As the airline industry collapses in on itself faster than the top speed of a Concorde, there are still a couple of non-frustrating things about a visit to LAX. Not the traffic, the prices, the ridiculous security lines and beaten-down airline employees. Not the new arcane rules of packing shampoo, or throwing away your bottled water to repurchase it from a “safe” airport vendor… No, all of that remains truly awful, getting worse all the time, and if you're headed out of town this weekend by plane, good luck to you.
What's still wonderful about LAX is the unimaginatively named Theme Building. Sitting in the center of the airport, like the eye of a hurricane, it's oddly quiet there, even at the airport's busiest hours. At least it is if construction work isn't being done at the moment.
Last February, a 1,000 pound chunk of stucco fell from one of the building's four legs, prompting the closure of the building and its restaurant.
Currently, all of the stucco has been stripped away from the legs to be replaced as part of the $14 million dollar renovation. The Encounter restaurant inside the dome is also open again, (though it wasn't when I visited last week, so you get ground level only photos). While the restaurant itself still has a gaudy Tomorrowland feel to it since its own facelift in 1997, there's still no better bar at LAX to relax your visiting guest after what was no doubt a harrowing flight, before forcing them into another nailbiter on the 405 or 105.
The scaffolding has created an elaborate exo-skeleton of 90-degree angles covering the now-skinny exposed metal legs of the Theme Building. It's all the more odd, since the structure itself lacks almost any right angles.
And though we're coming up on a year and a half since the building was closed, it's good to see work being done to preserve and restore an iconic LA structure, rather than just let it rot, or tear it down and start again.
Along with Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at the JFK Airport in New York, the two buildings seem to represent a coast-to coast golden age of style and sophistication in jet travel that not have ever really existed except in our imagination. But unlike the TWA terminal, which was obsolete immediately after it opened, abandoned for decades, moved, torn apart, and partially destroyed, the Theme Building seems to be on the road to a full recovery.
It's also quite easy to get to: Head to the arriving flights area, stay in the left lane, avoid terminals 2 through 6 by taking a left lane turn directly to United's terminal 7, and then duck into short term parking. A quick walk from your car puts you in a grass-covered oasis of admission-free retro-future wonder,currently covered in wood and iron walkways and vertigo-inducing staircases. Parking is only $3 for the first hour. And bring a picnic lunch in case The Encounter is closed.
All photos by Mark Mauer.
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