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.

An Inside Look At The Old TWA Terminal At JFK

In 2012, it’s hard to imagine catching a flight as anything but a routine, frequently dehumanizing process – waiting in long security lines, bad food and cramped terminals conspire to make our flying experience less than enjoyable. This wasn’t always the case – back in the 1960s, flying was considered a glamorous, cutting edge industry, and the design of the airports matched that perception.

A great example of this is long-ago closed TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport. Opened in 1962 and designed by visionary architect Eero Saarinen, the building’s soaring departures lobby, sleek waiting lounges and polished interior beckon travelers towards an optimistic golden age of travel that was just getting started. Today, that terminal lies tantalizing out of reach, a designated National Historic Landmark that rests unused and waiting directly in front of JetBlue’s massive new Terminal 5.

Earlier this weekend, Gadling traveled out to JFK as part of Open House New York to take a sneak peek inside the now-shuttered terminal of TWA to get a taste of what air travel used to be like. Want to see what the glory days of air travel looked like for travelers? Take a peek inside the gallery below.

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The Gadling tour of JetBlue’s new Terminal 5 at JFK

As Grant reported earlier this month, JetBlue is in the final stages of construction for its brand new home at Terminal 5 of New York’s JFK airport. This morning Gadling had the chance to take a sneak peak of the new facilities in advance of the building’s official opening on October 1st.

Although there’s still much to be accomplished in the next 6 weeks, the building is already shaping up as a winner. JetBlue has built a showpiece home for its growing brand – a building that in many ways looks poised to usher travelers into a new era of domestic air travel. It was equally refreshing to find a totally new (dare I say revolutionary?) approach to the airport culinary and concession experience – one that is sure to please the palates of picky New Yorkers and fellow travelers from across the U.S.

With a project this ambitious, JetBlue has also built themselves very high expectations for their new terminal’s success both in the press and with their passengers. But as we saw with the opening of London Heathrow’s new British Airways terminal earlier this year, there are inevitably some kinks that need to be worked out. Here’s hoping everything goes smoothly for JetBlue at launch.

So what exactly did we find during our visit? Follow the link below to get the full overview, and make sure to check out our gallery too for the full Terminal 5 experience.

%Gallery-30298%Departure Hall
As I entered into the main departure hall from the AirTrain, I was immediately struck by the room’s massive size and scale. Combining the latest in cutting edge design, the interior is large, airy and brightly lit with huge windows allowing in plenty of natural light. There was certainly no shortage of check-in kiosks, which are strategically placed in large groups throughout the hall. Though it hasn’t completely disappeared, there’s much less emphasis on check-in desks, clearly an attempt by JetBlue towards a more streamlined, online check-in process.

Also impressive was the attention given to the usually agonizing TSA-screening. Instead of one or two open lanes crammed up against a wall, Terminal 5 is equipped with 20 some-odd security checkpoints – a nod to the central role this process now plays in our post-9/11 lives. Will all these 20-something lanes be open when you head to the airport? That remains to be seen – but the fact the infrastructure is in place is a good sign.

Terminal Atrium and Concessions
After passing through security, travelers are greeted with a huge open atrium. The showpiece is clearly the huge circular string of flat-screen monitors, which hovers like some futuristic alien mothership above the large open space below. The monitors just had JetBlue branding on them today, but I imagine they will be used to potentially display flight info and perhaps some interactive art installations in the months and years ahead.

The edges of the atrium are also home to what is sure to be one of the more talked-about features of the new Terminal 5 – its restaurants and stores. If you’ve ever eaten a flavorless $10 sandwich at the airport before, you’re going to be in for a shock. JetBlue has what looks to be some great restaurants planned, including a hybrid sushi/noodle bar, a Spanish tapas bar (Tapas?! At the airport!?!) and even an old-school French bistro.

Even better, there looks to be a nice assortment of shops, including one of only three outlets of Japanese retailer Muji in the United States. While nice places to eat and shop might not be a dealbreaker when you choose an airline, it certainly goes a long way towards “re-humanizing” the domestic air travel experience.

The actual gate areas were nice – each has its own fully-digital flat-screen display to provide information and destination weather. Very nice, but nothing revolutionary. The terminal is largely decorated in neutral colors with a blue-ish carpeting reminding of JetBlue’s color scheme. I also particularly liked the panoramic views from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, which afford sweeping views of the take-off and landing of other planes at JFK.

Baggage Claim and Wrap-Up
Before wrapping up my Terminal 5 visit, I payed a quick visit to the baggage claim below. The massive carousels are set far apart from each other to avoid overcrowding. It’s hard to review a baggage claim area until you actually use it though – the jury is still out on this one until we see if everyone is getting their luggage back come October!

And with that I ended my tour of Terminal 5. As I passed by designer Eero Saarinen’s retro-futuristic TWA Flight Center on my way out, I couldn’t help but wonder. Saarinen envisioned air travel as the future of the country’s transportation hopes and designed his building to match that dream. But Saarinen probably never anticipated the spectre of 9/11 and its impact on an already battered airline industry, cutting costs and tossing traveler amenities. JetBlue’s Terminal 5 seems very much an attempt to return to aviation’s glory days, and one can only hope that they succeed.