Made up of over 2.6 million tiles, the award-winning floor mosaics in the Long Beach Airport historic terminal have welcomed passengers for more than seven decades, and today, engineers are carefully hand-laying replacement tiles to renovate damaged areas.
Because the Long Beach Airport historic terminal has been deemed a Cultural Heritage Landmark, any proposed renovations must pass stringent requirements before work can begin. In preparation for this arduous project, Long Beach Airport consulted with the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission to establish a protocol for restoration. Because the original tiles are now exceedingly rare, our engineers spent six months consulting with art preservationists. Over 23 different colors were used in the original work, and experts worked diligently to match the rare tiles as closely as possible.
The restoration is an intricate process. Workers begin by cleaning the ceramic tiles to prepare the work area, and then use hand tools to remove the existing grout, while taking care not to damage adjacent tiles. The damaged tiles can then be removed, and replaced by newer tiles. In some work spaces, tiles will be meticulously cut, and the new tiles will be handset, piece by piece.
With over seven decades of wear-and-tear, the mosaics have endured the weight of tens of millions of travelers. Since the 2012 removal of carpet in the terminal, another three million passengers annually have crossed through Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal.
After all the foot traffic—and rolling bags—over the tiles, the restoration will refresh the decorative mosaic floor. During this time, some areas will be cordoned off to allow the new tiles to set.
Finished in 1941 by California artist Grace Clements, the mosaics belong to a rich fabric of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal history. To help support struggling artists in the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration hired artists like Clements, and architects W. Horace Austin and Kenneth Wing, Sr. as a part of the United States Government’s Federal Art Project.
The mosaics highlight the economic drivers of Long Beach in the 1940s—aviation, oil, and communications—that awoke a sleepy beach town and birthed a thriving urban waterfront. The pieces—on the first and second floor of the main terminal—celebrate classic Streamline Moderne design and emphasize the nation’s industrial resources as the country emerged from the Great Depression and prepared to enter World War II.
The mosaics continue to reflect the importance of industry to Long Beach’s success.