Dear LAist: What's Up With The Circular Restaurant At LAX?

The Theme Building at the center of LAX (David McNew/Getty Images)

WE'RE ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS ABOUT SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THAT KEEP YOU UP AT NIGHT. IF YOU HAVE ONE, ASK IT HERE.


The Theme Building, that mid-century modern domed structure at the center of LAX, is an edifice with which most Angelenos are quite familiar. Its space age, Jetsons-esque design reminds us each and every time we enter and leave the city that, as L.A. Conservancy puts it, we're in "one of the world's youngest and most influential cities."

Most of us also recall that the building once housed a restaurant, the windows of which looked out onto the airport from inside the dome's curvature. But that restaurant, Encounter, closed in 2013.

Reader Courtney Woltjen wanted to know if there was any update on the status of the empty area. "What's going on with that circular restaurant in the middle of LAX?" she asked via Instagram.

We reached out to L.A. World Airports for an answer, and they let us know that they've begun putting feelers out for a new project that would encompass the Theme Building.

"Earlier this year, Los Angeles World Airports released a request for information regarding the potential for a hotel/conference center in the Central Terminal Area, and the Theme Building was part of its scope," said LAWA spokesperson Charles Pannunzio in an email. "Our team is pleased by the enthusiastic and creative responses we received."

This isn't exactly new news — the Los Angeles Times reported on the development several months ago. In their reporting, the Times noted that the hotel/conference center may or may not include a new restaurant. So, sounds like things are still plodding along in that direction.

The Theme Building was completed in 1961 by the architectural firm Pereira & Luckman, in collaboration with Welton Becket and Paul Revere Williams, California's first licensed black architect. It was granted the designation of an L.A. cultural and historic landmark in 1992.

In 1997, Encounter opened in the building's dome. It shuttered in December 2013, and LAWA's then-executive director, Gina Marie Lindsey, gave the Los Angeles Times this reason for the closure:

"The problem is, it was built when bringing your family out to have dinner and watch the airplanes was a cool thing to do... Passengers [now] won't leave the terminals to have dinner there because it's unpredictable how long it'll take them to get through security again."

Since then, the structure's future has been up in the air. In 2018, the area at the base of the building became the new home for Bob Hope USO. Meanwhile, LAX is undergoing massive change as well. As it enters the next phase of construction, rideshares and taxis will be forced to pick up customers in a designated lot. And the people mover is still expected to open in 2023.

You might not be able to look at the stars while you dine anymore, but you can look at them while you... wait for your Uber. It just doesn't have quite the same ring.