Anyone who grew up watching The Jestsons will appreciate this futuristic restaurant located at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Encounter Restaurant is one of Los Angeles’ most unique examples of Googie architecture: a style of architecture that was born in Southern California in the late 1940s. Like the futuristic world of The Jetsons cartoon show, Googie architecture was influenced by the technology of the Space Age. The 1960s building which houses Encounter Restaurant resembles a flying saucer making a landing with its four spindly legs.
Although the Theme Building, as it is called, was built in 1961, Encounter Restaurant doesn’t come into the picture until 1997. The Theme Building was originally conceived of by a team of architects charged with redesigning the Los Angeles airport; included in this team were the architects and engineers William Pereira, Charles Luckman, Paul Williams, and Welton Becket. This centerpiece of the new airport was influenced by the flying saucers of the 1954 film, War of the Worlds, for which William Pereira’s brother, Hal, was the artistic director. It was “the first terminal area designed for the jet age,” according to FAA Administrator Najeeb. E. Halaby, and it was intended to celebrate the gigantic leaps in air and space travel that were being made at the time.
In the mid-1990s, $4 million was spent on renovating the building for the new Encounter Restaurant. To ensure that the restaurant’s décor matched the building’s bold style, none other that Walt Disney Imagineering (WID) was called in to design the interior. WID were no strangers to Space Age design with Disneyland’s beloved Tomorrowland under their belt. Imagineers Ed Sotto, Ellen Guevara, and Michael Valentino were responsible for the retro-futuristic furniture, as well as the neon interior and exterior lighting.
In 2010, the building received another $12.3 million in TLC and now it is looking as sharp as ever. Dining at the restaurant is supplemented by a 360 degree view of the airport which can also be enjoyed from the observation deck on the weekends. Inside the restaurant, the shapes and colors of the Space Age are infused into every element. Smooth and curving booths are lit with neon purples, blues, and greens. The ceiling in particular captures the sweeping and free-form designs that were so characteristic of the era. In fact, the building’s design has been recognized as an important example of Googie architecture and it was designated as a historical and cultural monument by the Los Angeles City Council in 1992.
Perhaps the best thing about dining at Encounter is that it is not in a security zone. Therefore you can enjoy an up-close view of the busy airfields without the hassle of taking off your shoes.