JFK Airport’s Worldport terminal lands on endangered list

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com |

Photos courtesy of Anthony Stramaglia/Save the Worldport
Photos courtesy of Anthony Stramaglia/Save the Worldport

John F. Kennedy Airport’s Worldport Terminal, scheduled to be demolished by 2015, recently made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 most endangered historic places.

John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Worldport terminal has flown into new territory — a list naming it one of America’s most endangered historic locations.

On June 19, the flying saucer shaped-terminal was chosen for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s latest list of America’s 11 most endangered historic places. The site has been slated for demolition by 2015.

The terminal, owned by the Port Authority and leased by Delta Air Lines, made the leap to the list through the dedication of “Save the Worldport,” a preservationist group co-founded in 2011 by New Jersey residents Kalev Savi and Anthony Stramaglia.

Although Savi is from New Jersey, he felt a connection to the site after growing up in an airline family. He got his first impression of the terminal at a very young age.

“I just remember approaching this enormous glass sculpture, I thought I was going into a flying saucer,” said Savi.

“It was the symbol of a new era.”

Savi started a Facebook group after being made aware of the Port Authority’s plan to demolish the terminal in order to create a parking lot for airplanes. He met Stramaglia through the group. The two have been trying to come up with renovation plans for the terminal.

“What this list really does is give legitimacy to our cause,” said Savi. “It really is a validation.”

The National Trust has listed 242 sites to date, and only a handful of those locations have been lost. “Save the Worldport” hopes the extra attention for the terminal will inspire architects, engineers and other organizations to save the site.

“We listed it because we feel it’s a significant part of aviation history, design history,” said Roberta Lane, the National Trust’s senior New York field officer and attorney. “The threat is obviously very real. We wanted to raise awareness of this threat and of this place.”

Yet the threat came closer to being realized when a bulldozer started tearing up the roadway leading to the terminal earlier this week.

“The old Pan Am Worldport terminal at JFK served this region for more than a half century, but is obsolete for 21st century aviation purposes,” said Delta and the Port Authority in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, JFK is a land-constrained airport and the choice we face is between job creation today in Queens and preservation of a facility that is no longer functional.”

The preservationist group will work together with the National Trust to continue meeting with the Port Authority about various repurposing ideas. Those include turning the terminal into a longterm rest facility for delayed visitors and bringing the retro, cool feeling back to travel.



  • BA Miller

    Like the thousands of ‘preservationists’, WORLD PORT plays a very important part of our architectural heritage. It was the iconic dream of Turano and Associates, gleaming their inspiration from ‘science fiction space odysseys’ in the sixties, and WORD PORT’s unique saucer like appearance was born to usher into what was the beginning of the jet age. Not just for Pan American, but for all the other airlines that slowly began to follow suit. The strikingly handsome bronze signs of the Zodiac by Hebold, adorned the outside screen surrounded by brightly colored flags of the free world. When you approached WORLD PORT, you knew that you were on to something greater than just an airplane ride. The end of the cold war, the beginning of the U.K.’s Beatles invasion, thousands poured through her gates, many of whom would later become citizens. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also thrown their support to the thousands of preservationists as well. We understand the land and environmental constraints at Kennedy, and that being said, is why it makes perfect sense to restore and refit the terminal. An vast international shopping arcade, filled with trendy restaurants, a boutique hotel with spa, offering a respite for travelers, banks, traveler’s aid, WiFi and computer library, book stores, Starbucks (of course) lending to hundreds of positions for employment. Throw in a mini aviation museum and a beautiful seating area to view the planes. Year’s ago, before the crackdown in security, the adjacent rooftop parking was the place to go to for the best photos of take-offs and landings around. The unique cantilevered umbrella roof offered a shelter to employees and passengers from the elements, as jets pulled right up close and personal to the building. A moving walkway could provide a connection between the existing terminals. To demolish WORLD PORT, would be akin to raising the Tower of Pisa because it has outlived it’s purpose and is leaning. It was restructured and shored up, preserved for generations. Or the White House, because parking is such a premium in the District of Columbia, because the West Wing is not part of the original blueprint. Sometimes, we need to step back from the big picture and hold onto our past, preserve it, nurture it, refit and reinvent it. LIke the song says, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”! If it were just another cookie-cutter building made out of brick and mortar, but it’s unique, it’s one of a kind, it represented the future what was to come…..and can still be that shining icon. SAVE WORLD PORT!

    • http://Savetheworldport.org Lisa Turano Wojcik

      Thank you so much, BA Miller.

  • http://Savetheworldport.org Lisa Turano Wojcik

    Reasons to Save the Worldport :
    Culturally: Worldport was the site of the 1964 Beatles’ American invasion. Many celebrities and dignitaries have traveled through it. Worldport was featured in James Bond’s Live and Let Die and 35+ movies and tv shows. Gene Roddenberry, author of Star Trek, was a former Pan Am pilot. He got the idea for “Starship Enterprise” from Worldport’s design.

    Artistically: it’s up there with the most beautiful examples of Mid-century Modern Architecture in the United States, with its 4-acre cantilevered saucer roof. Worldport was designed by architects of the renowned, and now re-popularized, Mid-century Modernist Movement. That is a recognized, celebrated art form of worldwide significance.

    Historically: T3 was built in the late 50s by Pan Am, creating a fundamental shift in how people travel. Its innovation was being the first airport terminal “to bring the plane to the passenger.” T3 marked the beginning of the Jet Age and was the commercial birthplace of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.

