The Old TWA Building Still Stands


    New York has many historical sites, especially on the island. Everyone has heard of John F Kennedy International Airport (ranked the 5th busiest airport in the US). This airport contains a historical site that you might not even know about. This 55 year old building was once home to TWA and is now sitting at Terminal 5 (JetBlue being the proud owner).

    First off, a bit of history is needed. When JFK was founded, Idlewild airport was the name given to it after the neighborhood that sat next to it. In 1948 the name changed to New York International due to its increasing size and traffic. TWA (founded in 1926) decided to make their own terminal at the airport as many other airlines have done. United Airlines, Eastern Air Lines, American Airlines and Pan Am had already made their mark at the airport using concrete shells for terminals and so TWA took a new approach.

    The architect who designed the terminal was Eero Saarinen. His goal was to build a terminal that has plenty of space using very little material. Sadly he died in 1961 and so he couldn't see his work completed. Nonetheless, the building had a distinct shape of a bird as the outer edges stretched upward while the middle stretched outward. Along with doing this the terminal was the first one to have fully enclosed passenger jetways. These innovations have transformed how we build terminals to this day.

TWA went into bankruptcy in the 1990s and so they sold the terminal to American Airlines. Years later the the terminal ended service in 2001 due to the inability to expand because of the way the terminal was built.

    At first more terminals were going to be built around it yet the Municipal Art society along with Philip Johnson opposed this idea. Johnson himself argued that ,”This building represents a new idea in 20th-century architecture, and yet we are willing to strangle it by enclosing it within another building. Imagine, tying a bird’s wings up. This will make the building invisible. If you’re going to strangle a building to death, you might as well tear it down.”

    In 2005 it was added on to the New York Register of Historic Places and celebrates Eero Saarinen’s masterpiece. JetBlue took in the building in 2008 and preserves this historic landmark.

    Currently it is being transformed into a hotel and in just a few years will be in full operation. Next time you go to JFK, why not stop by Terminal 5 and see this historic landmark?


Max Pelkonen