Charles Kratka's Mosaic tiles at LAX airport. 



LAX had a presence in the 1940's and 1950's, but the 1960's was the golden age of flying  - also known as the "Jet-age" and when the Los Angeles International Airport established its identity. Designer Charles Kratka had a lot to do with that. It was truly the airport of the future. 

But this is the story of the tiled murals that traverse the long, long, long, corridors of Terminals 3, 4, at LAX



At the Delta Terminal in 2019. Below in my story on the tiles for Los Angeles Magazine in 2013

The Designer and graphic artist, who died in 2007, was hired in the late 1950s to help upgrade LAX to the atomic age in 1961, which included the creation of this geomantic eye candy. Kratka was the head of interior design when the airport was being modernized. Kratka also oversaw the design of the original interiors for the Los Angeles Museum Of Art when it opened in 1965, but the mosaics were actually designed by artist, Janet Bennett, who installed thousands of small glass tiles into five corridors and the two satellite buildings. 



Today, only three of them are open - terminals 3, 4, and 6. "The original idea was to help make the 300 foot-long tunnels seem shorter", said Ethel Pattison, the airport's historian and volunteer at the FLIGHT PATH MUSUME AND LEARNING CENTER. 




The mosaic tunnels can be seen only be arriving passengers. It's quite a shame that one must be returning to see them. I miss the days when meeting someone at the airport meant the opportunity to admire the wonders of LAX. During the 1960's, this airport had more personality then any other airport in the country. As I reported for Los Angeles Magazine article, the 300-foot-long piece was a journey in itself: The tile color represented the United States and the changing seasons from coast to coast. The blue representing the oceans, green for the mountains, sand color for the deserts, brown for the plains, and navy for the seas. I actually learned on a 3rd grade field trip that the red in the center means you're halfway across the mid west. Bennet described it as, "a continent described in colors".  Bennet elaborates: "To a young artist / designer, the days from 1959 to 1961 were a wonderful creative time. I seemed to have all the time in the world to design major art features for the new airport. Looking back now, it seemed like play. My boss, Charles D. Kratka, who worked with me at the the architectural firm, Pereira and Luckman Assoc, handed me the assignment. They were exciting and challenging projects. There was a period after I finished my phase of work on the tunnels when I had other projects, but none as satisfying. Incidentally, there were enough tiles left over for a baseboard for my apartment and coffee tables, etc. still in the homes of four of my California cousins. When I first saw a finished  tunnel I was returning to Los Angeles in the middle of the night. I can remember being delighted by the colors as the infused the almost empty passageway. About midway, I encountered a couple who had stopped and were pointing at the tiles as they talked. I interrupted, "Oh, do you like it? I did it!"They looked and me startled and quickly moved on. They didn't believe me!"



This is Janet Bennet now. She is living in NYC and still creating gorgeous art. 

Until this day, to me, walking through the corridors are the best the best part of returning home. It's aways comforting walking past those mid century modern tiles on the way to the baggage claim. It's just an L.A. thing that translates to, "Welcome Home". Being a native Angeleno, I have walked past them way too many times to count. They bring back to many warm memories of childhood and are so incredibly 'iconic' to LAX and the city of Los Angeles. 


During my research for my article on the tiles for Los Angeles Magazine, I had the great pleasure of being escorted by experts on the tunnels. I filmed this quick clip of one of their LAX's employee's explaining the significance of the tiles   




Below are two rare publicity photos taken on opening day courtesy of Janet Bennett




If you haven't seen the tiles in person, perhaps you've seen them captured on celluloid. Movies such as, "POINT BLANK", "THE GRADUATE", "HIGH ANXIETY, "MIDNIGHT MADNESS", "AIRPLANE!", "JACKIE BROWN", "INTO THE NIGHT", and "ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD were just some of the movies and TV shows shot in this mid century modern space age tunnel...



"SOMG" released in 1962
                           

Screen grab from SUNDAY IN New York, 1963 staring Cliff Robertson


Screen grab from "THE LOVED ONE", 1965

 
"POINT BLANK", 1967. I love the sound of Lee Marvin's shoes waking down that corridor. "Clack, clack, clack, clack..."





Robert Hayes in "AIRPLANE"                       
                                                              

 Quentin Tarantino's epic opening staring Pam Grier in  "JACKIE BROWN was filmed in terminal 4 in 1997. 




John Hamm as Don Draper on "MAD MEN" filmed on the rolling sidewalk. During the space-age era the moving sidewalk was referred to as “The Astro Walk". 



Learn more about the artist, Charles D. Kratka Here

The tunnels can be seen in many TV shows from the 1970s such as the ROCKFORD FILES and COLUMBO seen here. Episode title: The Most Crucial Game. 



                                       
Footage of the airport with special attention to the mosaic tile walkways designed by Charles Kratka

'

Lucille Ball at the ceremony of Tunnel 4 in 1963!



This is from original press release for the general Jet Age Airport.


Danny Hutton, June Fairchild, David Anderle, his wife Sheryl, Mark Volman, Chrissie Jolly, Jules Seigel, Michael Vosse, Dean Torrance (hidden), Diane Rovell, Marilyn Wilson, Brian, Annie Hinsche, Brian Wilson and Barbara Rovell-Gaddy, and Van Dyke Parks. 


Dean and Dick Martin

John Densmore, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, and Robby Krieger of The Doors at LAX, 1968




"MAD MEN" publicity shoot - 2014/ Click here to see Don Draper pass by the tiles.




"ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD" released in 2019 and takes place in 1969




An owner of a house in Downey, California says these tiles were left over from the LAX installations 



The tiles even inspired these socks by the Stephen J. Cox sock company





Alison Martino is a writer, television producer, an on-air personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present Instagram and  Twitter 






Alison is also currently a columnist for Los Angeles Magazine and an On Air Contributor on Spectrum News 1 in Southern California reporting about the history of her hometown. 

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