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'Final Major Link' in LAX Expansion Opens

June 01, 1988|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Tom Bradley snipped four ribbons Tuesday--one for each tenant--to officially open what was billed as "the final major link" in the $1-billion, multi-year renovation and expansion project at Los Angeles International Airport.

This latest link involved the metamorphosis of the airport's original international terminal into a modernistic, 450,000-square-foot steel and glass structure housing the ticket, baggage, club and gate facilities for four airlines--Air Canada, Hawaiian, Northwest and Pan American.

But there are some who question whether the $94-million rebuilding job at Terminal 2 is the "final" major construction in the project that was largely completed in time for the 1984 Olympics.

Supervising architect Gin Wong concluded four years ago that the airport is a constantly evolving complex, remarking during an earlier dedication ceremony: "No one can ever say, 'There, it is finished.' "

When the airport began in 1928 as Mines Field--named for the real estate agent who presented the property to the city--the 640-acre parcel boasted little more than a rough dirt airstrip.

But the locals already had big plans, and new runways, along with grandstands, fencing, access roads and sanitary facilities were erected in time to host the National Air Races of 1928.

The races were a big success--Charles Lindbergh was one of the participants--and when the event concluded, a city Department of Airports was created and Los Angeles moved into the age of aviation.

A year later, two hangars and a permanent runway were built, and the airport received international attention when the Graf Zeppelin stopped by to refuel.

Things were pretty quiet during the Depression, but they picked up considerably during World War II when the federal government took over operations for military transports.

The expansion of commercial airline traffic made possible by the development of the propeller-driven DC-6, DC-7 and Constellation airliners after the war soon made it apparent that the existing terminal facilities--built in 1946 along the south side of Century Boulevard were fast becoming inadequate.

The city launched a massive $20-million construction project on the west side of Sepulveda Boulevard, and in 1961 the new "jet-age" Los Angeles International Airport was dedicated there during a three-day bash attended by then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson and about a quarter of a million other people.

But as the airport's present executive director, Clifton A. Moore, described it, the LAX built in 1961 was designed for the Boeing 707 and DC-8 jetliners of that era, not today's jumbo jets.

Space Expansion

By 1971, environmental studies had begun with an eye toward expanding the existing 1 million square feet of terminal space to about 2 1/2 million square feet, and nine years later contracts were let for the two centerpieces of what was to become a $750-million reconstruction project.

One of those centerpieces was the new Terminal 1, a $46.5-million, T-shaped, 360,000-square-foot structure that currently houses four airlines--America West, Royal West, Southwest and USAir.

The other was the new Tom Bradley International Terminal, a $124.5-million, five-level, 963,000-square-foot building at the western end of the terminal complex. More than 35 foreign carriers currently use the vast building, which features a lobby the size of three football fields, surmounted by 60,000 square feet of skylights.

The rebuilding job was not an easy one. The airport continued to operate throughout the reconstruction process, and traffic was frequently jammed along the torn-up, detoured terminal routes.

There were those who said the job would never be completed on schedule, but both the new terminals were completed in time for the '84 Games, along with a double-decked access roadway, several new parking structures and major renovations of most of the other terminal facilities. Two years later, airport officials announced the plans to rebuild Terminal 2, and since then, major renovation projects have gotten under way at Terminals 5 and 6. Airport officials say the costs of those, along with other, lesser remodeling work, raise the price of the total renovation package since 1980 at to more than $1 billion.

"There's no room now for any new terminals," said Pat Olson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Airports. "But you're always remodeling, repairing, resurfacing, things like that. It never ends."

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