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 opened in 1961, 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. 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 Los Angeles City Council designated the building a historic-cultural monument (no. 570) in 1993. 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 of the “Theme Building”, located on the roof of the Encounter Restaurant. It has a 360-degree view of the arriving and departing planes. 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 weekends starting July 10. 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.
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. 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 is now stationary.
The appearance of the building as a single homogenous structure is a cleverly 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.
The Encounter Restaurant closed for business on December 31, 2013, with no future plans to reopen. 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. Delaware North Companies Travel Hospitality Services operated the restaurant. It was in a pre-security area of the airport.