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Charles D. Kratka, 85; designer, artist created mosaic tunnel walls at LAX

Obituaries

November 25, 2007|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Charles D. Kratka, an interior designer and graphic artist whose Modernist projects included the mosaic walls in tunnels at Los Angeles International Airport, has died. He was 85.

Kratka died Nov. 8 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at a senior living facility in Encinitas, said his daughter, Peggy Kratka.

Completed in 1961, the mosaics were designed to make the approximately 300-foot tunnels seem shorter, said Ethel Pattison, the airport's historian.

"He was a grand artist, way ahead of his time," Pattison said. "His approach to the walls was novel and gave passengers something of interest to look at."

Kratka told his daughter that the brightly colored geometric panels in the seven tunnels were designed to represent the changing seasons.

School students on field trips heard another story.

Tour guides compared a walk alongside the mosaic to traveling across the U.S., which reflected Kratka's original intent, said Ann Proctor, director of volunteers at the Flight Path Learning Center-Museum at LAX.

The blue tiles at the entrance represent the ocean and are followed by browns, yellows and oranges for the geography of the heartland, according to the museum.

"There was one line of red tile in the middle, and we'd say, 'We're halfway across now, in the Midwest,' " Proctor said. "The blue on the other end, that was the Atlantic Ocean."

Tightened security since the Sept. 11 attacks has closed many tunnels to the public, but some are still used by arriving passengers to reach the baggage claim areas and the street.

Kratka worked on the project as head of interior design for William Pereira and Charles Luckman, whose architectural firm was hired in the late 1950s to redesign the airport for the jet age.

Kratka also oversaw the design of the original interiors for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when it opened in 1965.

Two years later he opened his own interior design firm in West Hollywood.

Among his other projects were the interiors of the 1989 expansion of the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills.

He also designed office spaces for the corporate headquarters of the now defunct Times Mirror Co. that were built adjacent to the Los Angeles Times building downtown in 1973.

The son of a printer, Kratka was born Oct. 12, 1922, in Pasadena and grew up in Eagle Rock.

After attending UCLA, he enrolled at the Art Center College of Design and later taught at the school.

During World War II he served as a pilot in the Navy.

From 1947 to 1953, Kratka worked as a graphic designer for architect and designer Charles Eames. Kratka left to teach before going into interior design and planning.

When he retired in 1998, Kratka piloted sailplanes in the desert and painted. At his Manhattan Beach home, he regularly built radio-controlled gliders that he flew and often crashed.

His wife, Floell, died in 2004.

In addition to his daughter, Peggy of Santa Fe, N.M., Kratka is survived by another daughter, Sarah Gregory of Solvang, Calif.; a son, Paul Kratka of Carlsbad, Calif.; sister Kathlyn Austin of Medford, Ore.; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests donating to the Alzheimer's Assn., San Diego/Imperial Chapter, 4950 Murphy Canyon Road, Suite 250, San Diego, CA 92123.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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