Workers at LB Airport unearth long-unseen portions of 1941 mosaic
CAP/ Workers uncover a mosaic vignette of a propeller airplane by artist Grace Clements located in LGB’s Historic Terminal. | Photo courtesy of the city of Long Beach
By City News Service and Staff
Workers at Long Beach Airport have unearthed long-unseen portions of a communication- and transportation-themed mosaic from 1941, it was announced Thursday.
Collectively titled “Communication (Aviation and Navigation),” artist Grace Clements’ Long Beach-centric mosaic portrays 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.
The airport’s landmark terminal, currently undergoing renovations, “is home to some incredible public art that has been hidden for decades,” LB Mayor Rex Richardson said in a statement. “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.”
The ongoing $17.8 million renovation is expected to be complete early next year. It includes expert-led 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 were found and uncovered, making it the first time in decades that Clements’ full mosaic has been visible, airport officials said.
The majority of the mosaic tiles cover about 4,300 square feet on the Historic Terminal’s first floor, but the artwork also extends up the staircases to a vignette on the upper level, officials said. In the 1960s to reduce noise in the bustling terminal, the mosaic art was covered with carpeting, vinyl and other types of flooring. The mosaic vignettes laid forgotten but protected under those layers for decades until the art 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,” officials said. “The final three vignettes that remained hidden were finally revealed this year as part of the renovation work happening in the Historic Terminal.”
Clements, born in 1905, was hired through the Work Projects Administration 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 Art Deco style.
“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,” John Thomas, historic preservation consultant for Long Beach Airport, said in a statement. “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.'”
The airport remains open and fully operational throughout the renovation, although the building itself is closed to the public and services have shifted to other areas of the facility.
The work on the terminal includes the preservation of the mosaic as well as a seismic retrofit, improved restrooms and building infrastructure and the restoration of significant design elements, with rental car services on the first floor and administrative offices on the second floor, officials said.
Long Beach Airport — the oldest municipal airport in California — will mark its 100th anniversary on Nov. 26.