I’ve spent the past few months flying back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, and every time I land at LAX I’ve had to make my escape through some long, dimly fluorescent-lit subterranean tunnel. The only redeeming aspect of these transitional spaces has been the colorful tile mosaics running along one wall, from one end to the other.
At first I didn’t really notice them. Then, at some point, I started to look forward to them. But it wasn’t until now that I actually bothered to find out who put them there.
Turns out it was an L.A. designer named Charles Kratka, who studied with Alvin Lustig, worked for Charles and Ray Eames, and had a rewarding career of his own.
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.
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.
As for the mosaics themselves…
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.”
Photos via Kid Made Modern.