LAX Mosaic Tiles

Charles Kratka's Mosaic tiles at LAX airport. 


LAX had a presence in the 1940's and 1950's, but the 1960's is when the golden age of flying - also known as the "Jet Age",  took over and Los Angeles International Airport established an identity. Designer, Charles Kratka had a lot to do with that. It was truly and airport of the future in the early '60's. This is the story of the tiled murals that traverse the long, long, long, corridors of Terminals 3, 4, and 6 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 geometric 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 County Museum of Art when it opened in 1965, but the mosaics were actually designed by artist Janet Bennet, who installed thousands of small glass mosaic tiles to five long 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 says, said Ethel Pattison, the airport’s historian and who volunteers at the airport's Flight Path Museum and Learning Center. 



The mosaic tunnels can be seen only by arriving passengers. It's quite a shame that one must be only 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 1960s, this LAX airport had more personality then any other airport in the world. As I reported in my LA MAGAZINE article, the 300-foot-long piece was a journey in itself: The tile color represented the United States and the changing seasons from sea to sea. The blue representing the oceans, green for the mountains, sand color for the deserts, brown for the plains, and the navy for the Atlantic Ocean. I actually learned on a 3rd grade field trip that the red is in the center which means your halfway across the midwest. Bennett described it as, "a continent described in colors". Bennett elaborates: "To a young artist / designer, the days from 1959 to 1961 were a wonderful and creative time. I seemed to have all the time and freedom in the world to design major art features for the new airport. Looking back on it now, it seems like play. My boss, Charles D. Kratka, who worked with me at the architectural firm Pereira and Luckman Assoc, handed me the assignments. 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 so satisfying. Incidentally, there were enough tiles left over for a baseboard for my apartment and coffee tables, etc. still in the homes of 4 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 they infused the almost empty passageway. About midway on the tunnel 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 startled and quickly moved on. They didn’t believe me! 


This is Janet Bennet now. She's living in Manhattan and still creating gorgeous art. 

Until this day walking through the corridors are the best part of coming home. It's always comforting walking past those mid century tiles on the way to the baggage claim. It's just an L.A. thing and they definitely mean "WELCOME HOME". Being a native Angeleno, I have walked past them way too many times to count. They bring back so many warm memories of my childhood and are so incredibly iconic to LAX and the city of Los Angeles.




During 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 employees explaining the significance of the tiles.


Below are two rare publicity photos taken on opening day




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...


                               "SMOG" released in 1962



Screen grab from SUNDAY IN NEW YORK, 1963


                       Screen grab from THE LOVED ONE, 1965

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



                                             
Robert Hayes in "AIRPLANE"      
                                                                               

   "Jackie Brown" was filmed in 1997 in terminal 4


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. 

Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I'm coming to LA next month for my husband's work, and you reminded me to see the Astroway this time! Thanks for the history -- I love the color symbolism.

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  3. Charles Kratka did not conceptualize and design this tile wall! My Mother's cousin, Janet Bennett, worked for the design firm under Mr. Kratka, whose sole contribution was the approval of the use of tiles as the medium. I can testify this iconic work was thought of and created by Janet, who deserves the artistic credit. I am now 61 years old and this has been known by my entire family since we were young children. Janet Bennett is alive and well and still creating art in NYC! - MIM

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    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Hello, anonymous! Please give me as much information on this and I will of course update this article. I meant no disrespect. I was just mentioning that it was indeed Kratka’s design firm who was behind it. I would love to add any additional historical information as I can and give the artists and creators props for all they contributed and created! Thank you! -Alison

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    3. Alison, thanks for the opportunity to set this straight. The architects of the LAX terminal buildings were Periera and Luckman. Charles Kratka was the head of the interior dept. He gave me the assignment to design a mural that worked for the 5 terminals. It was then my project from concept,to scale mock up, to the preliminary drawings. I am gratified that the mosaics arie still appreciated after all this time!

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  4. Wow is just the simple word that may explain that how much I liked it. It was nicely stuffed with the material I was looking for. It’s great to be here though by chance.
    Mosaic south africa

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  5. Hello - I am interested in connecting with Janet Bennett and her family as my father Alfonso Pardinas and his firm Byzantine Mosaics executed this mural at LAX and many many other pieces at San Francisco International Airport, BART stations in the Bay Area and many other well known pieces. I too am working to get him credited for all the many pieces all over US but mainly in California. Can view this Pinterest page for some additional details https://www.pinterest.com/flypr/alfonso-s-daughters/ I can be reached my website flypr.net Thank you! Ilka Erren Pardinas

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  6. My father's company, Carrara Marble Company installed these tile walls. G?

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  7. My father's company, Carrara Marble Company installed these tile walls. G?

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  8. Interesting how difficult is to maintain great look at these tiles. I also work with stained glass and mosaic tiles and it seems to fade and scratch from time to time. Sometimes tiles can secede when damaged or because of a bad installation.

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