For more than 70 years, travelers, aviation enthusiasts and residents alike could gather on the second floor of the now-historic terminal building at Long Beach Airport for a bite to eat and a drink while watching aircraft arriving and departing with beautiful sunsets as the backdrop.

The restaurant opened with the terminal building—designed by William Horace Austin and Kenneth Smith Wing—in 1942. In the early days, it was called The Clouds Restaurant and Bar.

The space went on to become The Prop Room. Though airport staff aren’t sure when the name change occurred, the restaurant had the moniker at least as far back as the 1980s.

Guests sit in the Prop Room restaurant on the second floor of the historic terminal building at Long Beach Airport. Courtesy of Long Beach Airport.

Then, in 2008, The Prop Room became Legends of Aviation, which ultimately shuttered in 2014.

“It is such a special, unique and historic space,” airport spokesperson Kate Kuykendall said. “It was a beloved restaurant. I have run into people within the last year who’ve been wandering around [the airport] looking for the restaurant.”

The space has sat empty for nearly a decade, sometimes used for airport staff meetings, but the city is hoping to recapture its previous magic. As early as May, the city is expected to release a request for proposals, or RFP, for the former restaurant space as well as other concession opportunities at the airport, according to Commercial Development Officer Dale Worsham.

The RFP also will seek operators for small retail spaces on the ground floor of the terminal building as well as a new, 1,100-square-foot pre-security concession stand just north of the terminal, Worsham said.

This will not be the first RFP the airport has put out for the former restaurant space since Legends closed. Worsham said there have been two RFPs issued over the past nine years.

“And there’s been various interest in it,” he said. “We do two or three tours for people that are interested every year.”

While past RFPs and tours have been less than fruitful for the space, Worsham thinks this time around will be different for one main reason: the long-awaited retrofit and renovation of the historic terminal building is currently underway and will be completed by early next year.

A worker uses a rotary hammer to demolish the outer layers of the pillars inside a vacant restaurant space in the Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building in preparation of seismic retrofits Friday, March 10, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Work on the historic terminal has been underway for years. Any new operator would likely fully remodel the restaurant space, Worsham noted, which would then be shut down for a year and torn up as crews seismically retrofit the building.

“It was hard to get someone to commit to something they knew was going to be closed for a year,” Worsham said. “Now, that won’t be the situation.”

Additionally, the second-story space previously looked out over the checked-baggage screening area—not a particularly enticing view. That operation, however, has been moved behind the new ticketing lobby and the courtyard will be open and activated with a meet-and-greet area as well as additional concessions.

The new baggage claim area, slated to be completed this year, also will be within view of the space, Worsham noted.

In addition to restaurant concepts, Worsham said the airport could receive proposals to turn the area into an event space suitable for business luncheons and even small weddings. There also has been past interest in converting it into a co-working space, similar to WeWork, for business travelers who may need to get a few hours of work in.

Other than the tiered-level floor, the interior of the former restaurant space inside the Long Beach Airport terminal building is not historic and can be drastically renovated by a new operator. Friday, March 10, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Most of the interior of the space is not original to the building and therefore a future operator would not need the approval of the Cultural Heritage Commission for most remodeling projects, according to Worsham. The main room is broken up into three tiers, which isn’t great for activation, Worsham said. Leveling the area for more functionality would require commission approval, he said.

“If I had my way, my dream, it would be a restaurant again during the day, but there’d be spaces available for private events—the patio specifically,” Worsham said. “And then at night it could be rented out for events.”

Worsham said he’d like the bar, which currently runs the almost entire length of the west-facing windows overlooking the airfield, to be removed and replaced with a smaller bar. This would allow for massive floor-to-ceiling windows for optimal views of the airfield.

The restaurant on the second floor of Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building used to look out directly onto the tarmac. Courtesy of Long Beach Airport.

If the tiered levels stay, Worsham said glass guard rails rather than the current wood would at least visually open up the space.

One big selling point for events, Worsham said, is the location. Because the space is located at the airport, it is far from neighborhood homes and the noise level of music and guests would not be an issue, even late into the night.

To the north of the main space is an outdoor patio that could accommodate numerous tables for outdoor dining or gathering, Worsham noted.

When asked what type of restaurant he would like to see take over the space, Worsham laughed, saying, “One that is profitable and self-sustaining.”

“Something that is affordable. Something with great cocktails,” he said more seriously. “High-end wouldn’t be desirable here. A Mexican-Californian fusion or an Italian-Californian fusion type of thing. I would like to see a Tantalum in here.”

Regardless of the food type, Worsham said he would like to see a local operator.

“It would have to be a Long Beach destination. This is an asset for the whole community,” Worsham said. “This has been part of the community for over 80 years and we want to retain what this room is.”

Guests dine in the Prop Room at Long Beach Airport sometime in the 1980s. Courtesy of Long Beach Airport.

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