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HOK's Modernization of Long Beach Airport Contributes to Regional Renaissance


Established in 1923 as an airfield with dirt runways, Long Beach Airport has a rich 90-year history as California’s oldest municipally owned airport. Its story has been one of continuous evolution.

In 1941, local architects W. Horace Austin and Kenneth Wing designed the iconic 24,000-sq.-ft. Streamline Moderne terminal — now a historic landmark. As air travel evolved and passenger loads increased in the decades that followed, the airport added more than 20 trailers as temporary holdrooms. Travelers had to wait outdoors to pass through security, boarding procedures were unclear and amenities were sparse.

In 2005, as the first step to upgrading its passenger facilities, the airport commissioned architecture firm HOK and engineering firm CH2M Hill to produce an environmental-impact report (EIR). In 2010, after working with community leaders to finalize the plans, the airport began a $45 million modernization project featuring a new 45,000-sq.-ft., 11-gate passenger concourse and updates to the existing grounds.

Restoring the Airport’s Charm

“The airport was born in an era when travel evoked an air of romance, and we wanted to recall that sentiment in a contemporary way,” said Ernest Cirangle, design principal in HOK’s Los Angeles office. “Our design maintains the historic terminal building’s position as the crown jewel of the airport.”

The new concourse includes gate-side boarding lounges, concessions, a security building, a central meet-and-greet plaza and landscaped courtyards. The design preserves the terminal as an important part of the airport’s operations, with the new structures appropriately scaled behind it.

As the airport’s gateway, the historic terminal houses many of its original functions, including ticketing and check-in, a restaurant and security operations in the former control tower.

Arriving passengers move through an open air meet-and-greet plaza to reach the 8,900-sq.-ft. security-checkpoint building. Its open-span steel frame structure has flexibility to accommodate evolving TSA requirements. After being screened, passengers cross into a secure 21,000-sq.-ft. outdoor courtyard reminiscent of the city’s beachfront with palm trees, native drought-tolerant plants and shaded wooden boardwalks. This landscaped courtyard is at the center of the long, rectangular concourse that houses the hold rooms, retail, and food and beverage outlets.


The development team decided not to install boarding bridges, saving about $500,000 per gate. This strategy also allowed gate lounges to remain at grade level and connect directly to the tarmac, a fitting solution for the smaller airport.

Designed with the goal of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification, the concourse integrates a comprehensive energy and resource strategy that includes a rooftop solar array that offsets 13 percent of the facility’s power demand, low-flow fixtures and drip irrigation. Central native gardens, super-insulated walls and energy-efficient, low-e glass all minimize heat gain and keep the terminal cool, reducing HVAC demand.

The linear design allows for abundant natural daylight. The lighting system is connected to photocells that automatically adjust artificial lighting levels in response to changes in daylight conditions. A building management system monitors the terminal’s environment and operations.

Building Community Support

Initially, some members of the community voiced concerns about preserving the integrity of the historic terminal, noise levels and a potential loss of convenience they feared the modernization would create. The airport addressed these issues through a robust outreach program.

Despite the constraints of budget, access controls and EIR-allowed square footage, the project was completed five months ahead of schedule and on budget. Because the modernization was funded by general airport revenue bonds and PFCs, development costs were not passed on to airlines.

The new concourse has received positive customer satisfaction ratings from passengers and earned several awards from organizations including the League of California Cities and the California Transportation Foundation. It also was named to Condé Nast Traveler’s “Best US Airports” list for 2014.


Passenger Experience

“With the opening of the new passenger concourse, it is now a world-class facility and a fitting gateway that reflects the unique character and climate of Long Beach and Southern California,” said airport Director Bryant L. Francis, C.M.

The new concourse has significantly improved the experience for the airport’s regular guests while attracting new passengers who previously did not consider flying through Long Beach. “The arriving passengers’ views into the open-air atrium filled with palm trees is quintessential Southern California,” Francis said. “Simply extending that unique warm welcome to our guests has elevated LGB among its peers.”

Long Beach sought out several popular local restaurants to open locations in the new concourse and ensured that they would offer the same pricing as found in their other locations. Already well-known treasures to locals, small businesses like Polly’s Coffee and Sweet Jill’s Bakery are now extending Long Beach tastes to visitors.

“Long Beach Airport has built a sterling reputation in recent years, offering an efficient, relaxing and enjoyable travel experience,” said Francis. “We’re very proud of that, and it will set the course for the future of the airport moving forward.”


An Economic Engine

The new terminal continues to spawn economic development. Virgin Galactic recently announced plans to open a plant at the former Boeing facility near the airport. Later this year, Mercedes-Benz is expected to open a regional sales, vehicle preparation, and learning and performance center adjacent to the airport property. These enterprises will help create and support a new economic engine for Long Beach’s future.

This article originally appeared in AAAE’s Airport Magazine.
About the author: Benet Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer.