lax theme building at night
At night, the Theme Building is lit up by colorful spotlights that highlight the building’s futuristic look. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The story of the LAX Theme Building begins in 1959, where architecture firm Pereira + Luckman dreamt of creating a dramatic glass dome in the middle of the Los Angeles International Airport. The dome would connect the airport’s terminals and parking structures, and would truly be the hub of LAX.

However, this project was eventually scaled down and redesigned to become the futuristic flying saucer it is today. The Theme Building was built in 1961, and became a quintessential example of the Googie architectural style, which was influenced by the Space Age and is full of automotive and futuristic motifs.

lax theme building 1961
In this architectural drawing from 1961, the Theme Building looks ethereal. Courtesy of the LA Times.

The Theme Building is made up of two parabolic arches encompassing a ‘flying saucer.’ When it first opened, it contained a restaurant in the central part of the structure and an observation deck above it. Families would come to eat dinner together and gaze at the 360 degree view of Los Angeles. After dinner, they could go up to the observation deck and watch planes take off and land.

encounter restaurant in lax theme building
The Encounter Restaurant in 2013. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1993, the building became Historical-Cultural Monument by city of Los Angeles. Then, a few years later, the Theme Building underwent a major renovation with the help of Walt Disney Imagineering. The interiors were redone to give it a retro twist, and it reopened as a new restaurant called ‘Encounter.’

However, after 9/11, the Theme Building faced a different future. Its observation deck was closed shortly after for security reasons, and 6 years later, a half-ton piece of stucco from one the Theme Building’s arches fell on the restaurant. It closed down for 8 months. Though the observation deck reopened for a few years in 2010, Encounter shut its doors in 2013.

lax theme building with train in the future
Once LAX opens its passenger train in 2023, it will go right by the Theme Building. Courtesy of the LA Times.

But the future might not be so dire— with LAX undergoing a major renovation, discussions are underway about once again opening up the Theme Building as a restaurant or conference center, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For now, the building is certainly an icon. And thankfully, it’s an icon that doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.

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