See the stunning space-age TWA Terminal at JFK airport as it looked in the ’60s (before it became a hotel)

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Trans World Flight Center in New York - TWA JFK NYC

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One of the most beautiful — and most imaginative — passenger centers in the world was unveiled when Trans World Airlines opened its iconic sixties modernist masterpiece: the TWA airport terminal at JFK in New York.

(The airport was originally going to be called Idlewild International, but was renamed John F Kennedy International Airport after the president’s assassination.)

Back in the sixties, the design was considered so uniquely advanced that Charles C Tillinghast, Jr., TWA’s president at the time, said he expected the airport to be “readily adaptable to the day when people will travel coast-to-coast in 90 minutes.”

Below, see this space-age architecture as it was built, how it looked in the bright and shiny early days, and how it appears now as the utterly unique TWA Hotel.

“TO EXPRESS THE EXCITEMENT OF TRAVEL” … EERO SAARINEN

This is the new Trans World Flight Center in New York. Architect Saarinen designed it to express the special excitement of jet travel.

Its soaring roof and sweep of glass enclose a hundred new ideas to speed your departure and arrival — like TWA’s fast new jet check-in and boarding, and automatic baggage delivery.

International shops are here. Comfortable lounges. Glamorous restaurants. One other fact makes the Trans World Flight Center entirely unique: it’s the only airline terminal where routes from 70 cities in the U. S. are linked to routes in Europe, Africa, and Asia. One world under one roof.

Trans-World Flight Center at NY International Airport - 1963 (2)

Trans-World Flight Center at NY International Airport - 1963 (1)


Air travel’s new look (1963)

This year, more people will be flying more places than ever before — on the most powerful, most comfortable commercial jetliners ever built.

But modern jet travel is more than a fast way to get from one place to another. Passengers will enjoy a variety of welcome conveniences unheard of a few years ago, in terminals designed by the world’s master architects.

Everything about air travel today is new, different, exciting. And much of the excitement is to be found on one airline.

The Trans World Flight Center in New York, a dramatic innovation in terminal architecture. The “Solari” board flashes flight information instantly to passengers, and to ticket counters by closed-circuit TV.

It typifies conveniences at new TWA terminals in Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Rome. A new TWA San Francisco terminal will be completed soon.

ALSO SEE: Why Pan Am was one of the world’s most legendary airlines

Trans World Flight Center in New York - TWA JFK NYC


The new airport baggage carousel

“Carousel” baggage delivery saves time and trouble. Baggage comes to a revolving stage, waits for the arriving passenger.

The new airport baggage carousel (1963)


TWA to unveil spectacular NY Flight Center (1962)

Story by Viggo Andersen, Travel Editor, the Hartford Courant (Connecticut) May 27, 1962

Probably the most beautiful, and certainly the most imaginative, air terminal in the world will be unveiled tomorrow when Trans World Airlines formally opens its new Flight Center at New York International Airport (Idlewild).

This writer, along with a hundred or so other travel scribes from all parts of the country, was invited to a press preview of the spectacular structure last week, and came away from the experience as enthused and bemused as he was after attending his last circus too many years ago.

Not that there is anything remotely circus-like about TWA’s new Flight Center. It is a thing of pure beauty and creativity — a rare combination of artistry and functionalism.

Empty vintage TWA terminal at JFK airport in New York - 1960s

Dedicated to the age of flight, this great terminal building, shaped like a huge bird with soaring wings spread, was designed by the late Eero Saarinen.

The architect, according to his widow, wanted the architecture of the Trans World Flight Center “to express the drama and wonder of air travel. He wanted to provide a building in which the human being felt uplifted, important. and full of anticipation.

He wanted to create a space which would dynamic, rather than static, and would reveal the terminal as a place of movement and transition.”

What the wild TWA Terminal at JFK airport looked like in the 1960s

Monument to genius

How well Saarinen succeeded in achieving his objectives, you’ll have to visit this brilliant new star in the Idlewild crown. In my opinion, he exceeded his highest hopes, and this his final great piece of architecture is a lasting monument to his genius.

The Flight Center is described by Charles C Tillinghast Jr, TWA’s president, as a facility designed not simply for the jet age, but for the era of supersonic airliners.

It is expected to be readily adaptable to the day when people will travel coast-to-coast in 90 minutes, Tillinghast said.

MORE: See what United Airlines flights in the ’50s were supposed to be like

Old TWA Trans-World Airlines Terminal at Idlewild Airport

Massive roof

Perhaps the terminal’s most impressive feature is that its massive roof, weighing 11,500,000 pounds and covering 1-1/2 acres, is supported solely by four buttresses.

