The iconic space-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) once again offers a rooftop setting for aviation enthusiasts and other visitors to gaze at airplanes flying in and out or to take in panoramic views of the surrounding airport area.
After nearly a nine-year hiatus, the Theme Building’s observation deck atop the Encounter Restaurant is reopening to the public to provide some of the most impressive 360-degree views of LAX and its neighboring communities. Los Angeles city and airport officials touted the viewing deck as one of the key features of the spidery-looking Theme Building during a news conference announcing its reopening Friday, July 2.
The observation deck, which had been closed for security reasons since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, will re-open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends only beginning Saturday, July 10. Three telescopes on the deck allow for up-close views of the airfield.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa noted how the observation area was a very popular spot for airport visitors from around the world prior to its closure, with approximately 3,000 people visiting the deck in August 2001.
“Now, once again, people can come to see planes come from all over the planet. When I look at these planes I see revenue for the City of Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said at the conference.
“LAX brings the world to Los Angeles, and I am proud to once again welcome travelers and families to come see the iconic Theme Building and the extraordinary views from the observation deck while they are here.”
In addition to celebrating the viewing deck’s reopening, officials gathered at the event to mark the completion of the $12.3 million renovation and seismic retrofit of the Theme Building. The building, which opened in 1961 and has a futuristic design with 135-foot-high parabolic arches, is considered one of Los Angeles’ most recognizable landmarks. Villaraigosa said the structure’s design “reflects the central role of aerospace” and was intended to serve as a symbol for the jet age.
The building was designated a city cultural and historic monument by the City Council in December 1992.
“It is such an iconic building; everyone knows the Encounter theme restaurant here at LAX,” City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.
A three-year renovation project was initiated in February 2007 after a 1,000-pound stucco piece from the underside of an upper arch fell onto the roof area. Engineers who examined the arch discovered that extensive weathering had compromised the integrity of the stucco skin and led to severe corrosion. They determined that a complete renovation of the arches was necessary, along with a seismic retrofit of the building, airport officials said.
The project involved removal of all of the stucco, a significant seismic retrofit, complete reconstruction of the upper and lower arches’ exterior and accessibility upgrades for people with disabilities. The $12.3 million project cost and an additional $2 million for the stucco removal was funded entirely from the LAX airport revenue fund, airport officials said.
“What we accomplished (with the project) is that we restored the iconic presence of this incredible structure that is seen all over the world. When people come to L.A. this is what they see,” said City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the LAX area, referring to the significance of the Theme Building project.
The space-age themed Encounter Restaurant, which offers 360-degree airport views from inside the building, remained open throughout construction and employees said they were pleased to have the rooftop area open again.
“We’re thrilled to see the Theme Building restoration completed and the observation deck reopened, as the deck is another benefit for our weekend diners to enjoy,” said Kurt Clausen, general manager for the restaurant’s operator.
As part of the building’s upgrade, a new engineering design for the arches’ framing was created and interior fans were installed to blow air up the arches and out through a vent to keep them moisture free.
Airport Commissioner Val Velasco called the project “very challenging,” describing how it involved the installation of a rooftop “tuned mass damper,” which absorbs violent motions caused by an earthquake by counterbalancing with vibrations of its own. By installing the steel device, which is said to be the first of its kind at a U.S. airport, at the top of the building, engineers said they were able to preserve the historic integrity of the structure.
Among the firms involved in the renovation were CSA Constructors for demolition and abatement, Tower General Contractors for reconstruction, Gin Wong Associates for architectural design and Miyamoto International for seismic engineering.
“On behalf of the airport commissioners, we are so pleased that one of our best known landmarks has returned to its former splendor today,” Velasco said.
Rosendahl said, “The Theme Building holds a special place in our city’s heart and history. It’s a great day in Los Angeles when we can pay special tribute to an icon that helped put us on the world map.”
A number of new security measures will be in effect for the observation deck, including a uniformed police officer on the ground floor and inspections of personal belongings before boarding the elevator.