For decades, there was nothing but carpet on the floor of the Long Beach Airport’s historic 1941 terminal building’s main check-in room. Then, the carpet was removed, revealing long-hidden mosaics from the Works Progress Administration that were were not only still in the floor but intact and usable.
The Grace Clements-designed mosaic murals—entirely dedicated to the culture of Long Beach’s strongholds of oil, maritime activity and communications—stretching along the floor of Long Beach Airport’s terminal were hidden for decades under dingy carpet more fitting for a Vegas casino. That is, until executive director Mario Rodriguez uncovered the treasures by simply saying, “Tear it up.”
“I am a true believer that no matter what you do, you’ll always screw something up,” explained Rodriguez with a chuckle. “So you might as well just move forward and kick the tires for lack of a better term.”
About seven months ago, Rodriguez proposed to rip up the carpet—much to the chiding of airport employees who feared that the 1941 pieces by then 28-year-old Clements as part of the New Deal agency Works Progress Administration would be disastrously damaged.
In fact, Rodriguez noted, it’s unknown how long the carpet had been precisely there—”Twenty? Thirty years?” he pondered—but that it created what he called the “fish story.”
“Every time someone told the story, it got bigger,” he explained. “So the damage to the floor got bigger and bigger. Towards the end, it was like, ‘If you pull up that carpet, well… There’s gonna be a hole all the way to China!'”
But Rodriguez had had enough and, slowly but surely, began uncovering the gorgeous work of Clements carpet rip by carpet rip, with even counter personnel coming from behind the counter to help rip the carpet once it was discovered the mosaics laid almost entirely intact minus small cracks here and there.
After months of restoration, with each tile being individually cleaned, the floor now resembles its formal glory—and there are no future plans for more carpet.
For those interested in the airport’s history, follow LGB’s Facebook page and partake in their Throwback Thursday, where an interesting fact or photo is shared to exemplify where the airport once was.
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