One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

The 1960s were a tumultuous decade–but by most accounts, they were a golden age for air travel. The TWA Terminal at JFK, opened in 1962, is a perfect example of that bygone era, but the midcentury masterpiece has sat empty for more than a decade. Now, it will be reborn.

After almost 15 years of disuse, today Crain’s New York reports today that the Port Authority, which controls the building, has finally officially chosen a proposal from Jet Blue to turn the building into a hotel. Their proposal was given support this summer by Governor Cuomo, and now looks as though it’s being given the final OK by Port Authority.

Right now, design details are thin, but we already know hotel will have 505 rooms as well as 40,000 feet of meeting space and as many as eight restaurants inside the 1962 building. Crowning it will be a 10,000-foot observation deck overlooking the runway.

Architects, historians, and New Yorkers in general have fought for years to protect the building and make certain that its future use doesn’t ruin the original architecture. It’s hard to imagine being sincerely excited by an airport these days, but the TWA Terminal, designed by the Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen, was one of those buildings. It was a wonder of technology–from its architecture to its systems.

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

Corbin Keech/Flickr CC; The Terminal circa 1962. Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

First there was the roof, a groundbreaking structure itself, composed of four counterbalanced shells made of thin concrete, each poured over the course of several 30 hour sessions. It looked like a bird taking flight, and it was absolutely radical for its time. The critic Ada Louise Huxtable called it “a definitive and awesome statement of the almost anarchic release of architecture from familiar forms and techniques” in an obituary of Saarinen The New York Times, published a year before the building opened.

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

AP Photo; JR/Flickr CC

Then there was the technology that made it run, much of which was being used for the first time.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission lists a few: There were the baggage carousels, then a new-fangled technology. Doors were electronically rigged to open automatically. It was one of the first terminals to use jetways to usher passengers from plane to terminal, rather than a walk on the tarmac. A huge sign displayed departure times with automatically-changing numbers thanks to the Swiss timepiece maker Solari.

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

Kenneth Dellaquila/Flickr CC

So what happened? Well, for one thing, the planes outgrew the terminal. It became cramped and outmoded—and as the economics of air travel changed, it became less and less useful to airlines. It officially stopped operating in 2001, and a few year later was saved from conversion or demolition by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Yet since then, it’s been unclear what would happen to the terminal.

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

One of the Most Beautiful Airport Terminals Ever Built Is Being Reborn as a Hotel

Owen Young/Flickr CC; Seamus Murray/Flickr CC

One popular idea has been to turn it into a hotel, and for the past three years developers (including, at one point, Donald Trump) have been competing for the rights to do it. With today’s news, the deal is finally done—you’ll be able to stay in a Jet Blue-built hotel room at the terminal. But beyond the fact that the hotel project now has rights to go ahead, we don’t know much more about the project. For example, it’s unclear exactly what kinds of structures will be built around the building, one of the sticking points for past proposals.

For now, we’ve got a date for construction (groundbreaking in 2016) and a target for completion (2018)–plus a promise that the new project will “celebrate and preserve Eero Saarinen’s masterpiece.”

Lead image: Todd Lappin/Flickr CC