Inside JFK's amazing, abandoned TWA terminal
July 7, 2015 9:58 AM   Subscribe

A pristine time capsule from 1962. Stunning pictures and video from this classic terminal, designed by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. [via]

JetBlue has been working with the Port Authority with the intent to turn it into a boutique hotel.
posted by SpookyFish (40 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Gorgeous! This is (I'm a child of the 60's) what the future was supposed to look like! Very glad that they got the chance to record it all.
posted by Mogur at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's beautiful, and those sweeping, curvaceous staircases actually look like they would be efficient at moving crowds through, if that were needed.
posted by chavenet at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a shame that the bright red conversation pit couldn't have shag carpeting.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


As lovely as the architecture is it wasn't a very comfortable terminal, at least in its later years.

I really like the US trend towards light, airy terminals with high ceilings. So much nicer than the dingy low-ceilinged thing from the 70s. Now if only the US would adopt the European convention of not having recorded announcements bleating FEAR OBEY every 90 seconds.
posted by Nelson at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2015


I want to change my legal name to Suspicious Package and always be late for all my flights.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


As lovely as the architecture is it wasn't a very comfortable termina

Well, no: Bramante's Tempietto of San Pietro would feel pretty uncomfortable if the Pope tried to host weekly mass there, but it's not a criticism of a building that it can't cope with orders of magnitude more people than it was designed for.
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Saarinen's in-house photographer, Balthazar Korab, took some fantastic shots of the terminal. I like this one, of the architectural model.
posted by Kabanos at 10:29 AM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's a really lovely space and I'm glad it will get a new life. It's also an uncomfortable reminder of how much air travel has changed, since my first thought was that the seating is completely insufficient to accommodate the hordes of disgruntled passengers made to wait hours for canceled or delayed flights I see at airports nowadays.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:33 AM on July 7, 2015


*heavy breathing*
posted by sidereal at 10:36 AM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the early 70s, I flew as an unaccompanied child from L.A. to Albany, and on the return trip, I had an 8-hour layover in the middle of the day at JFK. I spent the morning flying down the Hudson River on a puddle jumper, and then arrived at JFK.

The TWA stewardesses (and they were all female then, all in nifty uniforms) didn't know what to do with me for that length of time. But I've never forgot their wonderful solution.

One of them took me out to her personal car and drove me from one end of JFK to the other. So, here I am, 10 years old, with a gorgeous woman (I remember her looking just like Marie Osmond) who drove a Datsun 280Z, which was the raddest sportscar I had ever sat in. She really didn't want to spend much time with me, some random moppet, so she drove as fast as she could, and that was amazing, too, all the swoops and curves around the airport. And she dropped me off right in front of this terminal. It was like I had entered some strange futuristic dimension. The only thing I could compare it to was Tomorrowland, but this was real.

They led me to their highest of high-end lounges (probably thinking, it's the safest, least-likely-to-complain place for misplaced kids), which had giant windows overlooking everything. It had the biggest TV I had ever seen. I remember laying on the floor in front of the TV, with the bartender stooping down to drop off all the free Cokes I could drink.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2015 [67 favorites]


Needs some of the coin operated TV and Phone chairs for maximum nostalgia.
posted by vuron at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some of those areas that had obviously had a bit of 1980's redecorating done (chrome pillars! plum-color carpeting!) really look really awkwardly bad in comparison to the rest of the place.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really like the US trend towards light, airy terminals with high ceilings.

Our airports terminals are aggressively ugly. Those that aren't ugly are made that way by poorly retrofitted security installations. The TSA employees constantly yelling at everyone also probably doesn't help to improve the aesthetics.

Take a look at a real international airport, like Incheon or Changi or Schiphol, and it becomes clear how thoroughly embarrassing American airports are in every possible detail. The electrical outlets at JFK, for example, have been intentionally disabled so travelers have nowhere to charge their devices. Meanwhile, in Narita there are working outlets in the toilets. The toilets!

If our airports stayed as ugly as they are but just cared the tiniest bit about creating a good experience for travelers, it would make a big difference.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:02 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]



Needs some of the coin operated TV and Phone chairs for maximum nostalgia.

Also life insurance vending machines.
posted by TedW at 11:04 AM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Before the hoteliers get hold of it, in addition to as much high-res photography as possible, they really need to do a complete 3D laser scan, so that it'll always be available for rendering, at least.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:08 AM on July 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I could happily live the rest of my life in Narita.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:13 AM on July 7, 2015


It looks like something Stanley Kubrick would have built if he had directed The Incredibles. I mean, someone needs to invent a Lifetime Achievement Award for hallways just so this can win it.
posted by the painkiller at 11:56 AM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, god that is so alimentary canal you expect to be carried along by peristalsis.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:06 PM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Before the hoteliers get hold of it, in addition to as much high-res photography as possible, they really need to do a complete 3D laser scan, so that it'll always be available for rendering, at least.

That's what they did.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:08 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Related: Not quite abandoned but an uncertain future: The Mad Men appeal of Gander's aging airport.
posted by yqxnflld at 12:12 PM on July 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've been trying to finagle my way into this building since I moved to NY 11 years ago. Of course, last time they opened it to the public, I was out of town. I hope they do more tours before re-development. Pictures just don't do great architecture justice. I recently toured Saarinen's Miller house in Indiana, and the man definitely had his finger on the way spaces affect mood.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:26 PM on July 7, 2015


The electrical outlets at JFK, for example, have been intentionally disabled so travelers have nowhere to charge their devices.

