Spacious wicker airplane seats, a piano in the lounge, a full cocktail bar in first class. Remember the Golden Age of air travel? Neither do we, because most of us weren’t even born yet, but it’s still fun to reminisce. Today, one firm is doing that and more by breathing new life into an icon of mid-century aviation architecture and design.
When the Eero Saarinen-designed Trans World Airlines Flight Center, or TWA terminal, opened at New York City’s then-named Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) in 1962, it represented a sea of change in airport design. It was progressive, revolutionary, and just plain beautiful. The streamlined, low-slung exterior was inspired by the grace of a bird in flight; the convex glass and steel at its edges recalled gusts of air gently pushing the extended wings upward. Inside, the check-in desks, waiting areas, and halls blended organically and seamlessly into one another, thanks to a forward-thinking floor plan by architectural legends Charles Eames, Warren Platner, and Raymond Loewy.
Trans World Airlines closed its last cabin doors in 2001. The terminal shuttered soon after and has been abandoned ever since. However, it was never forgotten. New York City granted the terminal landmark status in 1994, but in 2005 — years after it had already closed — it was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the New York State Register of Historic Places.
Now, more than a half-century after its opening, MCR Development (the brains behind NYC’s High Line Hotel) is redeveloping the terminal as a one-of-a-kind hotel. It will be the first and only full-service hotel at JFK International Airport. The $265 million project will reinvigorate the terminal’s original Jet Age design, leaving much of it — including the 200,000-square-foot lobby; Solari split-flap board; sweeping entryway; and sunken, heart-shaped sitting area — intact.
The new hotel will boast 505 guestrooms; eight restaurants and bars; and 50,000 square feet of event, conference, and meeting space. A beautiful, 10,000-square-foot observation deck is also in the works, plus a museum to showcase Trans World Airlines and mid-century modern design. To solidify its “green” status, the developers are also seeking full LEED certification.
Ahead of the hotel’s opening, aviation and architecture lovers can catch a glimpse of the terminal’s history and rebirth at One World Trade Center. There, a TWA Lounge has been fully recreated, complete with original red carpet remnants from the terminal, TWA travel posters, Saarinen-designed furniture, and an Ann Sacks penny tile designed to Saarinen’s specs.
With an anticipated opening of 2019, pre-construction is well underway. Track the ongoing progress here, and be ready to book once reservations open. We expect it to sell out very, very fast.
Images courtesy of Max Touhey and TWA Hotel.