Voyage in a Time Capsule.

TWA Hotel at Idlewild Airport (JFK) In NYC.

It’s difficult to tell which way in time I traveled.

Idlewild Airport is arguably the most famous airport on Earth. Have you heard of it? While the cradle of aviation is Kitty Hawk, North Carolina,

The ‘Other Cradle of Aviation‘ is on Long Island, New York. An area known as Hempstead plains opened commercial aviation to TransAtlantic International travel when Charles Lindburgh flew the first airplane from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY, USA to Paris France. As time would have it, Roosevelt Field is now a shopping mall. The major New York international airport before jet aircraft was Idlewild Airport. Named after the developer of a golf course& beach club which it replaced, Idlewild is also located on geographic Long Island, but within the City of New York. Idlewild Airport was also known as New York International Airport is now John F. Kennedy International airport or “JFK”- renamed within a month after JFK’s assasination. It is the busiest passenger international gateway in North America. Have you heard of Kennedy Airport / JFK?

The commercial jet age began when i was a little kid. They built a new kind of Terminal at Idlewild Airport – the likes of which the world had never seen. The TWA Flight Center. People used to drive to Idlewild airport just to see the TWA Terminal. It was that incredible in 1962. It still is.

The premier airports in the world, like Changi Singapore, Beijing China, and every airport built since 1962 has taken architechtural queues from the TWA terminal at JFK.

The science fiction producer, Irwin Allen , leaned heavily upon the ‘futuristic’ design of the TWA Terminal with his Flying Sub, from “Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea” in the 60’s.

Indeed, the TWA terminal forecasts many elements of aviation and architecture that did not exist but today are embraced and ordinary. From winglets to curvacious shapes the TWA terminal was prescient. It still may be forecasting things yet to come.

Built in 1962 by Eero Saarinen the architect known for the Saint Louis Arch, and a jury member on the Sydney Opera House. He is also famous for the “Tulip Chair” which are found throughout the TWA Hotel. Unfortunately Sarrinen died, before the TWA Flight Center was completed, from a brain tumor at the age of 51 in Ann Arbor Michigan.

I found an error in the dedication plaque. It should read: “Painstakingly and lovingly restored.”

What I had not noticed until after I arrived today, The building is not just the whimsical ‘tulip’ center it also has two “gull” wings. The wings have ‘winglets’ decades before anyone thought of putting them on an aircraft.

 

Take the Air Train to Terminal 5 (Jet Blue) and walk about 100 yards to the TWA Hotel

Notice the vintage cars parked in front.

Of course I couldn’t resist sitting in the 1965 Lincoln.

 

Here is a close up of the port wing. Notice the winglet at the end of the wing. Decades before aerospace engineers ‘discovered’ their benefit on an operational wing. All they had to do was look here.

Yes, we’re in the right place, That’s the correct Address, One Idlewild Drive, and THIS is the TWA Hotel, Formerly The TWA Flight Center (in case we weren’t sure).

Notice the ventilator at the floor In the center photo, – looks like the flying sub doesn’t it?

 

True to form, rather than walk in the front door, i walk in one of the wing doors and am met by these gorgeous doors. Are they from a futuristic Kubrick Film, like ‘A Clockwork Orange’, or ‘2001 A Space Oddessy’, or are they classics from the past. It’s seems like the future to me.

The entire building is curvacious poured concrete. This is the check-in area. It was once a flight check-in, now it’s the check-in for the hotel, but it still has the conveyer system for the luggage. The space is almost ‘Gaudi‘ in its organic sensibility. There isn’t a square corner in the structure. Those of you that know me might be surprised to see me invoke Gaudi’s name. I predict this structure will become a UNESCO world heritage site someday.

 

The building is covered in these fine Italian tiles. I remember reading about them. Eero Saarinen designed these custom penny tiles. A custom source was found who was able to replicate these iconic tiles from the 1962 design.  The detail and quality of both the tile and the work is stunning.