    Worldport exemplifies the epitome of inventiveness that characterized the post-World War II era, when our nation was at its height of innovation and booming economy. The 50s-60s was a time of great change in American culture, art, architecture, and engineering. Back then—Americans did some pretty amazing things—and Worldport was one. We ‘wowed’ the world with our accomplishments and inventive American way. Worldport is an example of that “wow factor.” As Americans, we need to preserve it as a reminder—of who we are—and what made us great. That’s the essential reason we need to save Worldport.

    Yes, there are numerous cultural, artistic, and historic reasons to Save the Worldport, but most importantly, America shouldn’t trample over its illustrious history in its effort to move forward. I’m reminded of visiting Venice, Italy. Examining a 500-year old apartment building, I noticed a chrome & glass modern kitchen inside. Honor the old, and repurpose it. Every other culture on Earth does this.

    There are parallels between T3 and the Grand Central story. We are faced with a similar dilemma that confronted Grand Central: what to do with a worn out building that has served its purpose? The major consideration is to find more value by re-investing in this building for what makes sense for business, historic, and architectural preservation purposes.

    Progress is unavoidable, especially at busy airports where space is at a premium. We understand old buildings must sometimes make way for more modern buildings that can handle today’s volume of traffic and security concerns. But sometimes historic buildings are just too important to lose, especially ones as unique and irreplaceable as the TWA Flight Center and the Worldport. These buildings represent an important era in aviation, architecture, American history, and human progress. Every effort should be made to integrate them.

    Our campaign seeks to save only the original structure with the intent to responsibly restore, re-purpose, and continue operation for non-flight revenue-generating public uses. We have put forward some proposals to Delta and PANYNJ. Here are two:
    1) Save the historic structure. Demolish the ’73 add-on. Make the saucer an independent non-passenger-serving building open to the public, with a museum, restaurants, shops, aircraft observation, airport employee care, and other uses.
    2) Save the historic structure. Demolish both the ’73 add-on & T2. Build a modern terminal behind it in the same way JetBlue built its new T5 behind the former TWA Flight Center.

    Delta Airlines is calling for the entire T3 complex to be demolished by 2015 to make room for aircraft parking areas adjacent to T2 & T4. If they save just the original rotunda portion, as we are asking, they would only be giving up 3 aircraft parking spaces. There is mention of T2 being demolished in the near future where additional operational space will be more than made up.

    We believe the original Pan Am Flying Saucer terminal, like the TWA Flight Center, which only cost $20M to renovate, is an important part of aviation and architectural history. Though horribly neglected and left in disrepair, it is absolutely worth saving! We think it would cost less to restore and repurpose T3 than the $215M in taxpayer funds Delta stands to receive for demolition.

    And I quote Anthony Stramaglia, one of the Save the Worldport founders, “I think a lot of people miss the point of preservation and what the proposed uses are for the building and just blurt out the fact that “it’s falling apart and obsolete.” Sure it’s obsolete for certain things. It was obsolete less than a decade after it was built. But isn’t that the point of adaptive re-use—to find a new use for buildings and structures that have outlived their original purpose?

    Also, the proposal is to save just the saucer part not the 70s addition. It’s obvious even that part is a mess. Delta and the PANYNJ have largely let it fall into disrepair for years, so you can’t put all the blame on the building. It’s amazing the thing is in as good a shape as it is for the neglect it’s suffered, and that’s testament to the workmanship and materials that went into building it. The other issue is that it looks even more of a mess cluttered with that hideous AirTrain walkway/elevator that blocks the front view and the T2 connector/walkway that Pan Am built in 1989, and all the interior shops, signage, and security walls. It’s not the sleek, pristine ,wide-open space that was originally designed. But all that can be removed.

    The area just the saucer part takes up barely eats into 3 of the 16 proposed hardstands (just 8% of the total parking area). The lease revenue a good tenant (or tenants) would pay to lease the building would more than make up for it. And it doesn’t have to be a terminal. There’s a lot of services JFK could use that could be housed there, and yes, it’s been discussed what would or wouldn’t work at an airport like JFK that would have limited foot traffic to a non-passenger-processing building.

    A cost analysis is in the works, and architects and engineers are being sought to flesh out designs and costs. But since Delta still has a lease hold on the building even though they’re no longer using it, the PANYNJ needs Delta’s buy-in too. And the hope is that Delta will at least listen to the proposals. We are also seeking investors to partner with PANYNJ.

    It seems that some people’s perception of preservationists is that they’re just nostalgic “building huggers” who scream and cry when buildings are threatened and have no real solid plan of action. Maybe some are, but not true here. Our Save the Worldport campaign group has been meeting with top Port Authority officials to discuss proposals.

    Also, the Port Authority does not receive any tax revenue from the City or State. Their revenue comes strictly from operations (leases, tolls, etc.) and projects are funded through capital expenditures, issuance of bonds, or private partnerships. If funding is secured for this project, it would be through a public-private financing partnership, whether it be Delta, another airline, JFK- IAT, or other investor.

    There is the utmost urgency to our cause. As of one day after the National Trust’s announcement, Delta started immediate demolition of the front roadway, ramp, and “Hebald screen.”

    For more information go to: http://www.Savetheworldport.org Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PanAmWorldport?fref=ts Twitter: @saveworldport

    • http://Savetheworldport.org Lisa Turano Wojcik

      May I add that there has been a lot of playing the “job creation” card by folks who want to demolish Worldport. Really? How do 3 aircraft parking spaces create jobs? After the demolition and paving is done those short-term temporary jobs are gone. Retail and other traveler service jobs proposed for Worldport would create many more long term jobs. That SHOULD be very obvious.