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How the Airport’s WPA mosaics were saved

December 10th, 2012 · No Comments · Culture

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While she was working on her second book on Long Beach history in 2009, 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske discovered that buried underneath the carpet at the Long Beach Airport were a series of floor mosaics that were designed as part of the Southern California Art Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA) under the supervision of Grace Clements (1905-1969). Clements had been designated official supervisor of decorations of the Administration buildings at Daughterty Field.
“Some of the mosaics were visible on the staircase and the restaurant, but the remainder had been covered over by carpet,” Schipske said. “Unfortunately, the wall murals that accompanied the floor designs were painted over in 2005 and could not be recovered.”
After Long Beach hired Mario Rodriguez as the new airport director in February 2009, Schipske met with him and shared what she had discovered. She encouraged him to have the carpet removed to see if the mosaics could be recovered.
“Mario Rodriguez was very enthusiastic, and, when improvements were planned for the terminal, he included the removal of the carpet to see if the mosaics could be saved,” Schipske said. “And they have been. Just [last] month the restoration project was completed, and mosaics are available for viewing.”
The mosaics cover the 4,300-square-foot first floor of the airport. A 1942 article in the California Arts and Architecture magazine describes how Clements focused on the theme of communication, according to Schipske. She said the article describes it as such: “a large map of the western hemisphere showing air routes occupies the central portion of the concourse floor. Large geometric areas of unbroken color form the main body of the floor, highlighted by design units evolved from the idea of communication– ships, oil, aviation and the telephone.”
Clements also painted four murals on the first floor level dealing with a “particular means of communications– by land, by water, by air and by sound.”
“If you look on the second floor, murals included sky and constellations of the northern hemisphere,” Schipske said. “A zodiac mosaic is outside the entrances of the restaurant. The colors in the murals were specifically designed to mute the strong light coming in from the windows in the dining room. The mosaic city seal at the main entrance and seagulls at the back were prominent. Carpeting covered the three mosaics on the first floor, depicting oil, shipping, and aviation.”
The mosaics were on view last Wednesday evening when the airport hosted an unveiling of its new concourse.

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