Theme Building

Coordinates: 33°56′38.76″N 118°24′8.64″W / 33.9441000°N 118.4024000°W / 33.9441000; -118.4024000
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Theme Building
The illuminated exterior of the Theme Building at night
Location201 World Way
Westchester, Los Angeles, California
United States
Coordinates33°56′38.76″N 118°24′8.64″W / 33.9441000°N 118.4024000°W / 33.9441000; -118.4024000
ArchitectPereira & Luckman Architects, Paul Williams and Welton Becket
Architectural style(s)Mid-century modern, Googie
Governing bodyLos Angeles World Airports
DesignatedDecember 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 a structure at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), considered an architectural example of the Space Age design style. Influenced by "Populuxe" architecture, it is an example of the Mid-century modern design movement later to become known as "Googie".[2] The Airport Theme Building Exterior and Interior was designated as a historic-cultural monument in 1993 by the city.[3]


The distinctive white building resembles a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs.[4] The initial design was created by James Langenheim,[5][6] of Pereira & Luckman,[3] subsequently taken to fruition by a team of architects and engineers headed by William Pereira and Charles Luckman, that also included Paul Williams and Welton Becket. The civil engineer was Richard Bradshaw.

The appearance of the building's signature crossed arches as homogeneous structures is a design illusion, created by topping four steel-reinforced concrete legs extending approximately 15 feet above the ground with hollow stucco-covered steel trusses. To counteract earthquake movements, the Theme Building was retrofitted in 2010 with a tuned mass damper without changing its outward appearance.[7]

Constructed near the beginning of the Space Age, the building is an example of how aeronautics and pop culture, design and architecture came together in Los Angeles.[8]


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.[9] The Theme Building was subsequently built to mark the spot intended for the dome structure, as a reminder of the original plan.

The building construction contract was awarded to Robert E. McKee General Contractor, Inc. of El Paso, Texas.[10]

The structure was dedicated on June 25, 1961, by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.[11] The Los Angeles City Council designated the building, which lies within the Westchester neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles, a historic-cultural monument (no. 570) in 1993.[1][12]

Interior of Encounter Restaurant (2013)

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.[13] An airport spokeswoman said that because of its appearance and views, some people thought it revolved after visiting it, even though it did not.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services operated the restaurant.[19] The restaurant being in a non-secure area of the airport, where travelers are reluctant to spend time when a possibly lengthy security checkpoint lay ahead, or leave after being screened and have to go through security again upon returning,[20] was cited as a reason for closing.[17]

In 2018, the Bob Hope USO at LAX relocated to the ground floor of the Theme Building, opening a 7,100 square foot facility described by its president as "the most technologically advanced USO in existence."[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Historic Resources Report" (PDF). City of Los Angeles. September 7, 2007.
  2. ^ Novak, Matt. "Googie: Architecture of the Space Age". Smithsonian. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Report - HPLA". Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  4. ^ "The "Theme Building," Los Angeles International Airport". University of Southern California. Archived from the original on March 13, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2008.
  5. ^ "ICONIC BUILDING OF THE MONTH: THE THEME BUILDING | Spektra Global". June 21, 2021.
  6. ^ "LAX Theme Building".
  7. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (April 17, 2010). "In Los Angeles, the Saucer Is Ready to Land Again". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2010.
  8. ^ Anderton, Frances (July 16, 2019). "How the Space Age influenced Southland design and architecture". KCRW. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  9. ^ "The Unlikely History of Pereira's Theme Building". Fentress Architects. February 8, 2013. Archived from the original on March 1, 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  10. ^ "PCAD - Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Theme and Arch Building, Westchester, Los Angeles, CA". Retrieved March 5, 2022.
  11. ^ "PCAD - Port of Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Theme and Arch Building, Westchester, Los Angeles, CA". Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  12. ^ Moffat, Susan (December 19, 1992). "Landing a Landmark: LAX Monument to '60s Optimism Granted Historical Status". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 18, 2010.
  13. ^ Kreuzer, Nikki "Offbeat L.A.: Sexy Space Age – The Theme Building at LAX", The Los Angeles Beat, May 30, 2013.
  14. ^ Reynolds, Christopher (January 19, 1997). "Theme Building: 60-Second Appraisal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 6, 2019 – via
  15. ^ "Iconic LAX Theme Building ready for its close-up". KPCC. July 2, 2010. Archived from the original on June 22, 2011.
  16. ^ "Art Program – LAX 9/11 Memorial". Retrieved April 7, 2013.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Marroquin, Art (November 11, 2007). "Spruced-up Encounter Restaurant to reopen Monday at LAX". Los Angeles Daily News. Archived from the original on November 15, 2007. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  19. ^ "Encounter Restaurant & Bar: Genesis of the Encounter and FAQs". Encounter LAX. Archived from the original on January 4, 2014.
  20. ^ "LAX's Encounter Restaurant Closes With No Plans To Reopen « CBS Los Angeles". January 8, 2014. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  21. ^ "Bob Hope USO Opens New Airport Center Inside Iconic LAX Theme Building". Bob Hope USO.
  22. ^ Reynolds, Christopher (June 12, 2018). "Is LAX's Theme Building coming back to life as part of an on-airport hotel?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2019.

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