Written by Hans Baldauf.
Above Napa Farms Photo by Rien van Rijthoven.
Update 9.10.13– Former TWA Terminal at JFK to be transformed: “The Eero Saarinen-designed terminal will be transformed into a hotel and conference center, along with food and beverage offerings, retail space, a spa and fitness center, meeting facilities and a flight museum.
“It is a great honor to be entrusted with the preservation and revitalization of this masterpiece by my personal architectural hero,” said Balazs. He added that he’s looking forward to the approval of his final proposal by the PA board, but didn’t comment on a specific time frame.” — pagesix.com
My mother tells the story of going to see the first Pan Am jet land at Idlewild from Europe in 1958. My father had found out that this was happening and insisted on going after returning from a day on the beach out on Long Island- he made a reservation at the terminal restaurant, and my mother laughs at how she had to change into stockings and high heels in the parked car to go to dinner.
This was a time when flying was magical and people came out to see new planes land and terminals actually had fine dining restaurants. When Pan Am built the World Port there was of course an elegant restaurant on the upper level- these were the modern reinterpretations of the grand European railway restaurants of the 19th century.
I have always had an affinity for things that were designed and built around the time I was born in 1959. I think of the period of 1959-64 as being seminal- this includes buildings and cars as well as household objects- perhaps it is the result of a romantic notion of absorbing the zeitgeist of the world I was born into. 1960 Cadillac convertibles fit into this, so does John F. Kennedy Airport, although at the time it was Idlewild, and would not become JFK until 1963.
I write this as I am on the tarmac about to leave New York back to California- and I find that I am wistful about the changes at JFK and the almost complete loss of the place that I have known for so many years. I am on Jet Blue and in front of its terminal is what remains of Saarinen’s TWA Terminal.
The Jet Blue Terminal is designed around Saarinen’s concrete ode to flight which seems more like a preserved insect amidst all that is going on around it- sadly lifeless. I believe it is to be turned into a museum.
JFK through the years of my childhood, college and graduate school was a magical place- certainly as the gateway to NY and the East Coast- but equally the gateway to the world. The major airlines had their own terminals akin to national pavilions at world’s fairs.
These pavilions ringed a great parking field with oddly sculptural lamp posts- and because they were read against the runways beyond they really were object buildings- a fact not lost on their architects.
Running counter clockwise there were:
Pan American World Port
Almost all of this is gone now, replaced by larger terminals and a swirl of access roads and parking garages that have completely obliterated ones ability to even see the terminals from a distance- let alone drive around the ring and admire their exhibitionist presence. Prior to building their new terminal Jet Blue used the old National Terminal designed by I M Pei- Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, and built in 1970- a bit late in my zeitgeist list, but it was an amazing building- with a gigantic glass wall that was stabilized by glass fins. The board form concrete gates contrasted with the slickness of the pavilion in a magical way- I have to admit I did not love the huge columns that held up the roof, but you had to admire their presence. The Sundrome was demolished in 2011. When Jet Blue had appropriated it as their own I thought it brilliant- a hip move by a hip new airline, sadly not big enough.
I want to write about the next casualty- the pending demolition of the old Pan Am World Port, now Terminal 3 that houses part of Delta’s operation. I never flew out of the World Port in its heyday (I did go through Saarenan’s Triumph a bunch of times) but I always admired it from afar- its great projecting roof that planes parked under, the light glowing out of the building as if it were a magic lantern and the ramps up to the departure level- a grand processional element that make this building so different from Saarenan’s building which is wed to the plain of the tidelands on which Idlewild was created. In front of this ramp was a giant screen with bronze sculptures of the zodiac seemingly floating in the air, by artist Milton Hebald. The architects of the building were Tippetts, Abbett, McCarthy, and Stratton.
There is something particularly dramatic about a jet coming under a roof- and this is what was and still does occur at terminal 3. I have to believe that the architects were inspired by the Templehoff Terminal in Berlin (1945), which I had the pleasure of flying into in 2008 prior to it’s closure. The great terminal is to be preserved but no one will have the experience of pulling up to the building in a plane and then entering under that amazing cantilevered roof.
Terminal 3 is now considered the worst terminal at JFK. When I visited yesterday there were tarps hanging inside with hoses attached to collect the leaks, its days are numbered. A huge elevator shaft has been smashed down unceremoniously in front of the building to connect it to the airtrain. You cannot pass into the central hall because security is pushed up front- and yet the unique beauty of the building is still there and because it is being used it is oddly more satisfying than the preserved butterfly that was TWA.
The Pan Am World Port was the flagship terminal of what was America’s Flagship International Airline- Pan American Airways- the first truly global airline and in a way a harbinger of the global world we live in today.
Pan Am’s corporate headquarters were located in the Pan Am building constructed atop the tracks behind Grand Central Building as designed by Walter Gropius and The Architecture Collaborative in 1963 in one of the greatest acts of architectural hubris of all time. The building literally occupied the heart of the city.
Vincent Scully writes:
“Grand Central Station was an equally grand achievement and, urbanistically, an even more intricate and subtle one. Many levels interweave in it, below ground and above. Traffic is led in fin ramps around it up and down Park Avenue, while the great barrel-vaulted volume of the Grand Concourse glows within. The slender tower of the Grand Central Office Building rose on the axis of the avenue, high enough to let the eye slide around it on both sides. The Pan American Building later smothered that movement. The original buildings along the avenue, like McKim, Mead and White’s Racquet Club, for example, defined its flow. The solid planes formed the street with facades designed for that purpose and so in scale with the width of the avenue. The whole was one shape flowing southward, an urbanistic achievement of a kind of design which still valued the street, as, later, the urban theory and practice of the 1950’s were not to do”(Scully, p.p. 143-144).
But there it was and is- the Pan Am logo has been replaced by the Metlife logo. In the days that the Pan Am logo was on the side of the building, helicopters would take off from the roof and fly to JFK- helicopters linking a giant object building in the heart of the city with a relatively small pavilion out on the marsh-but a pavilion that knew how to act big by bringing planes under its roof- connecting New York to the world in the days when that was just beginning to be easy because of the jet. Fortunately, at least for now the American Terminal with its great stained glass wall remains.
Thinking about flight and food- my partner Chris von Eckartsberg has done a number of food related projects at SFO, an airport which has committed itself to sharing the culinary passions of our city with the world- these projects include the Il Fornaio Pavilions in the international terminal, Napa Farms– a restaurant and market hall in the newly renovated terminal 3, as well as Klein’s Deli and Uncork’d. In each of these projects he has worked to bring a sense of style that befits the quality of food and to once again make the airport a place worth visiting.
Top: Napa Farms Market. Bottom: Il Fornaio. Photos by Rien van Rijthoven and J D Peterson
SFO has done and amazing job bringing back the elegance of flight both through its new buildings- Craig Hartman’s International Arrivals Building is both iconic and beautiful, and by adapting its older buildings- Terminal 2 was the airport when I was a child, the layers of history are built on. Gensler used Arne Jacobsen’s egg and swan chair throughout the terminal, designed in 1952. The generosity of spirit and elegance of making these chairs available to the flying public again speaks to a vision of the public realm which is nobler and of a celebration of flying.
Not surprisingly the quality of food and how it is served is central to this experience- when Stanley Kubric envisioned space flight in 1968 for 2001 A Space Odyssey it was on a Pan Am spacecraft where the meal was served using Arne Jacobsen cutlery.
It is too bad that no one has found a way to incorporate the old Pan Am World Port into a contemporary vision for JFK. These buildings remind us of who we are as well as where we want to go- if we are willing to slow down a bit and enjoy travel.