Photo by Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons

In the Jet Age, the world’s most famous architects were designing terminals for John F. Kennedy Airport. Many of these buildings would not have the same luck as the TWA Flight Center, the iconic, landmarked terminal that will be turned into a hotel after years of preservation activism and support from inside the Port Authority. It may come as surprise that airline companies have control over the fate of historical buildings, but such is the nature of airport architecture, which is perpetually looking forward to accommodate the new trends and demands of jet travel.

Like in the demolitions of Pennsylvania Station and the renovation of Grand Central Terminal, travel must continue undisrupted in any renovation or construction. As a result, for a period of time, new and old often sit by side at airports offering passengers and flight industry members a chance to reflect. Here are the lost terminals at JFK Airport:

1. Worldport Terminal, Terminal 3

The Worldport Terminal was designed as a showcase by Ives, Turano & Gardner Associated Architects and Walther Prokosch of Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton. In 2013, as the terminal was still in use (but deteriorating), Delta decided to demolish it for airplane parking.

Preservationists called for its reuse, citing its iconic saucer shape architecture and its historic moments (the first home of the Boeing 707 and where The Beatles departed from America in 1964). It also landed on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Places List that year. Yet, as we analyzed in 2013, the terminal was not a slam dunk for preservation, the most damning were the significant alterations that have occurred to the building over the years. New Yorkers watched as the building was stripped, over a multi-month demolition.

2. American Airlines Terminal 8

Photo via Library of Congress

Before the new, fancy American Airlines terminal opened in 2008 there was a mid-century terminal just next door, designed by Kahn and Jacobs in 1960. The front facade featured a 317 foot wide, 23 foot tall work of art by Robert Sowers, the largest stained-glass work in the installation in the world until 1979. Citing prohibitive costs to save the stained glass piece, estimated to be at least $1 million, with more to restore it and reinstall it elsewhere, American Airlines had the the panels taken down. Eileen Clifford, a 29-year-old American Airlines flight attendant even called dozens of conservation groups and museums, hoping one might take the whole piece, but to no avail.

In the end, they went all over the United States, and likely the world: to an American Airlines museum in Texas, the Madison Museum of Fine Art, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, Long Island, and the rest to antique shop Olde Good Things, who removed the remaining pieces, restored and sold them.

3. The Lost I.M. Pei Terminal 6

The I.M. Pei-designed Terminal 6, built in 1970, was designed as an exercise in restraint with an aim towards transparency, the architect sought to “create an environment for travelers that was serene, generous, clear, spacious, simple and dignified,”according to Henry N. Cobb, from Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in New York. Known as the Sundrome, from its conception it was never meant to compete with the audaciousness of the TWA Flight Center. This design decision would ultimately lead, in part, to its demolition in 2011.

4. Eastern Airlines Terminal 1

Eastern Air Lines-Terminal 1-Mohawk-JFK Airport-NYC-2Photo via Wikimedia Commons by RuthAS

The Eastern Airlines Terminal, or Terminal 1, was built in 1959 and designed by Chester L. Churchill. Passengers may remember the Eastern Airlines motto, “if you had wings…”. No longer in operation, Eastern Airlines’ businesses were sold to Continental Airlines, Texas Air and Donald Trump, who bought the shuttle operation. In 1991, the company went bankrupt and the terminal was demolished in 1995.

5. International Arrivals Building Terminal 4

IAB Terminal-International Arrivals Building-Skidmore Owings and Merrill-JFK Airport-NYCPhoto via Wikimedia Commons by Jon Proctor

The International Arrivals Building (IAB) was the first new project when Idlewild Airport was renamed John F. Kennedy Airport. Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) it was considered cutting edge, particularly for its “finger piers,” that sat at right angles to the terminal and allowed more airplanes to be parked at the same time. The terminal also had an observation deck. The building opened in 1957 and was demolished to make way for the new IAB Terminal, also designed by SOM, which opened in 2001.

6. United Airlines Terminal 9

Also in 1959, United Airlines opened Terminal 7 which later became Terminal 9. The building was also designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. In addition to United, it housed Delta before it was acquired Northeast Airlines.

