In 1938, world-renowned local artist Xavier Gonzalez created a series of eight murals which would surround and set the tone for the exquisite interior of the one-of-kind art-deco Terminal building of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. Along with bas-reliefs, inlaid terrazzo floors, and beautifully carved and sculpted interior, these precious murals were covered completely with concrete and steel in the 1950s, when the building was “renovated” to what could serve as a nuclear fallout shelter. Restoration of the historic Terminal to its original intended architectural and artistic beauty is now almost complete, awaiting only the return of these exquisite thematic murals.
Each mural depicts a famous and exotic place in the world reached for the first time by brave aviation pioneers in the 1920s and 30s. Each place corresponds to a different direction on the large compass rose inlaid in the terrazzo flooring at the center of the Terminal’s atrium. Check out the photos below and see the New York skyline with Ford Tri-motors flying by, the famous flight of 1929 by Admiral Richard Byrd over the South Pole, and the landing in Paris by Lindbergh, as well as vintage flights over Egypt, Rio de Janeiro, Mayan ruins, Bali, and around Mount Everest! The Bali mural was mostly destroyed but can be replicated. (Detailed original descriptions of the murals are provided below, under the photographs of the murals as they look now in their unrestored state.)
Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport, Inc., a non-profit 501c3 public charity, is accepting donations to restore all of these murals. Our aim is to raise $100,000. Restoration will be done by Grenier Conservation of U.S.A. & Italy. All donations are fully tax-deductible, and receipts will be provided for all donations.
Donations can also be made HERE, or by contacting us.
We are available anytime at 225-445-3800 (Sandra) for tickets or
626-383-1412 (Bonny) for donations.
Checks payable to "Friends of New Orleans Lakefront Airport, Inc." may be mailed to
PO Box 24717, New Orleans, LA 70184-4717.
More information about the Gonzalez murals
At the 1934 dedication of the then-called “Shushan Airport,” the architects of the Terminal building, Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth and Mr. A. L. Shushan, President of the Board of Levee Commissioners of the Orleans Levee District, provided a booklet describing the buildings at the airport. You may view that booklet in its original form HERE. The pride and enthusiasm jumps from the page and is infectious to the most casual reader. Here we would like to provide excerpts which reveal the amazing detail and symbolism designed into these eight murals by Xavier Gonzalez. Beginning with a description of the grand compass rose on the floor of the Terminal’s atrium, it reads:
“The universal character of aviation and the importance of New Orleans as a great potential center in this field of transportation are immediately impressed on the visitor entering the waiting room. The first evidence is the great compass, in the shape of a sixteen pointed star, which decorates the center of the colorful terrazzo floor of the room. This compass is of white metal, with a simplified state seal, cast in a nickel silver bronze, as its central element. In a circular ring around this compass are placed the ames of sixteen well-known cities drawn from every portion of the globe, together with their distance, expressed in miles, from New Orleans. The distance to each city has been accurately figured “as the plane flies”, or along the great circle which would contain New Orleans and the city designated. Thus, one standing in the centre of this compass motive can visualize the direction of the shortest line to Paris, or Honolulu, or Moscow, or many other points, as well as the exact distance along this line from the Shushan Airport to each of those cities.
This theme of universality is struck again in the series of mural paintings around the mezzanine balcony of the room. This series of eight murals, by the well-known New Orleans artist, Xavier Gonzalez, draws fro its subjects from scenes of beauty in far corners of the world. Each mural, too, accents the importance of aviation in linking together widely separated civilizations, the airplane ignoring alike vast distances and natural hazards, as well as political boundaries.
A brief description of these eight colorful scenes beginning in the northeast corner and proceeding in clock-wise order around the room is as follows:
1. PARIS —
This mural utilizes for its subject one of the most thrilling moments in all history, showing Lindbergh’s arrival in Paris at the end of his epochal rans-Atlantic flight. It is the misty twilight of a May evening in 1927; the “Spirit of St. Louis” flies over the beautiful city, accompanied by the French fliers who have gone forth to welcome and escort him. Powerful search-lights throw shafts of silver into the darkening sky.
In the right foreground, a gargoyle of Notre Dame looks down upon the housetops. In the middle distance rises the Eiffel Tower, gracefully dominating the city. The mist glows here nd there by reflections of light from the streets below. All of the glory and mystery of the great French capital seems revived in the joyous greeting to another — even more romantic, — man of destiny.
2. EGYPT —
In the foreground, picturesque river craft glide silently on the River Nile, a silver stream shown in the peace of one of its calmer moments. The great statues of Memnon dominate the middle foreground, famed in legend as the “Singing statues”, because of the musical notes they were said to emit at dawn. This myth of the son of Eos is beautifully suggested by the silver streaks in the eastern sky and the humming motors of the French bi-plane which creuises overhead. In the distance, in the dry river bed, can be seen temples and tomb dating from the dawn of history, and in the foreground the familiar Egyptian columns, richly colored, with the graceful lotus capitals.
