September 20, 2016

Photo Essay: Art Deco Aviation in Long Beach

When I started flying into LA more regularly for business trips, and then again when I was trying to move here, I just loved flying in and out of Long Beach Airport (LGB).

With all those palm trees, it was like landing in Florida, or the tropics, or some other beachside paradise.

Even though it was far from, say, Hollywood, I loved how it felt like you'd arrived in somebody's back yard. I mean, it's right in the middle of Long Beach—not in the far reaches of the world, like JFK or LGA.

I even didn't mind it so much the time I missed my return flight to NYC back in 2006 and had to hang around for seven hours till the next flight out. There was a bar, and it had wifi.

Back then, I didn't know that much about Art Deco, so I neglected to take note of the late-period Streamline Moderne architecture of the 1941 terminal building.

And everything was carpeted back then, so I didn't see the vintage "floor murals," made out of ceramic mosaic tiles...

...and designed as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) by mosaicist Grace Clements.

Including scenes from the land, the sea, and the air (and sky)—as well as scenes from nature (like birds and fish)—collectively, the murals are known as "Communication (Aviation and Navigation)."

In the ticketing area on the ground level of the terminal building, there's a world map showing flight patterns...

...including those that didn't even exist at the time, showing an eye to the future.

Tearing up the carpet back in 2012 revealed all of this and more, including starbursts elsewhere on the first floor...

...and on the staircase landings leading up to the second level, which doubles as a waiting area and museum of airport history.

This is where you get to learn about famous historic aviators like Amelia Earhart, Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan while standing upon the night sky.

Unfortunately, the bar / restaurant is currently closed, with no tenants lined up to reopen it. But on the floor in front of its (closed) door is a fabulous tile mural of the signs of the zodiac.

Because the murals were covered by carpet for so long, they've actually been preserved pretty well—though there are plans to repair some of the minor damage they've sustained.

Fortunately, you can still go out on the second floor deck...

...and observe how passengers used to exit from the center of the terminal building and walk right out onto the tarmac for their planes. There's a new 2013 terminal building out there, too.

Some other buildings on the LGB property date back to when the Navy and Army Corps needed hangars and administrative buildings in the late 1920s through World War II. In 1928, the Navy dubbed the airfield (formerly known as Daugherty Field) the Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB) Long Beach, although they eventually moved most of their facility to Los Alamitos.

Many planes for the war effort were built here at LGB by Douglas Aircraft Company—including the C-47, B-17 bomber, and DC-10—thanks to many women joining the wartime workforce (all represented by the "Rosie the Riveter" character). The last Douglas-designed commercial jet was produced here in 2006; and the C-17 Globemaster assembly line shut down in 2015, marking the closure of the plant. That was the end of the Douglas legacy in Long Beach, save for the landmark "Fly DC Jets" neon sign that remains (and lights up at night).

Even though LGB is considered one of the world's busiest airports in terms of general aviation, it's actually limited in terms of how many commercial flights can take off and land in a day—and during what hours—because of noise ordinances.

That means most of their "air traffic" comes from smaller, quieter, private planes.

And since those are the planes that are most likely to crash and/or catch fire, LGB has its own fire department that dispatches first responders in the event of a fire—or even a chance or risk of fire.

These six-wheel bad boys have two big water hoses that can be operated from the driver's seat...

...a sprinkler system built into its undercarriage...

...and some hoses that can be pulled out and operated manually.

Firefighter Gary Biggerstaff says that never happens, though.

In fact, there are very few incidents at LGB that actually require water (or foam) to be deployed out of those hoses. It's been five years since there was a major accident at LGB.

But when it does, they're ready to go. As their motto says, Semper Paratus ("Always Ready")—and since the trucks can travel speeds of up to ~70 mph and even go off-roading, they can get there pretty fast.

Long Beach may often find itself standing in the shadow of LA, but it's actually a Top 40 city in the U.S. in its own right—dwarfing Atlanta, Miami, and St. Louis in population size.

The first transcontinental flight from New York landed in Long Beach in 1911—though, at the time, their only "airport" was the huge beach, where pilots landed their planes.

And its airport, though small, is a big deal. It may not be able to handle any international flights yet, but its main runway is so big that it can handle the largest aircraft in the world.

Personally, I like it small and hope it stays that way.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Long Beach Airport's 90th Anniversary Fly-In
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Van Nuys Airport
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Santa Monica Airport
Photo Essay: Santa Paula, the Vintage Airport That Rose from Disaster

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