My father was a huge fan of the Jet Age-influenced modern architecture that found its way to the United States in the early 1960s. He was particularly fond of the Space Needle in Seattle and loved the design of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, which looks like a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs.
He also appreciated the design of the Trans World Airlines Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, even though he never had the chance to see the famed gull-winged building that was dedicated in 1962.
On Sunday, two days before what would have been my dad’s 75th birthday, I toured the terminal with Bernadette, a family friend and fellow photographer. The tour, part of Open House New York, was billed as the last time the terminal will be open before it is converted into the centerpiece of a $265 million luxury hotel.
Designed by the celebrated Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, the terminal is considered one of the masterpieces of 20th-century modernism. Saarinen, who also designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, wanted it to have sleek and flowing lines that represent a bird in flight.
New York City was considered the birthplace of the Jet Age, which officially started in the mid 1940s but took off (literally) in 1958, when the Boeing 707 began service on a New York to London route. That was the first year that more passengers crossed the Atlantic Ocean by air rather than by ship, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The development of the Boeing 747 only accelerated the pace of air travel, but it also was the beginning of the end for the TWA Flight Center, which struggled to handle the larger planes and additional passengers. On Sunday, for example, organizers for Open House New York expected 3,000 to 5,000 people to be on hand for the tour, and the terminal felt crowded with half that number.
Fortunately, unlike many celebrated buildings that seem to be randomly razed in and around the city, the terminal was included in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Last month, the state approved plans by MCR Development and JetBlue Airways plans to build a 500-room, six-story luxury hotel on the terminal site.
The Mad Men-era terminal will become the lobby for the hotel, which is scheduled to open in 2018. For generations to come, the hotel owners promise, it will feel like 1962 again.
Somewhere, my dad is smiling.
For more photos, see my Facebook page here.