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.

Virgin America; United To Begin San Francisco To Washington, DC, Nonstop Service

virgin americaVirgin America has been awarded permission to fly into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport beginning sometime this summer. United Airlines began their service today.

While the well-known carriers already fly direct to San Francisco, its US hub, out of Washington Dulles International, this new route opens up additional opportunities for the business and leisure traveler looking to fly from DC proper, rather than 45-minutes outside of the city.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to bring our unique brand of service to this underserved route – and to better connect one of the world’s leading economies to our nation’s capital,” said David Cush, President and CEO of Virgin America. “Until this year, San Francisco has been the largest travel market in the nation previously without nonstop flights to DCA.”

Typically, long-haul flights are rare from the Washington airport, which normally doesn’t allow flights beyond a 1,250-mile “perimeter limit.”

Most of the prior “beyond perimeter” awards had been made to non-California airports. Smaller markets awarded DCA flights in the past include: Denver (four frequencies), Seattle (two frequencies) and Phoenix (three frequencies). Despite its size and the importance of Northern California’s innovation-based technology sector to the national economy, prior to this year the Bay Area never had nonstop service to DCA. As a result, local consumers and businesses suffered for decades with higher fares and limited choices – either flying to Washington Dulles or taking one-stop connecting flights when traveling to downtown Washington, D.C.

A big cheers today for Virgin, United and DC!

[Flickr via maka]

Layover: Washington DC (Reagan)

[Today we’re launching our Layover series, what will soon become a database of ideas and logistics for your next extended layover. We’ll be covering most of the biggest airports in the country and even a few overseas, giving you a great reason to step out instead of staying in during your visit. Check back often over June and July for updates from your favorite layover city.]

One of the best things about Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is its proximity to the city of Washington DC. Land at Reagan at 6PM, and you can be at a bar in Dupont Circle by 6:45. At some airports, it takes that long to get out of the terminal.

Given this virtue and the excellent public transportation connecting to it, DCA is fairly easy to escape — even during a short layover. So if the restaurants and entertainment aren’t enough to tickle your fancy at the new Reagan terminals, step out for a bit and breathe the fresh air of Washington DC. Stick around and we’ll show you a few hot spots to hit while you’re waylaid.

Short Layovers (around 2 hours)

Washington DC’s historic metro is the key to any layover from DCA, the comprehensive network of trains serving (almost) all corners of the city. Fares depend on the distance traveled, but for any layover from DCA one can expect to pay less than $3 for a one way trip. Tickets can be purchased at the airport station, which is easily walkable from any part of Reagan.

DCA is located on the Blue and Yellow lines just south of the city, and you can easily connect to the rest of the city from L’enfant Plaza, Gallery Place or Chinatown. On a shorter layover, however, you don’t want to get too far away form the airport, so it’s best to stick with what’s close.

If you’re the shopping type of person, The Fashion Center at Pentagon City is only one stop away to the north. As one of the largest shopping centers in the city, The Fashion Center has your standard mall brands including Gap and The Body Shop. Sure, you won’t get much unique Washington DC culture, but it’s a great way to kill time and pick up some essentials. Depending on train schedules, it takes about 25 minutes to get from terminal to mall entrance.

For your dose of culture, go two stops further on the blue line to Arlington, where you can visit the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery and pay your respects. Entry is free.

Long Layovers (4 hours or more)

With the flexibility of four or more hours in your layover, you have enough time to do many of the things in the city that you could in a normal day. It’s best to cross reference a list of what you want to see against what is best accessible on the metro. Obviously, you wont be able to wait in line to visit the top of the Washington Monument or take a tour of the White House, but walking around the Lincoln Memorial, visiting the Smithsonian Museums or getting a drink in Dupont Circle can all be done in plenty of time.

Here’s a quick list of top destinations and their metro stops if you’re reading this from the airport:

  • White House: Farragut West, Blue & Orange
  • Smithsonian Museums: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange
  • Lincoln Memorial: Foggy Bottom, Blue & Orange
  • Holocaust Museum: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange
  • National Archives: Archives, Yellow & Green
  • Jefferson Memorial: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange
  • Vietnam Memorial: Foggy Bottom, Blue & Orange
  • Washington Monument: Smithsonian, Blue & Orange

You can find more hotspots and their respective subway stops over at this handy about.com webpage.

Other Tips

One word of caution about Reagan airport is that security screening can often back up. Make sure you look at the TSA situation on your way out — check to see if there is an elite or first class line, whether things seem to be moving smoothly and whether it’s going to take a while to get through. You don’t want to get to the airport on time but miss your flight while waiting for the x-ray.

Plan your next layover with Gadling’s Layover Guides.