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.

World’s Oldest Souvenirs Included All Kinds Of Contraband

berlin wall fragment
Garry Wilmore, Flickr

Who here doesn’t have a collection of mini monuments, fridge magnets, key rings and mugs collected on vacation? For as long as humans have been traveling, we’ve had an inexplicable urge to bring back some sort of object that reminds us of our trip, and that’s the focus of a new exhibit by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. But don’t be fooled, you won’t find any mugs or magnets here.

The collection displays some of the world’s oldest souvenirs and harks back to a time when travelers clearly didn’t have to contend with airport customs officials. You see, back in the early days, there were no souvenir shops attached to museums where you could pick up your trinkets, so tourists eager for a knick-knack just took whatever they wanted. On display is one traveler’s souvenir of a napkin that belonged to Napoleon, and another tourist’s odd collection of hair, including tresses that belonged to George Washington.Other souvenirs that would clearly be illegal to buy or take today include pieces of the Berlin Wall, a fragment of Plymouth Rock and a piece of marble chipped off the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that we started catching on that taking home actual relics and historical objects was a bad idea, and it was this realization that sparked a boom in souvenirs — as shops started manufacturing the kitsch Eiffel Tower statues and collectible teaspoons that we know today.

Still, the abundance of souvenir shops doesn’t stop some travelers from collecting their own unique mementos. Last year, Rome chastised tourists for stealing bits of the city’s cobblestone roads and mosaics, while in Dublin, religious relics were stolen from a historic church. In South Australia, someone managed to walk away with the bones and jaw of a whale that was on display in a tourist park, though at two meters long, we’re not sure exactly how they stuffed that into their luggage.

Do you know of any other strange souvenirs that travelers have collected?

More things to do in the national parks this weekend

Spend the Fourth of July weekend in a national park!Earlier this week we recommended a number of fun things to do this long Fourth of July weekend in the national parks. Those suggestions included fireworks displays on the National Mall and a picnic at Valley Forge, amongst other things. It turns out we were just scratching the surface, as here are even more great events happening in the parks this weekend.

Colorado National Monument will once again play host to their annual July 4th rock climbing event, during which skilled climbers will scale the 450-foot tall Independence Monument to plant an American flag at the top. Climbers are encouraged to bring their gear and join in on the fun, while others can simply enjoy the spectacle and take part in the ice cream social and jazz concert.

On Saturday, the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways, located in Missouri, will play host to a good old fashioned Midwest picnic in the form of the “Alley Independence Day” celebration. The event, which is held at Alley Springs, will include music, games, food, and more, all in a turn of the 20th Century setting.

Visitors to Cowens National Battlefield in South Carolina, can celebrate the holiday a few days early with fireworks and live music on the 2nd. Throughout the day there will be Ranger-led walks across the battlefield and demonstrations of Colonial-era weapons, as well as other educational activities for the kids. Fireworks begin promptly at 9 PM.In Maryland, the Antietam National Battlefield, site of one of the most important battles of the Civil War, will hold their festivities on the 2nd as well. They’ll begin the evening at 7:30 PM with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra performing a “Salute to Independence” concert. That will immediately be followed up with a fireworks display at 9:45 PM.

Finally, the birthplaces of two of America’s most important presidents will also be holding special events on the 4th as well. In Kentucky, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park will host a concert performed by the Saxton’s Cornet Band beginning at 11 AM. Not to be outdone, George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument will be holding a costumed interpretation events and other hands-on activities for the kids.

Needless to say, there will be plenty to do in the national parks this weekend. Thanks to the National Park Foundation for these suggestions and checkout NPS.gov for more events in the parks near you. Enjoy the weekend!

Drinking like George Washington – reasons to visit historic Mount Vernon this holiday weekend

george washingtonIf there’s drinking involved, there’s a good chance that a we’re all over it. When the chance to combine drinking (rare liquors), history, and a holiday weekend arises …. well, we’re even more intrigued.

In honor of the country’s most patriotic holiday, Mount Vernon is displaying a rare 18th century letter penned by the first President and country’s most famous distiller, George Washington, at the George Washington Distillery at Mount Vernon in honor of the July 4th holiday weekend. The public display coincides with the release of a limited George Washington Rye Whiskey produced at the distillery and based on the founding father’s recipe.

Just prior to his death in 1799, Washington wrote the letter to his nephew, Colonel William A. Washington, a noted cavalry commander during the Revolution. In the letter, Washington stated “the demand…is brisk” for his locally produced Rye Whiskey.

As part of Mount Vernon’s July 4th festivities, 400 bottles of the limited edition 18th century style George Washington Rye Whiskey will be available for purchase starting at 10 a.m. at Mount Vernon’s main gift shop and at the Distillery site, located three miles from the estate. Visit on the Fourth and you’ll find patriotic events including a naturalization ceremony, daytime fireworks and military drills – it’s a great reason to bring the entire family.

The limited edition run was produced in the reconstructed distillery according to the General’s own grain recipe discovered by historians in the mansion’s extensive records. Each 375 ml bottle will retail for $95 and must be purchased in person.

If you’re near the area and like whiskey, this sounds like a great opportunity.

Turkey with presidential pardon not going to Disneyland

Pardoned turkey at DisneylandEach year just before Thanksgiving, the president pardons a turkey in a ceremony at the White House, saving that turkey from its likely fate atop a dining table. But this year, that turkey is not going to Disneyland.

Disney started flying the pardoned turkeys to California in 2005, when Disneyland was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The turkey has served as grand marshal of the the Disneyland Thanksgiving Day Parade (“The Happiest Turkey on Earth”) each year since, except for 2007, when the bird went to Walt Disney World instead.

Disney officials told the Orange County Register that this year, the lucky bird just doesn’t fit into its theme parks’ new promotion, “Let the Memories Begin.”

So the turkey that President Obama pardons this Wednesday will live out its life at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, rather than Mickey Mouse’s house.

Three previously pardoned turkeys still live in a coop at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo.

[Image credit: Flickr user Myrna Litt]