Open to the public last time before big renovation, TWA terminal in John.F.Kennedy airport was THE destination this past OpenHouse weekend.
The OHNY site description reads:
Architect: Eero Saarinen, 1962; Restoration, Beyer Blinder Belle, 2015
One of the most famous icons of mid-century modernism, the TWA Flight Center, beautifully restored over the last six years, is on the National Register of Historic Places. MCR Development, the firm selected by the Port Authority to celebrate Saarinen’s masterpiece and reopen it to the public, is advancing a privately-funded $265 million plan to rehabilitate the national landmark to its original splendor and deliver the first on-site, world-class airport hotel at JFK International Airport. Through a $65 million investment, MCR Development will preserve the iconic terminal for the public to enjoy. Expected to be complete in 2018, the redevelopment plan will include a museum focusing on New York City as the birthplace of the Jet Age, the storied history of TWA Airlines, and the Midcentury Modern design movement.
Sounds tempting? You bet, for you and me and, apparently, 10,000 more people! (or more – I just ballparked the #)
My volunteer shift, luckily, fell on a Saturday, so for Sunday I planned to be a gawker myself, go all the way to outer Queens and finally, after years of ditching the site for more accessible venues, see TWA for myself. I thought I’ll beat the crowds on popular sites elsewhere in the city, this being long ride from Manhattan and not the cheapest one – and boy, how wrong I was…My itinerary looked like this:
- Subway ride from my Bay Ridge station to Atlantic Ave: 35min ($2.75)
- Transfer to Long Island Rail Road train to Jamaica (Queens, alas): 18min ride ($7.50)
- Transfer there to Airtrain to Terminal 5 at JFK: 10-12min ($5 to+from)
Counting inevitable waiting gaps during transfers, altogether in took me ~3hrs and $30 round trip – and my was the fastest way.
This was my first time using Airtrain. In itself, it’s a pleasure ride: the stations are clean, spacious, the interior of the train not spectacular but comfortable. But organization! There is no ticket machines, per se: you have to buy a special Metrocard (+$1 for piece of plastic, before paying a fiver) or add $5 to your regular one (but how the passengers from JFK are expected to have one? I can’t imagine how many millions PA makes just on those $1 metrocards every day), and then stick it into the tourniquets to open. One can’t buy ticket to JFK direct from Atlantic Ave LIRR station, as it’s customary to all other destinations making transfer at Jamaica.These operations are not all that obvious as they could be with appropriate graphics – and lots of people coming from the station’s footbridge into the ticket hallway are immediately confused. So Port Authority employs hordes of slow, loud and condescending transportation workers (picture DMV females, forced to come out from behind the counter), providing “verbal assistance” to passengers – and monitoring turnstiles against the ‘jumpers’. The platforms, as you see, are provided with all kinds of screens and infographics – but no useful information. No indication how long to wait before next train (as we’re used to already in the subway), no info on length of the ride between stops – and that’s bearing in mind passengers who are in a rush to get to their terminals on time for flights! All screens show the same thing: the loop map with color-coded stations, that’s it. The wait felt to be endless.
So, finally, we arrived at Terminal 5 stop, and then another quest began. No signs explaining where you’re going and the long, long walk thru long and impersonal corridors until you get to the baggage carousels of JetBlue. Passing rude baggage claim workers, you find unremarkable double glass door opening to stair leading to red-carpet hallway with – at last! – OHNY volunteers confirming that you, indeed, came to the right place.
And here realization starts to down: you’re not the only one with the brilliant idea of remote site. The tube hallway is filled with people! All ages, shapes and races, with one thing in common: all hold cameras, and all click. And click, and click!
They are everywhere, so it’s impossible to take a decent picture, encompassing the -truly beautiful – biomorphic forms of Saarinen architecture, and every time you find an interesting angle, it has been noted and recorded by somebody else.
While I was clicking away (you can see more pictures at the Flickr album at the bottom right margin) I saw a small crowd gathering near red-carpeted sunken lounge. A Port Authority spokesperson (Jim Steven, Manager of JFK’s Physical Plant, tells me OHNY listing) was giving a short talk on history of the building, of its former glory, decline and the efforts to renovate it.
After he finished, several people surrounded him with questions, among them – this man, who said he used to be a TWA pilot, and had witnessed the opening of the terminal in 1962!
I took some more photos, mostly architectural details of the stairs and ceiling, and went back the same way I came. Had to rush to reach Manhattan before 5pm: wanted to see an 18th century hotel on East Side before the site closed at 5:30.