Open House new York - TWA Flight Center

JFK Airport Terminal 5 Travel Blog

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John F. Kennedy International Airport, or in IATA code simply "JFK" is for the majority of (at least international) visitors to New York City the port of entry. It is one of the busiest airports in the USA and the 16th in the world, two steps below Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (source).

Long ago, New Jersey's Newark Airport was the only airport for New York City, later on Floyd Bennett Field was constructed in Brooklyn (very close to the site of the current JFK by the way, see here).

Bennett Field was not a commercial success and was succeeded by LaGuardia Airport in Queens.

When LaGuardia reached its capacity limits a new airport was build called Idlewild Airport, named after the golf course that it replaced. Before the airport opened it was already renamed to Major General Alexander E. Anderson Airport. Twenty years later, when president Kennedy was assassinated, the airport was named after the unfortunate Kennedy.

From the opening of the airport in 1948 until 1957 the traffic was processed in one central building, to be used by all the airlines. This did not work well, airline managers had a good sense of planning an objected to this way of airport management.

A new plan was made providing space for each major airline, or cluster of smaller ones, and allow them to build their own terminals. This worked really nice because airlines now could compete in providing the nicest and most attractive terminals for their clients. The first terminal was opened in 1957 at the place of the current Terminal 4. Many iconic structures followed. The 1960 Pan Am Worldport is still in use as Terminal 3, now owned by Delta Airlines. In fact I arrived here only a month ago returning from Alaska....

One of the last terminals to be opened was Trans World Airlines' TWA Flight Center, in 1962. Being the last one it could be the best of all. And it certainly made an effort to do so.

Designed by the famous Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen it had many potential features like: passenger jet ways, a central public address system, baggage carousels, an electronic schedule board, and baggage scales. The jets did not park directly at the terminal but on satellites that were connected by huge covered walkways. Saarinen had given the design of the building a lot of thought. He wanted the building to express the excitement of travel and make the terminal a place of movement and transition. In order to do that he created a brilliant structure. Everything was smoothly curved, and although compact, it gave a very spacious impression. Amongst all this space, the terminal housed several lounges, bars, and restaurants.

Giants come and giants go. Both TWA and its competitor Pan Am got in financial trouble.

TWA was taken over by American Airlines, which possesses an own terminal, making the TWA Flight Center obsolete. In October 2001 (10 years ago) the beautiful terminal was closed and remained empty. Only re-opened twice; in 2002 as filming location for the movie Catch me if you can, incorrectly suggestion it was the Pan Am terminal, and in 2004 when it briefly hosted an art exhibition.

Despite being vacant for many years TWA Flight Center was not demolished, like many of the other iconic terminals of that era. In 1994 New York City had designated it a historic landmark, and in 2005 the National Park Service added the terminal to the National Register of Historic Places. But, JFK is an airport and not a museum, so it was unavoidable that a new Terminal was constructed nearby.

The newly constructed 2008 Terminal 5 of JetBlue in fact almost surrounds the Flight Center. The TWA satellite sections had to be demolished and the covered corridors that led there now terminate in the new JetBlue terminal. The Flight Center is still closed but is being restored and may be reopened as an annex for the JetBlue terminal.

And today, as a part of the Open House New York weekend the terminal was opened once again. Joost, a friend from NL, had asked me some time ago if I knew if the terminal still existed triggered my interest for the Flight Center. Some weeks ago when I traveled to NL I actually tried to find the terminal, that is why a made this blog entry near Terminal 5). I did find it, but it was closed and dark. So, now knowing it would be open I made my way to JFK, and again to Terminal 5.

Comparison towards the past (Upper photo: Joost Koedam)

I entered the terminal via the huge corridors that originally led to the jet satellites and stepped into the terminal like I just arrived from a flight into New York. The terminal was packed! Not only regular visitors like me, but the personnel of JFK also seized the opportunity to look around. Some former TWA employees walked around in their original uniforms. It all gave very real view. Not everything was open yet. And the restaurants and lounges were empty. Only the seats and sofas with worn out leather were there.

The VIP lounge looked still cozy, even when the bar was empty. Leaving that lounge I discovered a door leading to the former luggage belts was open. All kind of officials and security persons were walking there as well as many other visitors. So I stepped into that wing, ending up in the former Tax Free Shop, some offices, and at the luggage belts. This looked not official but it was really great to walk around. Well, it turned out we were off limits and were more or less kindly requested to leave that part of the terminal.

I also looked at the outside of the terminal and walked around it. Again it did not look official but despite the presence of many airport police, security guards, etc. nobody stopped us. This was really Open House.

Joost later told me that he had traveled via the terminal a few times and sent me some of his pictures. These and many of my 2011 pictures are below!

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Comparison towards the past (Upper…
Comparison towards the past (Uppe…
One of the few remaining publicly …
One of the few remaining publicly…
The check-in wing was currently cl…
The check-in wing was currently c…
One of the lounges
One of the lounges
No more views on the jets and tarm…
No more views on the jets and tar…
No more views on the jets and tarm…
No more views on the jets and tar…
Still standing,although the leathe…
Still standing,although the leath…
Your reporter sitting down in an u…
Your reporter sitting down in an …
Like in the old days
Like in the old days
The old Tax Free shop
The old Tax Free shop
In the old baggage terminal
In the old baggage terminal
In the old baggage terminal
In the old baggage terminal
Even the restrooms are cool!
Even the restrooms are cool!
The bar is now deserted
The bar is now deserted
The walkway to the jet satellite n…
The walkway to the jet satellite …
Comparison towards the past
Comparison towards the past
Comparison towards the past (Upper…
Comparison towards the past (Uppe…
The terminal still in use in July …
The terminal still in use in July…
The terminal still in use in July …
The terminal still in use in July…
The terminal still in use in July …
The terminal still in use in July…
In front of the terminal in the ol…
In front of the terminal in the o…
Inside the terminal, some time ago…
Inside the terminal, some time ag…
The terminal with its gate satelli…
The terminal with its gate satell…
The Terminal under construction. N…
The Terminal under construction. …
JFK Airport Terminal 5
photo by: mdalamers