7. The Temporary Terminal at JFK Airport

As New York International Airport (commonly known as Idlewild Airport) made its transition to John F. Kennedy International, the original passenger terminal was transformed into a temporary terminal. Looking back, it had an almost beach-like mid-century architecture style due to its impermanence. It was built as an all-in-one facility, and included the original air traffic control tower (first of three), an observation deck of wooden planks, akin to a boardwalk, and a little bar on the roof. It was torn down in 1960.

Next, read about the Top 10 Secrets of JFK Airport and take a look inside the TWA Flight Center at JFK. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

15 thoughts on “7 of JFK Airport’s Demolished Jet Age Terminals in NYC

  1. This is a really interesting story. Is there any map available to show the different terminals and what happened to them?

    1. Hi Eugene, we haven’t come across a map but it’s definitely an interesting idea!

  2. they will alwyas be idlewild, brooklyn battery tunnel, the triborough, tappan zee bridge, etc.! long live the real names, not politicos!

    1. Yes indeed! The real, traditional names, not political pandering designations.

  3. Worldport Terminal 3 and American Airlines Terminal 8 were very significant and sad architectural losses. Kudos to you Michelle for fighting hard for preservation! Thank goodness the TWA Terminal has been saved. It will make a perfect lobby for the hotel. I know the interior is landmarked, but I hope they’re not allowed to alter it in any way, especially that awesome seating area.

    1. The old JFK was a testament to modernist architecture. Go back to 1966 when one flew out of a quanset hut terminal that house TCA, Transcaribbean Airways. Next to it was the Chapel with the madonna on a pedestal.

  4. Your note on the Temporary Terminal has at least one error. You wrote that it was built as Idlwild was becoming JFK, then torn down in 1960. Idlewild was not renamed until 1964. So either the terminal was torn down later or it was not built during the Idlewild/JFK conversion.

    1. Hi Chip! What I have is that Idlewild was renamed New York International in 1948, and then renamed JFK in 1963 after an expansion. In 1960 that structure was demolished because other buildings could take on its function.

      1. Hi Michelle,
        I see – you were referring to the technical name of the airport, which was given to it when the first flights began in July of 1948. But officially, it was actually New York International Airport, Anderson Field. But no one in New York ever referred to it by that name. It was always only Idlewild. And its airport code remained IDL – for Idlewild – until the renaming to JFK at the very end of 1963. By the way, that renaming was not related to an expansion but only in memory of the President. And aside from the politicians who made it, that change was not universally liked in New York.

        1. You make a very good point. We sometimes struggle with how to refer to certain places in NYC – official name, popular name, re-named name. One of the recent ones has been the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (aka Brooklyn Battery Tunnel). Almost nobody knows it by the official name, so in the text of the article will name both. But in a title, where we want people interested in this tunnel to find it, it’s a hard choice! But then, we don’t want to be called out by being “incorrect” either!

          1. This is my third attempt to reply to your comment, Michelle. This site keeps failing to post it.

            I appreciate your attempt to balance using appropriate and known names with the need to provide good information for everyone. Ilook forward to reading more of your articles.

  5. JetBlue and its partner, a hotel developer, are negotiating for the rights to turn the head house into a hotel. JFK Airport, which was then known as New York International Airport, or Idlewild.

  6. While I am happy to see you have taken the time to remember the beautiful old terminals which used to make JFK Airport special, I’m somewhat confused what your message is, i.e., is JFK airport much better today for having gotten rid of these terminals, or do you believe more could have been done to re-invent/update these terminals for present day needs? I for one consider JFK Airport to be nothing more than a grouping of Ikea warehouses. BORING. No aesthetics whatsoever. Also am confused why you would pick to show a partially demolished Pan Am Worldport terminal which just adds insult to injury to the preservationists who fought hard to have it re-purposed for 21st century needs.

    1. I believe more can be done to have both saved these terminals and to have improved the flight experience today via better architecture. As a writer and photographer, I was part of the movement to save the TWA Flight Center and repurpose it, and was asked directly by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to photograph it in 2011, as they were pushing to get the location turned into a hotel, which it will finally be. I also worked with TWA alums to republish my work on their internal magazine, to raise additional awareness. I also worked with the team saving Worldport at the time to raise awareness for the building before it was demolished. I have shown two photographs of Worldport in this article, to show it in its prime and while it was being demolished.

      You can see these pieces here:

      1. Thank-you for the clarification. Also appreciate the effort you have put in to document/photograph JFK’s beautiful old terminals and for giving this media air-time!

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