Can JFK's Pan Am Terminal be saved?

tags: New York City, JFK, Pan Am Terminal, Vanity Fair



If you saw that blessedly short-lived television series called Pan Am a couple of years ago, you probably think, as I do, that the best thing about it was the Pan Am terminal at J.F.K., a cheerful, round structure with a gigantic overhanging concrete roof that seemed to emerge out of the naïve notion that flying could be fun: airport as midcentury modern circus. The building was certainly more exuberant, not to say more convincing, than any character in the show.

It wasn’t a stage set. Well, it was, but it was based on something very real: the structure built by Pan Am in 1960 to accommodate the new Boeing 707 jets that were just then coming into service. Pan Am called the terminal, which many people have likened to a flying saucer, the Worldport, a name that itself conjures up a certain innocent gusto. If the design, by the firm of Tippets Abbott McCarthy and Stratton, wasn’t as sophisticated as Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal a few hundred yards away—surely one of the great buildings of its era, transportation hub or otherwise—the Pan Am terminal was the second-best piece of architecture at JFK, and in some ways it captured the feeling of the moment more directly.  This new jet stuff was going to be great. Who needed long, dreary concourses? Much more fun to arrange the planes in a circle, their noses poking under a huge concrete umbrella roof, and let all the passengers hang around the middle like it was all a big party.

The party, such as it was, ended a very long time ago, but the building hung on, looking increasingly the worse for wear with every passing year. Since Pan Am went bankrupt, in 1991, the terminal has been used by Delta, which briefly renamed it the Delta Flight Center, though it’s more often referred to simply as Terminal 3. Delta recently moved its operations next door to the equally blandly named Terminal 4, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the airport, has announced its intention to demolish the Worldport—not to build a new terminal, which might be understandable, but to allow for more room for aircraft parking....



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