AFTER SITTING VACANT FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES, THE ICONIC TWA TERMINAL AT JFK HAS BEEN REBORN AS A LUXURIOUS HOTEL THAT COMMEMORATES THE STORIED AIRLINE’S HISTORY
BY AMANDA McCOY
When the Trans World Airlines Flight Center opened at JFK (then Idlewild Airport) in 1962, it embodied the golden age of flying glamorous, romantic, and astoundingly futuristic. Ushered in by the invention of the jet engine, this period marked the birth of modern air travel.
Manufacturers were able to build bigger, faster, and more efficient aircraft, and travel by way of the skies became accessible for the average person for the first time in history. During that time, TWA, which originated as a small mail carrier in 1930, became one of the most recognized names in the business its glittering new terminal described as “North America’s gateway to the world.”
In 2001, after nearly four decades of operation, architect Eero Saarinen’s wing shaped mid-century design landmark described by another noted architect, Robert A. M. Stern, as the “Grand Central of the jet age” and which resulted in a posthumously awarded AIA Gold Medal for Saarinen (who died unexpectedly of a brain tumor in 1961 at 51 years old) was declared insufficient to support modern aircraft, and shuttered. The company was bought out by American Airlines that same year, and TWA’s chapter in aviation history seemed to be closed. While JFK journeyed on (now the 22nd busiest airport in the world and sixth busiest in the United States), the terminal sat vacant until May 15 of this year, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, MCR and MORSE Development Managing Partner and CEO, Tyler Morse, and other dignitaries gathered in its signature Sunken Lounge to celebrate the building’s rebirth as the TWA Hotel.
“Saarinen’s cathedral to aviation has always looked toward the future,” explained Morse. “We restored and reimagined his landmark with the same care that he devoted to its design. No detail went overlooked from the millwork by Amish artisans, to the custom font inspired by Saarinen’s own sketches, to the one of a kind manhole covers. Starting today, the world can enjoy this mid-century marvel for many years to come.”
Building JFK’s only on site hotel was a considerable undertaking, spearheaded by MCR and MORSE Development. The $265 million project began with a meticulous restoration of the existing structure, which was designated a New York City landmark in 1994 and earned a spot on the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places in 2005. Led by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, the restoration was followed by the construction of two wings designed by Brooklyn based Lubrano Ciavarra Architects. A 50,000 square foot events hall, conceived by INC Architecture & Design, served as the final piece of the plan.
Snapshots from the terminal’s past can be found in every corner of the lobby. Solari di Udine, an Italy based display systems manufacturer, custom designed and built split flat departure boards, another nod to 1960s air travel. The classic flight tubes (seen in the 2002 film, Catch Me If You Can) are also back in service, linking the hotel with JetBlue’s Terminal 5. Vintage TWA uniforms from Balmain, Valentino, and Stan Herman are on display…even the furniture reflects mid-century aesthetics, such as the retro tables and chairs in the Phaidon + Herman Miller Reading Room.
The hotel encompasses 512 guest rooms, each designed to pay homage to the terminal’s past while applying modern five star amenities. The Qi wireless phone charging station keeps guests in the 21st century, while the rotary phone pulls them back in time. Rooms also feature additional period accents like walnut martini bars, Hollywood style bathroom vanities, and minibars stocked with vintage favorites like Tab soda. Floor to ceiling windows overlook the taxiways and runways, and, while guests can watch as planes take to the air, they can’t hear them thanks to seven paned and 4.5 inch thick windows.
There are no fewer than six drink and dine options on site, including the sun drenched Paris Café and Lisbon Lounge both from the mind of chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and his first culinary establishments in Brooklyn serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the former heart of the terminal. Retro inspired cocktails with swizzle sticks are presented amidst 1960s style décor in the Sunken Lounge, the hotel’s principal bar. There’s also a rooftop pool bar and observation deck (open year round) overlooking the tarmac, a grab and go grub hall teeming with NYC classics, and a Lockheed Constellation propeller airliner that’s been turned into a cocktail bar. The property also boasts the world’s largest hotel gym, spanning 10,000 square feet and with 14 Peloton bikes, a full yoga studio, and personal training facilities.
“The opening of the TWA Hotel at JFK creates an architectural gem as well as a symbolic step forward in Governor Cuomo’s vision to transform the airport into a world class 21st century gateway,” said Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “The preservation and conversion of this world renowned landmark offers a one of a kind destination for international visitors and New Yorkers alike. As we celebrate this milestone, we look forward to many more. This is just the beginning of JFK’s transformation into [a facility] as welcoming, impressive, and iconic as this new hotel.”
One Idlewild Drive, JFK International Airport
212.806.9000 / twahotel.com