AKA: Main Restaurant, LAX, Westchester, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - infrastructure - transportation structures - airports

Designers: Becket, Welton D., and Associates, Architects (firm); McKee, Robert E., Inc., Building Contractors (firm); Pereira and Luckman, Architects, Engineers and Planners (firm); Williams, Paul R., Architect and Consultant (firm); Welton David Becket (architect); Charles Irving Luckman Sr. (architect); Robert Eugene McKee Sr. (building contractor); William Leonard Pereira (architect); Paul Revere Williams (architect)

Dates: constructed 1957-1961

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201 Center Way
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Los Angeles, CA 90045-5807

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LAX Central Restaurant Building


This distinctive and influential design, credited to a conglomerated design team, opened on 06/25/1961, with Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) presiding at the opening dedication ceremony. This was just five days after the new JFK administration's inauguration. The building's futuristic qualities set amidst the new jet-age airport had the right qualities to draw a member of the youthful and forward-thinking admininstration. In the popular imagination, it set a standard for futuristic architecture, echoed in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, the Jetsons (1962). It captured the science-fiction vision of the flying saucer popular during the 1950s and crysallized it as a hovering presence over the airport's center. For any child growing up watching Jetsons reruns during the 1960s, the LAX Theme Building's Saturn-like arches, conflated with the delicious Golden Arches of McDonalds' s early restaurants, deeply affected his/her formative expectations of the built environment yet to come.

Building History

While the credit for the Theme Building has been given collectively to the team of architects commissioned to complete plans for the new Westchester airport, the core of its design can be found in Pereira and Luckman's 1953 masterplan for the complex. Fentress Architects, noted designers of airport facilities, said of the Theme Building in 2013: "Though the Theme Building is, and always was, simply a symbol for LAX, Pereira & Luckman had originally intended it to be so much more. In their original conception, dating to a 1953 masterplan, the Theme Building was a much larger structure consisting primarily of a glass dome that was meant to be LAX’s main terminal. Enclosed bridges projected out from the dome to an array of subterminals from which passengers could board their planes. However, the plan was scaled back dramatically before construction even began and reconfigured into the program we know today with terminals arranged around a U-shaped access road." In its earlier conceptions it was literally the heart of the airport, a connector to all of its parts, a panopticon from which all gates and other airport components could be viewed. For planning as well as cost reasons, this centralized plan was scaled back and mostly abandoned, but the sculptural centerpiece was not omitted.

An article in the Los Angeles Times, reported to readers who the building contractor would be, the airport's cost and other aspects of the Theme-and-Arch Building: "A $24,090,383 contract for construction of 12 building at Los Angeles International Airport as part of its $59.7 million expansion program was awarded yesterday by the Airport Commission. The award went to Robert E. McKee General Contractor, Inc., El Paso. The work to be completed in 1961 includes erection of the central theme structure, six satellite buildings to be used as terminals by commercial airlines and five ticketing structures. The new airport will be capable of handling 23 million passengers annually. The central structure, known as the theme and arch building because of its unique design, will cost $1,750,000. It will house a restaurant suspended in the air and an observation deck. The building, designed to accentuate the idea of space with its flying saucer shaped restaurant, will cantilever out from a 34-ft. diameter core at a height of 60 ft. above the ground, with the roof of the cafe supported by arches rising 130 ft. above the ground.” (See “Contract Let for Dozen L.A. Airport Buildings,” Los Angeles Times, 11/11/1959, p. 18.)

Building Notes

This restaurant building hovered 135 feet above the pavement, suspended from two metal arches placed perpindicularly. The restaurant was originally intended to rotate, but this feature was removed for cost reasons.


Remodeled in the late 1990s; lighting design c. 2000 by Michael Valentino of Disney Imagnieering.

In 2010, officials completed another renovation of the Theme Building, costing a modest $12.3 million.

Los Angeles County Historic-Cultural Monument: 570

PCAD id: 52