In early May, Long Beach Airport opened a brand new ticketing lobby just to the south of the historical terminal building. Though I’ve seem some lament the loss of the historic structure for regular airline operations, this is actually just the first step in restoring that building to its former glory.
This airport was first built on its current plot of land in 1923, so we are approaching the 100th anniversary. But it wasn’t until 1941 that the now-iconic terminal building was constructed in the Streamline Moderne style. It was all ready to open… when World War II broke out. The terminal’s first job was to act as barracks for the military, but eventually it went back to its original purpose.
The history around LGB is fascinating. I know it well as a former tour guide for the airport, but I don’t need to recount it all here. Just know that the terminal itself is a wealth of history from WPA-funded art to little nooks and crannies belying the building’s history.
In the beginning, travelers walked through the building from the street on the east side to airplanes just behind on the ramp to the west. Eventually, trailers were stapled on haphazardly to accommodate growth. It wasn’t until 2012 that the new concourse was opened behind the terminal to the west, bringing a big improvement to the experience.
The terminal building remained the central focus as the ticketing area, but it slowly lost importance. The observation deck remained open, but it was hard to see over the new concourse. And the restaurant upstairs closed down once options beyond security became available in the new concourse.
The ticketing area itself was not designed for the traffic at hand, especially once Southwest came in. Here’s a look at the mess when I flew through earlier this year.
There was another side effect of this cobbled-together design. With the terminal building being the place for baggage intake, there was no easy way for bags to get to the concourse. So, you saw big fences erected with bag chutes going over the walkway.
When they decided to build the new ticketing lobby, this solved all those issues. The new ticketing lobby is to the south, attached to both the new security area and the concourse behind, making it easy to pass bags through without any of the ungainly infrastructure that was slapped together previously.
The new building also just makes for an easier and nicer experience with space and basic amenities.
But perhaps the best part of this project is what it will do for the terminal itself. Already it has helped uncover some long-buried aspects of the terminal. Take a look at this photo from before times.
This is looking north toward the terminal, and as you can see, it is dominated by the ugly covered walkway that went by a small security office and into the TSA security area. That is now all gone, and the view looks like this.
This is the view into the large plaza from the entrance to the new ticketing area on the left. Behind the palm tree, you can see that with the covered walkway gone, the old porte cochere was uncovered and brought into the limelight.
The construction you see to the left of the terminal is the new baggage claim area which opens by the end of this year. That will still be outside and will sit on the opposite side of the terminal building from the ticketing area. This whole project will now enable the old terminal to stand alone.
With the old terminal no longer being used, a big project is underway to renovate, perform seismic upgrades, and restore the building. The old makeshift ticketing areas will be stripped out and the rental car counters will move from the trailers in the surface lot across the street into the building.
All of the fencing and the old baggage infrastructure will be removed, and travelers will now be able to pass through and fully around the old terminal to the security area on the other side. Here is a rendering of what it will look like.
While the terminal may no longer play a part in the actual air travel experience any longer, it will still have a central place in the airport, and that is one thing that makes Long Beach Airport such a unique place from which to fly.