July 10.[7] Additionally, on September 9, 2003, a permanent memorial honoring those who perished in the attacks of September 11 was opened on the grounds of the Theme Building. [8]

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.[9] Previously, the restaurant was closed in March 2007 for repairs after a half-ton piece of the stucco skin on the upper arches crashed onto the roof of the restaurant, and reopened on November 12, 2007.[10] Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services operated the restaurant.[11] The restaurant being in a pre-security area of the airport, where travelers are reluctant to spend time when a possibly lengthy security checkpoint lies ahead, was cited as a reason for closing.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Historic - Cultural Monuments (HCM) Listing: City Declared Monuments" (PDF). The City Project Website. The City Project. September 7, 2007. Retrieved June 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ "The "Theme Building," Los Angeles International Airport". University of Southern California. Retrieved November 18, 2008. 
  3. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (April 17, 2010). "In Los Angeles, the Saucer Is Ready to Land Again". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Unlikely History of Pereira's Theme Building". February 8, 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ Moffat, Susan (December 19, 1992). "Landing a Landmark: LAX Monument to '60s Optimism Granted Historical Status". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved April 18, 2010. 
  6. ^ Kreuzer, Nikki "Offbeat L.A.: Sexy Space Age – The Theme Building at LAX", The Los Angeles Beat, May 30, 2013.
  7. ^ "Iconic LAX Theme Building ready for its close-up". KPCC. July 2, 2010. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Art Program – LAX 9/11 Memorial". Retrieved April 7, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Forgione, Mary (January 8, 2014). "Encounter, LAX Theme Building restaurant, closes with no plan in sight". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ Marroquin, Art (November 11, 2007). "Spruced-up Encounter Restaurant to reopen Monday at LAX". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved November 11, 2007. 
  11. ^ "Encounter Restaurant & Bar: Genesis of the Encounter and FAQs". Encounter LAX. Archived from the original on January 4, 2014. 

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