Public Affairs Officer
Long Beach Airport
Long Beach, CA – Renovations underway on the Historic Terminal at Long Beach Airport (LGB) appear part construction site, part archaeologic dig as workers carefully unearth long unseen portions of a 1941 mosaic masterwork by artist Grace Clements.
“Long Beach Airport’s Historic Terminal, a City of Long Beach Historic Landmark, is home to some incredible public art that has been hidden for decades,” said Mayor Rex Richardson. “The work being done behind the scenes at LGB to restore the building itself and the mosaic masterwork will ensure that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
Part of the ongoing $17.8 million renovation of the Historic Terminal, which is expected to be complete in early 2024, includes expert-led restoration efforts to locate and protect the entire mosaic—made up of nine vignettes comprised of an estimated 1.6 million hand-cut tiles in about two dozen different colors.
Over the past few weeks, the final few hidden vignettes, including a sailboat, several fish and a propeller plane, were found and uncovered, making this the first time in decades that the full mosaic has been visible.
Clements, born in 1905, was hired through the Work Projects Administration (also called the Works Progress Administration, or WPA) to create the federally funded floor mosaic and several murals prior to the terminal’s opening in 1941. The building itself was designed by renowned architects William Horace Austin and Kenneth Smith Wing and is known for its Streamline Moderne style.
Collectively titled “Communication (Aviation and Navigation),” the design of Clements’ Long Beach-centric mosaic mostly showcases representational, stylized means of communication and transportation, including a flight route map, a hand dialing a rotary telephone, maritime-themed art, oil wells and even an emblem of the City of Long Beach’s incorporation.
“Clements’ work and vision are pretty incredible—the tiles are in excellent shape and the vignettes were found fully intact, making this mosaic masterwork one of the best surviving examples of WPA projects nationwide,” said John Thomas, Historic Preservation Consultant to Long Beach Airport. “One of the unknowns we were most excited to uncover was a sort of signature near the airplane vignette where Clements used red tiles to form the words ‘WPA Art Program Southern California 1941.’”
Clements’ floor is as elegant a work of fine art as it is resilient, designed by an artist talented enough to create something that would withstand the wear and tear of millions of travelers walking on it as they pass through LGB each year.
In a letter Clements wrote to commemorate the cornerstone laying of the terminal building on June 8, 1941, only months before the United States officially entered World War II, she called it a privilege to design the walls and floors of the building at Daugherty Field, and she expressed hope for her work to last and be enjoyed beyond war time.
“The artist looks with sadness and regret upon the years to follow, knowing well that art lives only in times of peace,” Clements wrote. “Yet it has been with love and hope that the murals for these walls, the mosaics for these floors, have been created … hope that the peaceful purpose of this building may persist through the years, love for the constructive aspect of man’s endeavors.”
Clements’ great work of art endures, more than 80 years later. Most of the mosaic tiles cover about 4,300 square feet on the first floor, but the artwork also extends up the staircases to one vignette upstairs. In the 1960s, to reduce noise in the busy terminal, the artwork was covered over with carpeting, vinyl and other flooring, sitting forgotten but protected under the layers for decades until it was rediscovered by maintenance workers in 2012. Although the wall murals are gone, the flooring vignettes have slowly been uncovered through the years since, with the Airport earning a preservation award in 2019 from the Art Deco Society of California. The final three vignettes that remained hidden were finally revealed this year as part of the renovation work happening in the Historic Terminal.
“We’re so proud of the restoration work we’re undertaking on the Historic Terminal, which has a uniquely timeless look and feel that generations are going to enjoy well into the future,” said Airport Director Cynthia Guidry. “Especially as our Airport celebrates its 100th anniversary later this year, I couldn’t be more excited to see this building and the mosaic masterwork restored to their former glory.”
LGB remains open and fully operational throughout the $17.8 million renovation of the Historic Terminal; however, the building itself is closed to the public and all services have been shifted to other areas on the Airport campus.
Expected to reopen in early 2024, the scope of work being done on the Historic Terminal includes the preservation of the mosaic art as well as a seismic retrofit, improved restrooms and building infrastructure, and the restoration of significant Art Deco and Streamline Moderne design elements, with rental car services on the first floor and administrative offices on the second floor. The project is part of a larger $122 million Phase II Terminal Area Improvements plan to make strategic pre-security enhancements at the Airport.
Long Beach Airport will officially mark its 100th anniversary on Nov. 26, 2023. To learn more about the history of the oldest municipal airport in California—currently offering nonstop service to 24 destinations around the country—visit lgb.org and follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @LGBAirport.
About Long Beach Airport
Founded in 1923, Long Beach Airport (LGB) is the oldest airport in California. Among its many awards, LGB was named one of the 2022 Top Ten airports in the country by readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. LGB offers non-stop service to several U.S. cities while supporting a healthy general aviation community with more than 300,000 annual operations. The Airport is also a source of substantial economic activity and employment, with the LGB Aviation Complex generating $8.6 billion in economic impact and supporting 46,000 jobs. LGB is a self-supporting enterprise of the City of Long Beach and does not receive local tax dollars. The Airport prides itself in preserving its esteemed historic legacy and maintaining a safe, sustainable, and environmentally responsible operation. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @LGBAirport.
About the City of Long Beach
Long Beach is nestled along the Southern California coast and home to approximately 466,000 people. As an award-winning full-service charter city, Long Beach offers the amenities of a metropolitan city while maintaining a strong sense of individual and diverse neighborhoods, culture and community. With a bustling downtown and over six miles of scenic beaches, Long Beach is a renowned tourist and business destination and home to the iconic Queen Mary, nationally recognized Aquarium of the Pacific and Long Beach Airport, award-winning Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center and world-class Port of Long Beach.
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