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.

The International UFO Museum And Research Center At Roswell, New Mexico

UFO
Something strange happened in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

Rancher William Brazel found a bunch of debris in the desert that he couldn’t identify. He described it in the July 9, 1947, issue of the Roswell Daily Record as a “large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks.”

The paper reported that Brazel estimated that all together the debris “weighed maybe five pounds. There was no sign of any metal in the area, which might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil. There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction.”

Not sure what he had, he contacted the Roswell Army Air Field, which sent two men out to gather the material. The local base commander then released a statement that a “flying disk” had been found. This gained national publicity. America was in the midst of its first wave of flying saucer sightings and this fit the bill. The next day, General Ramey of the Eighth Air Force made an official statement that it was a downed weather balloon.

%Gallery-155021%The incident was soon forgotten, even by most Ufologists, until in 1978 a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft. Accounts of alien bodies and a massive cover up also came to light. The stories snowballed and Roswell became the world’s most famous UFO crash.

The International UFO Museum and Research Center is dedicated to studying the UFO phenomenon in general and the Roswell crash in particular. It was founded by Walter Haut, who was the press officer at the air field when the crash occurred, and Glenn Dennis, who claims to have seen alien bodies taken from the crash. The museum displays a huge collection of photos, documents, and eyewitness accounts related to the Roswell incident and other sightings.

The result is a detailed history of the UFO craze from its beginnings up to the present day, told in newspaper stories, photos and eyewitness accounts. You can spend a lot of time here studying the various sightings, and you’ll come away with the realization that an awful lot of people think they’ve seen something strange in the sky.

I’m an agnostic in all things. Although I’ve investigated all sorts of paranormal occurrences ranging from ghosts to visitations from Purgatory, I generally come down on the side of interested skepticism. While this museum didn’t decrease my skepticism, it was highly entertaining and certainly an excellent resource for anyone interested in the UFO mystery. They get extra points for pointing out some parts of their photographs that aren’t UFOs, and showing how observers can often mistake man-made objects or natural phenomena for extraterrestrial craft.

Besides the museum, several local shops get in on the action selling alien memorabilia and there are numerous UFO tours. Roswell also hosts an annual UFO conference, held this year from June 28-July 1.

The enduring publicity over the Roswell incident, both in New Mexico and around the world, has led to numerous statements by the government that nothing happened. In 1994, the Air Force stated that the debris actually came from a secret project called Project Mogul, which attempted to use strings of high-altitude balloons, or a single giant balloon, to spy on Soviet nuclear activities.

While this prompted some UFO researchers to change their minds and state that no UFO crashed at Roswell, it only encouraged others. If the government didn’t tell the whole truth at first, they reasoned, they could be lying now. Personally, I have a hard time believing that an alien spacecraft (made of tinfoil and sticks, no less) crashed in the New Mexico desert. Sure, considering the vastness of the universe it’s unlikely that we’re alone, but that doesn’t mean aliens are coming here.

I see something more insidious going on with all of this. If the government was lying to divert attention from secret projects, it could be still doing this. Perhaps the Ufologists should stop watching the skies and use their research skills and tenacity to uncover secret activities going on right here on Earth, such as government corruption, secret military operations, support of nasty dictators (Saddam Hussein, for example) and the undermining of civil liberties. By chasing phantoms, the Ufologists are playing into the hands of those have the real power in this world, and who have a lot more sinister things to hide than evidence of extraterrestrials.

[Photo courtesy Kimble Young]

BBC presenter spots UFO near Stansted airport

UFO
A BBC sports presenter claims to have seen a UFO near Stansted Airport early this morning, the BBC reports.

Radio 5 presenter Mike Sewell says he was driving early this morning about 15 miles from Stansted Airport in Hertfordshire, England, when a bright light descended towards the road before banking to the left and then circling over a field. It was disc shaped with several lights flashing around the edge. During the interview, UFO expert Timothy Good said he “knew for a fact” that experimental spacecraft have been developed with the help of aliens, and that this might be one of them.

Sewell doesn’t mention taking any photographs with his mobile phone, and of course Good doesn’t give any hard evidence to back up his claim. So could this be a hoax? I doubt Sewell would stick his professional neck out by lying to reporters from his own news agency. Perhaps he hallucinated? Perhaps it was some strange electrical phenomenon?

The proximity to Stansted raises the possibility that it was indeed some sort of experimental aircraft, but we don’t have to go so far as Good does and spin tales about aliens. I met a reporter who once saw what he was convinced was a UFO flying over the New Mexico desert. He described it as a black triangle unlike any aircraft he had ever seen. He became a UFO believer until the first photos of the Stealth bomber were released, and then he knew what he had seen.

Have you ever had a strange encounter near an airport? Tell us what you saw in the comments section!

[Photo of “unusual atmospheric occurrence observed over Sri Lanka” courtesy UK Ministry of Defence. This is not the object Sewell claims to have seen.]