Anyone who loves aviation will be happy to know that JetBlue’s restoration of the TWA Flight Center, also known as Terminal 5, is moving along nicely, and will open in the fall of 2008. The project is so close to completion that the airline has begun plugging it on its website with its own url, www.t508.com.
The Eero Saarinen-designed terminal, immortalized in the Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can, was a wonder of its time. Visitors would enter a vast bird shaped building. After check in, visitors would wait in a glorious glass-fronted room that overlooked the noses of TWA jets, mostly L-1011s and 747s. The room had a certain quiet even thought it was busy; the most calming influence was the “fffffffttttttt” sound of the Jetsons-shaped Solari di Udine S.p.A. mechanical arrivals board that updated passengers when it was time for boarding. Upon heading to the plane, passengers would walk through round tubes with TWA-red carpeting and lighting accentuating the curves of the tube. Aviation buff John Travolta has spoken of the TWA Flight Center as a formative experience, recalling putting on a tie and coming to JFK; we hope he will make an appearance at the grand opening.
The new version has two entrances, an old entrance and a new one behind it, all costing in the hundreds of millions! There were some compromises; the surprise of having big jets lurking near to you won’t be possible in the old terminal anymore. But that is a small compromise compared to losing the structure altogether. It is a remarkable civic achievement and JetBlue deserves much praise for undertaking the effort. Lesser airlines would not have bothered. But it is not a charity case. It is a brilliant marketing ploy, and should be exciting enough to distance JetBlue from its competitors.
It is ironic that American Airlines, which bought the assets of TWA, missed this grand opportunity, and has obliterated any trace of the brand TWA, which was a big (though correctible) mistake.
The renovation and rebuilding comes shortly after Delta has done renovation work on its Worldport, the former terminal for Pan American. It’s an important building, but if it weren’t sitting next to the TWA Flight Center, it might be better appreciated as an icon. (Generations grew to love the aquarius-era Milton Hebald zodiac sculptures along the outside of the building. Perhaps BrandlandUSA readers can tell us where they are.) There is still alot of the Worldport left, and Delta could bring a bit of the Pan Am pizazz by reaching back to the Worldport era. JetBlue also occupies the former National Airlines terminal to the left of the TWA Flight Center. Once called the Sundrome, it too is a work of art, designed by Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners, and is remarkably intact, though the prognosis for its survival is uncertain.