Historic Worldport at JFK to be Demolished

By Cory Healy on 14 June 2013
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The Worldport at night

The Worldport at night

In 1963, at the dawn of the Jet Age, New York City demolished the historic Pennsylvania Station, a move that launched preservationists into frenzied action. In the late 1950s, predating Penn Station’s demolition, efforts to redevelop Idlewild airport were made and led to the creation of a “terminal city” where individual airlines built terminals that heralded the age of air travel. One such structure was Pan American World Airways’ Worldport. Last month, Delta Air Lines and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey shuttered the Worldport, known now as Terminal 3.

After more than 50 years in service, the famous terminal has been scheduled for demolition by 2015. Delta Airlines says the terminal needed to be razed to make way for a $1.2 billion expansion, mainly to accommodate more parking for planes. The TWA Flight Center, an elegant structure in the shape of soaring wings and designed by Eero Saarinen, is designated as a historic site and thus has been saved from demolition. While the Worldport predates it, and arguably holds greater significance in aviation history, it wasn’t given such consideration.

Rear view of the Worldport

Rear view of the Worldport

Built by Pan American World Airways, the Worldport ushered in the Jet Age upon its opening in 1960. It expanded in 1971 to accommodate all-new Boeing 747s Jumbo Jets and became the world’s largest airline terminal for several years. When Pan Am declared bankruptcy in 1991, Delta Airlines took over the terminal, renamed it Terminal 3 and made it the prime hub for its international flights.

After learning about Delta’s plans for demolition, Kalev Savi founded a group in 2010 dedicated to saving the Worldport. The group’s Facebook page, “Save the Pan Am Worldport” has over 6,500 likes internationally, which is truly a testament to popular belief that the building is an icon.

The original structure had a signature oval-shaped four acre roof, known famously as “the saucer,” , where jets parked underneath. Passengers and crew were shielded from rain and snow as they boarded jets by open bridge, a concept that ushered in today’s enclosed jetways.

The Worldport represented a new era of travel, opening three years before the demolition of Penn Station, and became the new symbol of transportation innovation. The terminal’s farewell service, Flight 268 to Tel Aviv, Israel, departed from Gate 6 on May 23, 2013.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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