Seriously? & is that a new thing, or maybe it was just in your terminal? For about 3 years I was flying several times a year, usually through JFK on JetBlue, and I never had a problem with this. (Once my wife & I got stuck there all day due to a late flight, on a day when we both had a shit-ton of work to get done. We camped out in the food court & plugged in, no problem.)
posted by lodurr at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Young me passing through that terminal in the early 90's thought it was rather old timey. I wasn't sure what to make of it. Now I wish I could remember more about it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:51 PM on July 7, 2015


My earliest memory is of transIting through this terminal on the way to France to visit my grandmother
posted by JPD at 12:56 PM on July 7, 2015


You know what that place needs? A few Concordes parked outside. Maybe even permanently connected to the walkways and converted into themed lounges.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


boutique hotel.

This seems ill-conceived on so many levels. The JFK neighborhood is not really a prime destination being that it's a flat concrete wasteland miles from anything, right? To take a building that was designed to make passing through that wasteland more pleasurable and ask people to actually stay there...
posted by anazgnos at 1:40 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was in the terminal a few years ago. What amazed me was how small it is compared to a current day terminal.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:41 PM on July 7, 2015


These pictures just give me chills. Gorgeous.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2015


I can't really tell from the picture, is that departure/arrival board still functioning? It looks like it is an LED array. Or is is it one of the old flippy-letter ones and stuck on whatever the last update was?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2015


It looks flippy lettered to me.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:54 PM on July 7, 2015


The hotel was arrived at as a least worst solution as the Port Authority was not interested in maintain the terminal as a museum piece.

Originally I believe there were plans to use it as an entrance to the terminal the essentially replaced, but that fell through.
posted by JPD at 2:59 PM on July 7, 2015


I vaguely recall a book telling us about how ugly all modern architecture was (probably Tom Wolfe's 'From Bauhaus to Our House')... and the exception to the rule mentioned was this breathtaking sculpture in form of an airport.
posted by ovvl at 5:31 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The ceilings are very reminiscent of the one in the old terminal -- terminal A -- of National Airport (the "smooth" ones amongst these images, e.g. this). Anyone know whether Saarinen was involved in the design of DCA?

Saarinen designed Dulles airport as well -- and good thing, too, because Saarinen's architecture is IAD's only redeeming feature (& check out the futuristic mobile lounges). This PDF really underscores what an amazing feat of engineering the Dulles terminal was.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:12 PM on July 7, 2015


It amazes me that Saarinen & his enginnering team were able to design those swooping, unsupported poured-concrete ceilings without the aid of computer simulation, build them without CAD/CAM. It's all catenaries, I know, but still! It's mind-blowing.

I'd love to see the drawings & calculations that were on the drafting tables.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:43 PM on July 7, 2015


It amazes me that Saarinen & his enginnering team were able to design those swooping, unsupported poured-concrete ceilings without the aid of computer simulation, build them without CAD/CAM.

Back in th' good ol' days we didn't need yer fancy hifalutin' computers; we had slide rules 'n' we was damn glad to have 'em!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:04 PM on July 7, 2015


I can't really tell from the picture, is that departure/arrival board still functioning? It looks like it is an LED array. Or is is it one of the old flippy-letter ones and stuck on whatever the last update was?


Alright, let's do this. The article was published on June 30th and states the photographer was there "last week." The time in the picture is 2:27, presumably EDT. The board states that Austrian 88 to Vienna was cancelled. FlightAware says it was canceled on the 16th of June, so that's plausible.

The board also has several entries for JetBlue, which launched around the time the terminal closed, so it's very unlikely that it's stuck on something from the 90s.
posted by redct at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stay?
posted by unliteral at 10:12 PM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is so good.

Also, I believe the departures board is operational, because it is showing different flights in this picture and this picture.
posted by zsazsa at 10:30 PM on July 7, 2015


I worked at JFK in the summers of 1999 and 2000 and spent a portion of that time assigned to terminal five, so I can confirm that it was still functioning at that point. JetBlue actually had just started shortly before one of those two summers (I can't remember if they were flying both summers, but I definitely remember chatting with some JetBlue employees about the new airline, and working in that terminal a few times as well), so the TWA terminal was in use while JetBlue was operating, for at least a little bit, though JetBlue flights came into the terminal next door at the time. I couldn't swear about the arrivals board, but I would think that it was digital at the time, because I think I would remember a flipboard.

I can also confirm that, as cool as the TWA terminal looked (and it did), it was a disaster every single day I worked there that summer, since it was not built for the sheer amount of people using modern air travel. Regularly the check-in lines would wrap back and forth through the entire terminal, causes chaos, confusion and lots of people fearing they would miss their flights or actually doing so. In some ways, it might be slightly more functional these days, with so many people doing online check-in, but my recollection is that most people were still checking in at the desk those days. (Of course, JFK as a whole was mostly a disaster those summers - they were building the new international terminal, which meant a much smaller temporary terminal was holding most of the smaller international airlines; they were building the airtrain, which meant that construction was going on everywhere, and traffic was a mess due to lanes being closed or blocked.)
posted by Caz721 at 9:14 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Article: Clearly, the terminal's heyday coincided with the golden age of flying, in which travelers were restricted neither by economic class nor security concerns.

I think flyers were in fact rather sharply restricted by economic class, given that flying used to be far more expensive.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:16 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


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