The historic terminal building at Long Beach Airport is temporarily closing for about a year beginning this week as it undergoes $17.8 million in preservation and renovations, city staff announced Tuesday.

The iconic building, which was designed by Horace Austin and Kenneth Smith Wing, first opened in 1941. It features numerous mosaics comprised of 1.6 million hand-cut tiles designed and created by Grace Richardson Clements—all of which will be restored and preserved, including some that have long been covered and out of the public eye.

Numerous murals adorn the floor of Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building, including the original city seal that features smoke stacks, a ship, an oil derrick and even the hand of Grace Richardson Clements dialing a rotary telephone. Clements is the artist behind the mosaics. Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Photos by Brandon Richardson.

“The historic terminal is one of the most beloved architectural icons of our city,” Mayor Rex Richardson said in a statement. “These improvements represent our commitment to preserve its history for generations to come.”

The renovations began in September, but restrooms on the ground floor remained accessible to the public. A full closure, however, is required to complete the renovations, which include seismic retrofits and upgrades to the bathrooms.

The building previously housed the municipal airport’s ticketing lobby. Last year, however, a new ticketing lobby opened, leaving the historic space open for updates. Once completed early next year, the building will serve as the car rental facility, which for years has operated out of temporary buildings in the parking lot area.

The renovation is the fourth project in the $110 million Phase II Terminal Area Improvement Program—the ticketing lobby and new checked baggage inspection systems being the first two, which opened almost one year ago. A new baggage claim area is under construction and is expected to open “in the coming months” after delays.

The terminal building was declared a historic landmark in 1990 by the Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission. It “bridges the transition from the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930s to the geometric abstraction of the post-war International Style,” according to the city.

The Long Beach Airport, including the terminal building, has been featured in dozens of feature films, including “Airplane!” (1980) starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, “The Parent Trap” (1998) starring Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid, and “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” (1947) starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple.

Preserving the past: Work begins on Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.