Iconic Airports: Where Are They Now?

Original LAX airport design
Original LAX plan, courtesy LA World Airports Flight Path Learning Center

Yesterday, I went out to JFK Airport with no flight to catch and no visitors to greet. It was the annual Open House New York event, where private buildings and homes all over the city open to the public for a few hours, and it was a last chance to see the iconic TWA Flight Center before it is turned into a hotel. (You can see our photos from last year here.)

Native New Yorkers, retired flight attendants, tourists and architecture enthusiasts flooded the airy terminal, closed since TWA ceased operations in 2001, taking photos and sharing stories about the good old days of air travel. The mid-20th century was the high point in airport design; its airy and futuristic buildings can be appreciated by any modern day traveler who has ever had a layover at La Guardia.

We looked at some of the most iconic airport architecture in the U.S. and their current status. Is your favorite still flying?

%Slideshow-100872%DCA Terminal A – Washington D.C.’s first airport opened in 1941, and was considered to be the most modern in airport design at the time. In addition to its status as historic landmark and aviation icon, it’s also an archaeological site: the airport was built on a former colonial plantation and the birthplace of George Washington’s granddaughter.

Status: The original terminal was restored to its original look in 2004 and 2008, with the interior currently undergoing a massive renovation. You can still see many parts of the original lobby and building as it looked when President Roosevelt dedicated it. Check out some vintage postcards of the airport from the Boston Public Library.

IAD Main Terminal – One of Swedish architect Eero Saarinen’s airport designs, Dulles was designed in 1958 and dedicated in 1962, the same year the TWA terminal opened. The architect called the building and control tower “the best thing that I have done,” and inspired the design of Taiwan’s international airport. The “mobile lounges” were one of the most innovative concepts, carrying passengers in relative luxury from the terminal right to the plane

Status: Dulles wasn’t a popular airport from the beginning, as it didn’t allow jumbo jets until 1970 and the distance from the city is still off-putting, but it’s now one of the busiest in the country and is continuing to expand. The mobile lounges are still around, but the new Aero Train is more commonly used.

JFK Pan Am Worldport - The 1960 “flying saucer” was designed to bring the airplane to the passenger, sheltering the planes under the overhang for all-weather boarding. It was opened for Pan Am and renamed the Worldport in 1971 when it was expanded to accommodate the Boeing 747, and was the biggest passenger terminal in the world for several years. After Pan Am went bankrupt in the ’90s, Delta acquired the terminal and used it for many long-haul flights.

Status: Although it is on the list of the most endangered historic buildings and beloved by many airline and architecture enthusiasts, it looks like the Worldport is permanently grounded. While Delta just completed a major renovation of their other terminal at JFK, they need the room for airplane parking, and the flying saucer is already beginning to be demolished.

LAX Theme building – The distinctive Theme building is a perfect example of 1960s futuristic architecture, resembling something out of the Jetsons and actually inspiring the cartoon’s design. Part of the original ambitious plans for the airport was to connect terminal buildings with a giant glass dome, with the Theme Building serving as the main terminal, as in the picture above. One of the most famous buildings in the world, it’s photographed more than the Eiffel Tower.

Status: The Theme building has been a restaurant since 1997, and you can visit Encounter for a meal even if you aren’t flying. The free observation deck is open on weekends only if you just want to watch the planes taking off.

LGA Marine Air Terminal – For a passenger who arrives at one of La Guardia’s many dim and low-ceilinged gates, it’s hard to imagine that an Art Deco beauty is part of the same airport. Opened in 1940 and funded by the post-depression Works Progress Administration, the Marine Air Terminal originally served the glamorous Clipper planes, carrying 72 passengers on long transoceanic flights with sleeping berths and a high-end restaurant. The second World War made such flying boats obsolete, and the terminal sat unused for several decades.

Status: It’s now the main hub for Delta’s shuttle service to Boston, Chicago and Washington, even after a massive renovation to Delta’s other terminal at LGA. While it might have less modern facilities, it’s the only terminal to feature an original mural dedicated to flight (with a secret message).

LGB Main Terminal – The first trans-continental flight landed at Long Beach in 1911, but the Streamline Moderne terminal wasn’t built for another 30 years. The modernist building was considered avant garde at the time, but now feels classic and a bit romantic among airports, the kind of place you can imagine passengers boarding with hat boxes and cat eye sunglasses. Much smaller than nearby LAX, JetBlue made it a west coast hub in 2001 and put the California airport back on the map.

Status: Last year, LGB was fully modernized to make it more green and “resort-like,” with outdoor spaces outfitted with fire pits and cabanas. The renovation uncovered more of the mosaic tile art by WPA artist Grace Clements, then 28 years old, and covered by carpet for 70 years.

Forget Tickets, Get On Public Transportation With A Ring

Sesame Ring

While public transportation can be a godsend while traveling, losing your public transportation pass or ticket is not. We’ve all misplaced our bus or metro pass at least a few times in life, and no matter where you are in the world the feeling is always the same.

That changes now.

Thanks to some very intelligent engineering students at MIT, there’s a new device that may forever solve the problem of misplaced transit cards: the Sesame Ring. Built with an embedded RFID tag, it allows you to simply tap to an RFID-based fare reader and get on board. Genius.

Sesame Ring

The ring currently works with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in the Boston area, but with the technology that the group has developed there’s no limit to how it could potentially be used. Just imagine a ring that you could re-program for any transit system wherever you are. Now that is smart.

For more details, check out the Kickstarter page for the project.

Mini Museum, Big Audience?

Flickr user ColorblindRain

Size matters when it comes to art attractions, but the new Micro Museum in Boston wants to prove bigger isn’t always better.