No pillars or rafters mar the unbroken expanse of arched ceilings. The walls consist of 8,500 square feet of glass, accepting an atmosphere of openness.

Empty JFK NYC passenger terminal in the 1960s

Another highlight is the flight wing, connected to the main terminal building by a 307-foot enclosed walkway. Seven aircraft can park around the flight wing at one time, passengers entering and leaving through telescopic jetways, without ever being exposed to the weather outside.

These jetways are the most luxurious through which this writer has ever passed. According to our guide on a tour through the center, a second flight wing is planned, an even larger one than the first, one capable of handling 10 aircraft at a time, giving a total of 17.

Pan-Am plane at the Idlewild - JFK airport

The three basic things every air traveler desires are quick, efficient service at check-in; up-to-the-minute information on arrivals and departures, and rapid baggage delivery. These TWA is now able to provide at Idlewild with unparalleled efficiency and reliability.

The 25 check-in positions are linked by a special television circuit that relays specific information on the status of all flights.

These check-in positions are also equipped with the newest development in baggage weight equipment, speeding up the detail of “getting going” tremendously.

Vintage TWA Terminal at JFK airport (1960s)

The famous Solari board/airport information desk

For public flight information, TWA has installed the Solari Datavision system.

Solari, an Italian firm recognized internationally as a maker of clocks and information board, has installed Datavision at many European air and rail terminals.

Two giant Solari boards are in the Trans World Flight Center. Their large, easy-to-read numbers and lettering can be changed in seconds from a central control panel operated by personnel coordinating flight arrivals and departures.

The Solari system is unexcelled for keeping passengers up-to-date on flight status.

ALSO SEE: How (and why) the Boeing 747 jumbo jet made history

The famous Solari board airport information desk design - 1960s architecture


Retro modern TWA Trans-World Airlines Terminal at Idlewild Airport

Luggage problem solved

The Flight Center also features a baggage claims system that goes a long way toward solving the Jet Age problem of luggage delivery.

Earlier systems couldn’t keep up with the passenger capacity of modern gets and the resultant jump in baggage volumes. Congested crowds, milling up and down long baggage racks in search of their bags, have been a common sight at most terminals.

ALSO SEE: Look back at the early days of American Airlines – doing what they did best

Sweeping view of inside the TWA Terminal at JFK airport 1960s

Such conditions won’t exist around the three striking carousels where TWA passengers pick up their belongings. These shining stainless steel “merry go rounds” rotate at 65 feet per minute.

Baggage is carried to them on conveyors, and circulates to wherever its owner is waiting to pick it up. The carousels are capable of handling over 300 bags in a 20-minute period.

The conveyors, moving at 300 feet per minute, are designed to have the luggage on the carousel by the time the passenger walks from the plane. And there’s no long walk after the luggage is claimed, either. TWA’s carousels are a mere 10 steps from the curb, where taxis, limousines or private automobiles await the arriving traveler.

ALSO SEE: Pretty, thin, young and single? Check out these sexist stewardess job requirements of the ’50s & ’60s


Exterior: TWA terminal at Idlewild (John F Kennedy Airport), New York

Exterior TWA terminal at Idlewild (John F Kennedy Airport), New York


Scenes from inside the Idlewild/JFK airport terminal

Inside the Idlewild JFK airport terminal in the 1960s (3)

Inside the Idlewild JFK airport terminal in the 1960s (4)

Inside the Idlewild JFK airport terminal in the 1960s (5)

Inside the Idlewild JFK airport terminal in the 1960s (1)

Inside the Idlewild JFK airport terminal in the 1960s (2)


Idlewild/JFK terminal front: From concept model…

Model front view of TWA terminal at JFK airport

… to construction

Idlewild JFK 1960s airport terminal construction - Outside (3)

… to completion

Completed front view of TWA terminal at JFK airport


More scenes of 1960s JFK/Idlewild airport terminal construction

Idlewild JFK 1960s airport terminal construction - Interior

Idlewild JFK 1960s airport terminal construction - Outside (1)

Idlewild JFK 1960s airport terminal construction - Outside (2)

Idlewild JFK 1960s airport terminal construction - Concrete


The modern-day TWA hotel

After being closed for years, the old Trans-World Airlines terminal opened again in 2019 — this time, reimagined as a one-of-a-kind hotel. (Find out more about it here!)

See the front of the hotel below, and peek inside of one of the rooms that looks out over the central structure. (Photos courtesy TWA Hotel.)

The new TWA Hotel

New TWA Hotel Executive King Suite with views

NOW SEE THIS: TWA history: The ups and downs of Trans World Airlines

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