Mark Lamster | Essays

“I’m Staying at the Eero”

News today: Eero Saarinen's decommissioned TWA Terminal has been slated for conversion into a boutique hotel. Actually, from what I gather, the Port Authority's plan is to use the landmark terminal as the gateway to a separate hotel building that will be squeezed into the crescent of space between Saarinen's building and JetBlue's Terminal 5. It's a shame the Authority didn't do a better job incorporating the landmark building into Terminal 5 in the first place, but that ship has sailed plane has long since departed.

The lobby to a "boutique" hotel would seem to be an appropriate use for the old terminal, with its super-mod interior spaces. It's got ready-made check-in counters and great spaces for lounges, bars, and restaurants with food by April Bloomfield. Think the Ace with a jet-age aesthetic. But whomever is chosen as architect to remake the space and build the adjacent new building will have some serious challenges, and those of us who are fans of the terminal, and believe in preservation, are going to need to be on our guard, lest this classic work of midcentury modernism finds the same fate as Gordon Bunshaft's erstwhile Mani-Hani bank in midtown. A few immediate questions: how will one access the new hotel building from the old terminal? Will there be some alteration to the tubes that once led to the satelite gates and now attach (uselessly) to Terminal 5? And what becomes of the enormous window onto the tarmac that was once the focus of the entire building? That window now looks onto JFK's access road, and would presumably, in the future, look out onto the basement of the new hotel building. Not the romantic prospect Saarinen had in mind, you can be sure. 

Here's the space where the hotel will be sited in a classic photo of the Terminal by Ezra Stoller (a book of these photos, edited by yours truly, is here.) A show of Stoller's work, including some of his TWA shots, is currently on at the Yossi Milo gallery.

Comments [3]

If this Terminal is indeed a National Historic Landmark and its use be changed, would the status not be terminated by the Dept. of Interior?
Mary Bode

I believe it is a NYC designated landmark, not a national historic landmark. I don't believe the interior is designated, just the structure, including the two elevated walkways, so any alteration to them will require approval of the LPC, as would, I believe, any other major alteration to the building. But I'm not an expert in preservation codes.
mark lamster

Incorporating it into terminal 5? Easier said than done. The building is such a functional dinosaur. Totally unable to function in the 21st century and handle current traffic volume. It's the equivalent of having a land line and using a modem in the age of broadband for pete's sake. IMHO there's really no good solution for this. The only program that will ever make sense there is an ironic one (unfortunately).

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