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.

Icelandair launches service from Washington’s Dulles Airport

D.C. has been hot, hot, hot, recently – or should we say ice cold? Beginning on May 17, 2011, Icelandair will launch their eighth North American gateway with seasonal service from Washington Dulles International Airport. From May through mid-September, the airline will offer four weekly flights.

Early bird fares begin as low as $429 round trip, perhaps giving travelers reason to hop the pond and hit up the Blue Lagoon.

“Icelandair is very familiar with the Baltimore-Washington market and looks forward to serving the metropolitan area that Icelandair called home for nearly 15 years,” said Thorsteinn Egilsson, General Manager – The Americas. “Dulles Airport will offer convenient connectivity for U.S. travelers and will serve the large International market surrounding Washington, D.C. The launch of service from Washington, D.C. will serve our passengers traveling to Iceland and beyond well into the future and we look forward to welcoming them aboard.”

Currently, the airline services more than 20 destinations in Europe, making Iceland an ideal stopping point for travelers looking to spend a few days (perhaps in an ice cave?) before heading off to other cities. Conveniently, Icelandair allows passengers to stopover in the country with no additional airfare, further adding to its attractiveness.

[Image courtesy of Icelandair]

Blue Ridge Parkway celebrates 75 years by giving away a free trip

This year, Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Parkway celebrated its 75th birthday. What better way to celebrate than by giving away a six night, seven day vacation package?

The winner of the prize will receive round-trip airfare for four people to Dulles Airport, a seven-day Enterprise hybrid car rental, six nights of lodging at stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway and several great activities along the way. The winner and family will have the chance to explore the Luray Caverns and the Mill Mountain Zoo, and to go canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, or rock climbing. They’ll enjoy ice cream at the Split Banana, dinner at Shenandoah Pizza and a picnic at Peaks of Otter plus much more as they explore this beautiful area of Virginia.

To enter, just fill out the online form. The winner must be 21 years old and a resident of US. The winner will be selected on November 10, 2010 and travel must take place between November 15, 2010 and October 31, 2011.

Dulles customs agents arrest man for his coke and chicken smuggle trick

Washington Dulles customs agents arrested a man last week for trying to smuggle cooked chicken into the US stuffed with cocaine. The haul was just 60 grams, but that is still worth $4,300 on the street.

While smuggling cocaine isn’t too rare, customs officials do come across new methods every week.

Of course, smuggling your stash in cooked chicken is particularly stupid, as department of agriculture cops are always on the lookout for meat in your luggage. You might as well wear a sign telling them you are a smuggler.

Some other wacky finds at the border we’ve covered here on Gadling:

United Airlines adds flights to Africa, the Middle East and Europe

Starting May 2, 2010, United Airlines fans can fly the carrier from the US to Africa for the first time in the company’s history. United will offer flights from DC to Accra, Ghana (and then on to Lagos, Nigeria). Beginning April 18, 2010, passengers flying from DC to Kuwait can also continue on to Bahrain.

Chicago to Brussels nonstop on March 28, 2010. The carrier also added several other new routes this year, including DC to Moscow, and DC to Geneva.

“Our first-ever non-stop service to Africa will offer customers convenient and comfortable travel opportunities to visit two of the fastest-growing cities in the continent,” United’s senior VP of planning said in a press release. “In addition, our new services to Bahrain and Brussels will open more international routes to our customers throughout Europe and the Middle East.”