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.

Sophisticated bachelor Richard Nugent thinks he’s taking a trip alone.

But Dr. Matt Beemish hatched a plan to get Judge Margaret Turner on the same flight in the hopes that the two would end up together.

Nugent (Cary Grant) and Turner (Myrna Loy) are pleased to see each other on the tarmac, just as Beemish (Ray Collins) predicted.

“You remind me of a man,” Turner says.

“What man?” Nugent asks.

“The man with the power,” she says.

“What power?” he responds.

“The power of hoodoo,” she says.

“Who do?” he replies.

“You do,” she says.

“Do what?” he says.

“Remind me of a man,” Turner repeats.

“What man?” Nugent asks.

“The man with the power,” she says.

“What power?” he says.

“Give up?” Turner asks.

“Give up. Let’s go,” Nugent says.

The pair then walk across the tarmac of the Long Beach Airport and board a plane as the music swells and the 1947 film “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” ends.

Prior to the playful banter on the tarmac, the film saw the actors inside the terminal building of what was then known as Daugherty Field Long Beach Municipal Airport. The building was still relatively new, having opened in 1941. Some of the features in the building, including the beautiful tile mosaic floors, remain in what is now a historic Long Beach landmark.

The now historic terminal building at Long Beach Airport in 1941, the year it opened. Courtesy of Long Beach Airport.

Designed and created by Grace Richardson Clements, the mosaics and other features are at the center of a $16.7 million renovation and preservation project now underway in the historic building, which will restore, preserve and modernize the facility.

“When you have these cherished pieces of art, like this mosaic floor, it’s like a Rembrandt that just happens to serve as a utility,” John Thomas, historic preservation consultant for the project, said. “You don’t write it off, you rehab it.”

The building is only open to airport staff who work on the second floor, but they will all be moved out by the end of the year, according to Stephan Lum, a senior civil engineer and acting engineering officer at the airport. Workers have already begun removing counters and carpeting that have revealed more of the mosaic tiles.

The pieces of art include old flight paths over the Western Hemisphere, the city seal that includes smoke stacks that were officially removed from the emblem decades ago, a ship, an oil derrick, a salmon, a sunrise, a zodiac circle and even the hand of Clements herself using a pencil to dial a rotary telephone.

The largest Grace Richardson Clements tile mosaic inside Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building is of old flight routes across the Western Hemisphere seen here in the 1950s or ’60s and in 2022. Historic photo courtesy of Long Beach Airport; modern photo by Brandon Richardson.

Through the renovation, Thomas said the team hopes to find at least two more mosaic vignettes intact—a 1920s-era propeller plane and a sailboat.

“The demo work is very cautious and steady, it’s very peaceful,” Thomas said, noting that it takes special care to not damage the historical elements of the building.

“Preservation is like peeling an onion,” he added. “Sometimes the more you get into it, the more you cry.”

Over the years, through construction and the expected wear and tear of millions of travelers, some of the mosaics have suffered damage. Oddly enough, Thomas said, the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation do not allow for repairs to be exact—the new and the old must be easily differentiated.

Already there have been repairs to the floor’s tiles, which are easily detectable due to the difference in color and texture.

Clements’ art at the airport was funded through the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project of the Roosevelt administration following the Great Depression. Artists were one of the groups hardest hit by the dramatic economic downturn, and Clements was a great leader for women artists of the time, bringing several in to assist in her work at the airport, Thomas said.

“These are interesting artifacts of story, of place and evolution,” Thomas said. “It’s important to keep these buildings in place, to reuse buildings when possible.”

She also painted murals on several of the walls inside the building that have long since been painted over, Thomas said. Such coverups are much more difficult—and far more costly—to undo, he said. There is, however, the option of having the murals recreated using photos and various films shot within the space.

Thomas will work with airport staff to create a preservation protection plan for the original features, including the mosaics, original Philippine wood accents, the original clock and more.

Preservation, however, is only one aspect of the work that will be done inside the building. The bulk of the funding—about 35%—will go toward seismically retrofitting the building, Lum said.

“The seismic retrofit is a voluntary upgrade, we’re not required to upgrade the building by code,” Lum said. “But we want to preserve this as a local landmark and we want to protect it for as long as possible.”

The upgrade will touch all five floors of the building, Lum said. It will include reinforcing walls, fiber wraps on columns and, in some places, additional steel bracing, he said.

In its original form, as seen in the 1947 film, there was a walkway down the middle of the terminal building that opened up directly onto the tarmac. For years, the back of the building was blocked by the airport’s baggage inspection area, which has now been removed as part of the Phase II Terminal Area Improvements.

This 1963 photo of Long Beach Airport shows the walkway out of the historic terminal building directly onto the tarmac. Courtesy of Long Beach Airport.

The renovation will see the corridor reopened, allowing guests to walk through the historic terminal and out into what will be a new meeter-greeter plaza with nearby concessions.

“This is a high-end travel hospitality setting. It’s no different than a hotel, frankly—it serves traveling customers,” Thomas said. “One thing about Long Beach, we love to be friendly to our travelers. So it’s got to be appealing.”

Once all staff have been moved out of the building, Lum said the project should be completed in about 10 months. Upon reopening, the building—which previously housed the ticketing lobby—will serve as the new car rental area.

Thomas and Lum said the team is already working with the car rental vendors about their equipment needs. But everything done inside the building, right down to the furniture, will be period appropriate to when the building first opened, Lum said.

The administrative offices will return to the second floor of the historic building, Lum said. Next year, the airport also plans to put out a request for proposals that would include the reopening of Legends of Aviation, the popular restaurant that closed in 2014.

A few ticketing kiosks will still be available on the ground floor for passengers who do not need to check bags, Lum added.

The new ticketing lobby and baggage inspection facility directly south of the historic terminal was the first project of Phase II to be completed. It opened its doors to passengers in May.

The next major project is a new baggage claim area, which is well into construction. The project is on schedule and should be completed sometime in December, Lum said. However, opening a new facility during the busy holiday travel season may not be ideal, he said, so there is a chance that the opening will be delayed until after the new year.

When the new baggage claim area opens, the old space will be decommissioned, Lum said, and work can begin for the last project of Phase II—new pre-security restrooms, baggage service offices and concessions.

“So we’re definitely nearing the homestretch,” Lum said, adding that the full Phase II program is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

A roadway improvement project was initially part of Phase II but was put on the backburner with other projects amid economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. The roadway project, however, recently received federal funding and will proceed sooner than expected, Lum said.

A car return lot and a ground transportation hub for buses, taxis and rideshares, however, remain in limbo.

“Those are still on hold right now,” Lum said. “We already have quite a bit on our plate … but we do intend to get there at some point.”

The Long Beach Airport historic terminal building Thursday, September 15, 2022. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

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