Offbeat New York

New York City's Terminal 5 (TWA) at JFK built by Eero Saarinen Maybe Finding New Life and Appreciation

Anyone growing up in NYC knew TWA, and the Eero Saarinen terminal that opened in 1962. The soaring wings made travelers feel they were about to take to the sky and soar themselves. In a city that regularly, even eagerly, tears down old buildings for the sake of change, the TWA terminal held on.
It is a tribute to the brilliance of Finnish-American architect Saarinen that the building never became dated and that even today its clean lines and open views feel contemporary. Image Courtesy of Galinsky.com

Saarinen died while undergoing an operation for a brain tumor, at the age of 51. Both the TWA terminal and his other stunning airport building at Dulles International Airport opened after his death. The St. Louis Arch was another of his commissions and remains as innovative today as it was when completed in 1965.

The road to save the beloved terminal has not been smooth. In 2000, the Port Authority, clearly not understanding the importance of preserving NYC architectural heritage, announced its intent to demolish part of the building. It was through, in part, the efforts of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Municipal Art Society, and the Preservation League of New York State that this icon of modern architecture was saved. Both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation League of New York State have included the terminal on their lists of threatened sites.

However, the danger remains. Just recently, according to Preservation Magazine, The New York State Historic Preservation Office, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have approved JetBlue Airways' plan to demolish a 5,000-square-foot departure lounge known as "the trumpet." JetBlue demolished the other lounges and flight wings three years ago to make way for a new terminal, while retaining the iconic 1962 main terminal for future restoration. The publication notes Now the challenge is to find a new use for the head house. Proposals include a conference center, an aviation museum, or a restaurant.

However, the Port Authority does remain committed to finding suitable use for the historic terminal. Their spokesperson, Pasquale DiFulco, said in a recent telephone interview with OffbeatNewYork.com that "We recognize the importance of the building to Jet Blue and as an icon of modern architecture." However their earlier RFP (Request for Proposals) did not generate usable proposals, and Mr. DiFulco believes that part of the problem was that contractors would have had to take on the asbestos abatement. As a result, "we took on the job of asbestos abatement ourselves." When that is completed, by the end of 2008, the Port Authority expects to re-issue the RFP.

In a world in which flying is more of a hassle than driving, the TWA terminal is a reminder of the sophistication that was once air travel. And when for the price of an airline ticket, we could become part of that world.

Image courtesy of Galinsky. For more pictures and information visit Galinsky - Enjoy Buildings Worldwide

Read about JetBlue's new terminal at JetBlue Terminal 5


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