The landmark Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) will need to undergo more extensive renovations and repairs than initially planned, as engineers overseeing the project have discovered that parts of the building are more damaged than first anticipated.
The renovation project for the space-age Theme Building, which contains the Encounter Restaurant at the top, was originally expected to take about six months to complete, as work was planned to repair only the building’s upper arches.
But Glenn Ito, a senior civil engineer at LAX who is overseeing the project, said the project will likely last through the end of the year after engineers found that the building’s lower arches are also damaged and in need of similar repairs.
“When we did a more detailed investigation we determined that the lower arches were experiencing corrosion similar to the upper,” Ito said.
The renovation project was initiated by airport officials in early March after a half-ton piece of the stucco skin broke off the underside of the east upper arch of the building and fell onto the platform near the roof of the Encounter Restaurant.
The incident caused no injuries or major damage but prompted airport workers to install protective scaffolding over the entrances to the Theme Building while visual inspection was conducted from the restaurant rooftop.
Airport officials ordered Encounter management to close the restaurant after engineers determined that there was a possibility for other stucco pieces to fall onto the roof.
Ito said that with the work needed to be done on the lower arches, the Encounter Restaurant, which offers 360-degree views of the airport, might not be able to reopen until late August or early September.
The project is the first renovation of the Theme Building’s upper arches since they were erected in the late 1950s.
After the March incident, engineers were able to inspect the upper arches, using a 100-foot-tall crane, and discovered that there was water seepage into the stucco on the arches.
It wasn’t until the scaffolding was put up and a general contractor was hired to perform a detailed investigation that officials learned that parts of the lower arches were also corroded, Ito said.
The upper and lower arches are both made of stucco but are constructed differently, Ito said. The upper arches are for more aesthetic purposes and don’t provide structural support for the restaurant like the lower arches do, the engineer said.
Similar work will be required for both the upper and lower arches, including removal of the stucco and lead-based primer and repair of the stucco skin, Ito said. A seismic evaluation of the building will also need to be performed.
“It’s a very unique project,” Ito said.
Project engineers are expected to give an update on the additional damage and present recommendations for the additional work to the city Board of Airport Commissioners at its meeting Monday, June 18th.
Officials have given a “rough” cost estimate for the project at about $10 million. The Airport Commission has already approved $1.8 million for demolition work and an additional $150,000 has been set aside for testing and inspection services, Ito said.
The Theme Building, which was completed in August 1961 and designated a cultural and historical monument by the Los Angeles City Council in 1992, is widely considered one of the most recognizable structures in Los Angeles.
“We want to make sure the improvements are done properly,” Ito said of the project. “This is a historical building. It’s something we’re very proud of.”