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This abandoned Mad Men-era terminal at JFK airport will reopen as a hotel

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
It’s a bird, it’s a plane!
  • Anne Quito
By Anne Quito

Design and architecture reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Plans to transform a historic terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport into a hotel complex are finally taking off. The news was announced by governor Andrew Cuomo after a unanimous vote by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey board of commissioners on Sept. 24.

Hailed as “Grand Central to the jet age,” the iconic 53-year-old landmark was created for Trans World Airlines (TWA) by architect Eero Saarinen. After TWA went out of business in 2001, the terminal was decommissioned. It since remained vacant, reappearing occasionally in the public imagination as the glamorous retro backdrop of several photo shoots and films, including Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can.

By 2018, the terminal will be resurrected as the TWA Flight Center Hotel—a 505-room hotel with two six-story towers and a 10,000-square-foot observation deck. A micro-grid energy management system will allow the facility to generate its own power.

Courtesy of MCR Development

Cuomo confirmed a 75-year lease agreement with MCR Development and JetBlue, who are investing $265 million to transform the space, and have committed to respect the original design of the futuristic structure.

This video by Curbed shows rare views into the terminal, which has remained largely inaccessible to the public.

When it opened in 1962, the TWA Flight Center, as it was called, was among the first terminals to have baggage carousels, a public address system, an electronic departures/arrivals schedule board, and enclosed jetways leading passengers from the gate to the aircraft. But after it ceased operations, the building became ”functionally obsolete,” as the structure proved unable to accommodate larger planes or meet the changing technology and security requirements of a modern airport terminal.

AP Photo
The TWA Terminal in 1962.

The Port Authority has attempted to revitalize Saarinen’s underutilized architectural gem several times. Two years ago, hotelier André Balazs was slated to transform the disused terminal into a hotel and restaurant. Balazs, who owns a string of luxury properties including the Standard Hotel, eventually dropped out of the project last year. The terminal’s exterior and interiors have been designated as landmarks by New York City, limiting the extent of design changes that can be made to Saarinen’s original structure.

Creative Commons/Seamus Murray
A terminal built to, in Saarinen’s words, “express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel.”
Creative Commons/Wally Gobetz
TWA red.

Despite being an investor in the project, JetBlue has no stated plans to orient the renovation of the terminal around its own corporate brand. The themed hotel complex will celebrate the lore of TWA, for which Saarinen first customized the building. A museum showcasing the defunct airline’s history and the mid-century modern design movement during that time is also planned.

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