 

 

I work my way over to the front desk, where a hostess and flight attendent “docents” dressed in appropriate 1962 uniforms are there to greet us. They tell us to notice how thin and beautiful they are (the major requirement for employment of women in the 60’s). We Agree, they are thin and beautiful. My friend asks if they work for the Hotel, they firmly say: “NO, we work for Trans World Airlines.” They will NOT step out of character.

The flip-tile signs were made by Solari, Italy. When it came time to refurbish the signs they got the job. The ‘Hostess’ informed me there are over 34,000 tiles in each sign.

 

Notice the Italian penny tiles i previously noted. They cover everything in the building.

 

Turn up the sound to get the proper effect.
Video by Dan Scolnick

Turn around and you’ll see the central Vulcain Clock.

 

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 The curves, balance and detail are everywhere. If there is perfection in architecture, this approaches it..

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new JetBlue Terminal, behind, clumsily mimics the elements of the TWA Flight Center – like every other terminal built in the last 60 years. Although it’s new, next to the TWA Flight Center, The new JetBlue Terminal looks dated.

It is striking that in such an open place the curves and elevation changes are so cleverly placed that there is considerable privacy between areas. As I go up a stairway, or go around a corner, there is always a surpise. The anticipation of turning the next corner to see what’s there becomes a chocolate fudge sundae of excitement.

 

 

 

 

Further down in the blog there is a photo from the outside of these velvet covered semi-circular benches looking in.

 

 

 

It’s part museum. Wouldn’t you love to travel in those 60’s outfits with that luggage?!

In the Hughes Wing (yes it’s that Hughes – Howard Hughes) you’ll find the food court.

The “Tulip Chairs” are what the architect Eero Saarinen is most famous for.

And what’s that in the back?! more surprises!

“I got me a car
It’s as big as a whale
And we’re headin’ on down to the Love Shack
I got me a Chrysler
It seats about 20
So hurry up and bring your jukebox money…” The B-52’s “Love Shack”

 

 

 

 

 

 

After all this we decide we’re hungry, where is the snack bar. We have to go outside and walk around the front of the terminal to get there.

 

We have to walk under the concrete tube “jetway”. Mechanized Telescoping jetways are ubiquitous today. This was built and designed before 1962 and it’s concrete. Notice the “telescoping” detail in the ‘jetway’. Keep in mind, in 1962 it would be many years before anyone thought of a ‘jetway’. Yet, here it is. What other marvels are in this architecture that are still yet to come?

 

This jetway connects to the new JetBlue Terminal #5.

This photo is from the outside looking in. Notice the skylight. Previous in this blog there was a picture of this from the inside looking out. There are red velvet covered concrete semicircular benches behind that window.

 

I walk down the tarmac where they have the correct labels – runway 4L and 22R. Any pilot familiar with JFK Idlewild, knows these runways, impecaable attention to detail!

 

and there she is. The snack bar. Connie!

 

Look at that ultra modern airplane. A Lockheed Constellation. As space age as any A350 or Dreamliner carbon fiber plane. She set transcontinental records with ease!

Look at that sexy triple tail!

The first aircraft to use the Call Sign “Airforce One” was General Eisenhowers Lockheed Constellation. but wait what are those fan blades on the wings?

 

 

 

Once upon a time it took 3 people to fly a commercial plane. The Navigator sat facing the right side.

 

 

 

Communications, Oxygen pressure and lights are all outside the cockpit.

The snack bar is waiter served and is behind the cockpit.

 

 

And just like the ‘other’ state of the art hi-tech aircraft produced today, there is an emergency exit rope!

We had our snack, it was good, and after four hours of walking, sitting, enjoying, exploring it was time to go.

Leaving the building I had a strange feeling that I was walking from and to another time and place. With that sensation, I was NOT sure if i was traveling forward or backward in time.

On the way to the Air Train we ran into several people with luggage who had stepped out of the AirTrain to take photo’s. Though they were going to other terminals they too felt the draw of this extraordinary time and place.

The TWA Hotel is easily accessible by car, or the Air Train.

Saarinen’s masterpiece reopens.

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