While it could take days to see everything the Louvre has to offer, visitors at the Mµseum can take in all the art in a matter of seconds. It pays to be short: the three-wall gallery, located at 72 1/2 Union Square, is less than 5-feet high off the ground, and measures a mere 16 inches wide, 8 inches deep and 10 inches tall. The first exhibition is entitled “Invisible Cities” and features six tiny works of art. Museum founder Judith Klausner told Boston.com that she expects the exhibits to routinely rotate.

The museum is as much of a statement on urban development as it is an actual art installation. How many people will actually visit the micro museum to actually study and reflect on the miniscule art and how many will pause for a moment to take a quick Facebook photo and walk on? Who knows.

Micro Museum isn’t the only gallery marketing itself on its diminutive size. A suburb of Indianapolis boasts the World’s Smallest Children’s Art Gallery, featuring works from local elementary school children. You might think the Los Angeles Museum of Art would be a massive structure befitting the second-largest city in the nation. That’s true of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but not its near-namesake, a 13-foot, hand-built structure located in the artist enclave of Eagle Rock.

5 U.S. Beaches You Can Get to Without a Car

Beaches with a car - Chicago's Oak Street Beach
Flickr, Tom Gill

Summer may be winding down, but there are still a few weekends left to spend at the beach. Rather than sit in traffic or rent an expensive car, you can ride public transportation to many beaches in the U.S. Seasonal routes are especially likely to be popular, so go early and pack light.

Boston – CapeFLYER train to Cape Cod
Reintroduced this summer, the CapeFLYER train goes every weekend from Boston out to Hyannis, connecting to ferries for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and buses up and down Cape Cod. Fares are from $18 from South Station, with a few bucks’ savings if you buy round trip. You can bring a bike, get concessions onboard and get free Wi-Fi. The train will run through Columbus Day, October 14.

Chicago – El train to Oak Street Beach
Not everyone thinks of this city smack in the midwest as a beach town, but thanks to Lake Michigan, there are more beaches around Chicago than Bermuda. There are many to choose from, but Oak Street Beach is the most central with the most spectacular skyline view. It’s a few blocks from the El train at Clark and Division, though a bus up Lake Shore Drive will get you there closer. Beaches are free and open until Labor Day, but you can enjoy the water views year round. CTA fares are $2.25, with deductions for transit cards.Los Angeles – Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica
While it’s a major car city, there are ways to get to Santa Monica and Venice Beach from downtown Los Angeles without wheels. The Big Blue Bus serves all of Santa Monica and connects to Venice Beach as well. Fares are just $1, with day passes available. LA Metro has rapid buses to Venice Beach, with fares from $1.50. A new light rail line will connect Santa Monica to downtown LA, getting you on the beach even faster.

New York – A train to Far Rockaway
New Yorkers are lucky to have lots of options for sand and swimming, from Brooklyn‘s Brighton Beach to Long Island‘s Jones Beach, and Rockaway Beach in Queens has long been an urban favorite. While it suffered a lot from last year’s superstorm Sandy, it’s back in a big way, with many boardwalk concessions reopened and a new boutique hotel. A $2.50 subway fare gets you there on the A train, and there’s also a weekend-only ferry from downtown Manhattan if you’d like a more scenic (and spendy, at $20 one way) ride.

Washington, D.C. – DC2NY bus to Delaware beaches
While a bit much for a day trip, budget bus company DC2NY offers seasonal shuttles to Delaware‘s Rehoboth (one of Dr. Beach‘s favorites in the country) and Dewey beaches from Washington, as well as Wilmington and New York. The trip takes about 2½ hours, leaving Friday night and weekend mornings through Labor Day. Fares are $39 each way, but you do get Wi-Fi, a power outlet and a bottle of water.

What are your favorite beaches to visit without a car?

Ethnic Element Of Boston Bombing Complicated By Geography Skills

bombingKilled and captured, Boston marathon suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are understandably a trending topic across social media platforms. That’s no surprise. Perhaps now some reasons behind the bombing will surface and we can begin to categorize the event, learn from it, vow to never forget and move along, albeit with a bit less of a secure feeling.

Also no surprise is that most of us have no idea where the Tsarnaev’s are from. Chechnya? Dagestan? The Czech Republic? The fact that nearly a third of U.S. young adults cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map comes back to bite us again.

To many Americans, where they came from is of little interest. But to others, where the bombing suspects came from does matter – a whole lot.

“The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation,” said Petr Gandalovič, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in a statement.

More importantly, the Czech Republic is committed, just as is the United States and many other nations, to fight terrorism. “We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect; there is no doubt about that,” adds Amb. Gandalovič.Chechnya, on the other hand, has a long and violent history of terrorism-like activities stemming back to the first Chechen war between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

The Los Angeles Times writes, “Chechen fighters have traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Caucasus regions for military and explosives training, joining their cause to a worldwide jihad.”

But the Tsarnaev brothers came to America at a very young age, were not known to associate with militants and looked very much like thousands of other students in the Boston area.

Out of cyberspace and off the airwaves, talk of the Boston bombing is right down on street level too. It’s the kind of topic that can be discussed with a perfect stranger as though continuing a conversation.

On Friday it was:

“…so they got one of them.”
“…they’re closing in on the other one.”
“…what I can’t figure out is why they did not plant the bomb(s) then get on the next plane out of town.”

I was at our local Apple Store in the afternoon. Talking to one of the sales people, the conversation was very much like the above. Safe, current, trending.

Then our chat took a different direction, highlighting just how dangerous our challenged knowledge of geography can be.

“This is going to be just like after 9-11,” said the Lebanese Apple employee. “I was in high school then and got hater looks and stares for years after that.”

She is not alone either. Anyone who looks to be even remotely Muslim will no doubt be on the receiving end of that suspicion, much like anyone who looked even remotely Asian was after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


[Photo credit - Flickr user ToastyKen]