Rendering by iProspect. NYC’s “Dream Airport” would “bring air service right into the heart of New York City and eliminate the necessity of limousine travel to and from existing airports,” LIFE reported in 1946.
Delta Airlines has a new rooftop lounge at JFK, but there could have been an entire rooftop airport in midtown Manhattan had one proposal for “New York City’s Dream Airport” been successful.
The 990-acre Manhattan Airport was the brainchild of real-estate mogul William Zeckendorf, who also owned the Chrysler Building and Astor Hotel. According to a 1946 LIFE article (via Ptak Science), Zeckendorf’s $3 billion project–an astronomical sum today, let alone in the 1940’s–would have stretched 144 blocks from 24th to 71st Streets and 9th Ave to the Hudson River at 200 feet above street level. The building below would have contained restaurants, business, waiting rooms and ticket offices, much like Port Authority or Penn Station do today. Not only could the airport accomodate air travel, but it also had piers for ships to anchor. An estimated 68 planes an hour could take off across the runway, compared to the 71 per hour at LaGuardia and 89 per hour at Newark and JFK.
Convenience was a main selling point, as the airport would have eliminated the need for Manhattanites to trek to Queens, Flushing or New Jersey to catch their flights at JFK, LaGuardia or Newark. Despite the benefit of location, plans for the airport fell through for a number of obvious reasons. When you’re taxiing off a building, there’s very little room for overshooting. With three major airports in the area, it’s safe to say New York is one of the busiest travel hubs in the world. It’s hard to imagine the delays a fourth airport would have added!
New York wasn’t the only site of a potential rooftop airport. A sketch in a 1934 volume of Popular Science Monthly showed plans for an airport above the River Thames in London. The runway led almost straight into the tower of Westminster Palace! Apparently there was an air of ambition in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
The ambitious plans didn’t die with Zeckendorf, and the inconvenience of traveling to the city’s surrounding airports remains an issue. In 2009, the Manhattan Airport Foundation topped Zeckendorf’s ambitious plan with a joke proposal for an airport in the most central location possible: Central Park.
While we can laugh at the Central Park plan, apparently over 85,000 people cared enough to sign a petition for “an immediate development of a viable and centrally-located international air transportation hub in New York City for the benefit of all New Yorkers.” We have to wonder, how seriously did the public react to the Dream Airport?
Next, read about 9 other architectural plans that never left the drawing board. Get in touch with the author @catku.