3. RIO DE JANEIRO —
Like modern argonauts of the air, Commander Francesco de Pinedo and his men fly from Italy to circle the globe. This picture show the great Italian seaplane “Santa Maria” rediscovering the New World, after flying the Atlantic and blazing new sky trails over the Brazilian jungles. This graceful ship, a double-boat monoplane, is shown over Rio de Janeiro, second city of the South American continent, with its famed harbor, one of the finest in the world. Running through the heart of the city is the celebrated Avenida Rio Banco; in the background can be seen the Sugar Loaf Peak, the forest-covered hills, and several well-fortified fortresses, all intimately associated with he history of this fascinating capital.
4. THE SOUTH POLE —
Second only to Lindbergh’s epic in firing the enthusiasm of the public were Admiral Byrd’s achievements at the South Pole. In this panel, the big triple-motored Ford monoplane “Floyd Bennett” is shown taking off from the ice fro a flight over the Pole.
In the ice-locked harbor on the edge of the forbidding Ross Barrier lies the “City of New York”, the three-masted rigger which carried the expedition as near tothe Pole as the great barrier permitted.
It is the beginning of winger, and the Aurora Australis, glowing like a prismatic fan, spreads across the horizon.
5. THE LAND OF THE MAYAS —
Perhaps no monuments of ancient civilization have been of greater interest to archeologists than the Mayan ruins, discovered in Southern Mexico an Central America. Too much stress cannot be laid on the important part played by aviation in these explorations, as without airplanes some of the finest pyramids and temples would have remained buried in impassable jungles.
This picture shows a Sikorsky plane flying over the Pyramids of the Magician, one of the most fascinating of the ancient monuments. In the foreground is a typical Stela, surrounded by the Papaya tree, the Maguey, and other tropical plants native to this mystic land.
6. BALI —
Somewhere east of Java, Bali is a tue pearl of the Pacific, one of the most picturesque islands of the Dutch East Indies. Almost the last refuge of a life untouched by the influence of Western civilization, of ancient cults and customs, it offers to the adventurous traveler the thrill of an unaffected island paradise. It has been but little known heretofore, as it is off the paths of regular ship lines. Today it has been made accessible by daily airplane service from the Netherlands and other European countries.
One of the regular passenger service Fokker planes is shown flying above the colorful vegetation of the island. In the foreground, two native women bathe in the cool water of a hillside stream. Among the palms are the Bales’, or native huts. In the distance, rising like a phantom over the tree tops is one of the best known of Bali’s Hindu temples.
7. MOUNT EVEREST —
Early in June, 1933, the Houston-Mount Everest expedition, led by Air-Commander P.F.M. Fellowes, launched into the air from the Nepal border two specially built Westland planes, power with supercharged Bristol Pegasus radial motors.
After flying two hours the two planes, piloted by Lieutenant McIntyre and the Marquess of Clydesdale, skimmed Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.
In this picture, one of these planes flies among the high peaks of the Everest group. An aerial beacon glistens in the foreground; overhead, the Milky Way marks a starry path across the sky.
8. NEW YORK —
Largest city of the western hemisphere, riches city of the world. The wealth and power of modern civilization seem symbolized by Manhattan’s famous sky-line, towering in the distance across the Hudson River, against the glorious background of the rising sun. The commerce and industry of the Metropolis are proclaimed by the docked ships and factories in the foreground, with power plants, warehouses, tanks and elevated railways indicating the great activity of the port. Suggestive of vast engineering projects, the new George Washington bridge spans the Hudson with a single sweep of over two-thirds of a mile between its towering pylons.
Overhead, the proud Akron glides above the city before commencing its voyage to the Panama Canal. It is being given a great send-off by a squadron of airplanes, two of which can be seen in the picture.
The color scheme of the waiting room takes its keynote from these murals, being toned to harmonize with them and with the cream and reddish tones of the Rojo Alicante and Rosato marbles which line the lower portion of the walls of the room. The ceiling is coffered, with panels of acousti-celotex, decorated with motives symbolizing communication, the sky, and clouds.
The frieze just below the ceiling, finished in aluminum leaf, represents in processional form the design, building, and assembly of airplanes. The aluminum color-note is repeated in the balcony and stair rails of chaste modern design, in doorways, lighting fixtures, and in numerous decorative elements. Al of the ornament employed symbolizes some phase of aviation: Parts of airplanes or instruments used in their control; designs based on mechanical devices; even the explosions of the gas engine and the movement of its pistons furnished inspiration for one of the decorative bands. The ceiling over the west end features airway beacons aiding planes in flight, while that over the east end depends upon celestial motives, the sun, the stars, and the moon. "
See other original descriptions of the Terminal building and other airport buildings HERE!