Reimagining JFK Airport: Terminal City, Meet the Future

Restoring JFK to America’s Gateway to the World

The TWA Flight Center at JFK

By Jonathan Spira on 10 January 2017
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The plans to redevelop John F. Kennedy International Airport as a more interconnected airport calls to mind the airport’s first redevelopment in the 1950s as Terminal City.

The airport, which opened in the 1940s as Idlewild, was renamed New York International Airport, Anderson Field in 1948 (although the name “Idlewild” stuck), and then named after President John F. Kennedy a month after his assassination in 1963.


Originally, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which assumed management of the airport in 1947, envisioned a single 55-gate terminal building but larger airlines were against the proposal as it would not allow for significant expansion to allow increased traffic. Instead of going in this direction, architect Wallace Harrison developed a master plan for what would be called “Terminal City,” where each major airline would be given space for its own terminal and the freedom to develop its own terminal building. While airlines competed against one another for the best design, the concept of airport security was not on the planners’ minds and resulted in the JFK airport we have today: a series of disconnected terminal buildings that don’t allow for the efficient movement of screened passengers between terminals.

A 1954 Port Authority brochure

A 1954 Port Authority brochure

In some respects, Terminal City presaged the nearby 1964 World’s Fair, but with terminals instead of national pavilions arranged in a horseshoe pattern around the airport’s core at Tri-Faith Chapel Plaza. From an architectural standpoint it was a fitting gateway to the world and two of the terminals – the Pan Am Worldport and the TWA Flight Center – served to usher in the jet age.

Even today, when one enters JFK by car (and most do), the airport has the feeling of a city, and the ghosts of former great airlines such as TWA, Pan Am, National, BOAC, and Eastern continue to make their presence felt.

The actual buildings, however, were a different story. In some of the structures, most notably the International Arrivals Building, darkness and tight spaces were the rule.

There were few amenities available to the traveler as airport stores were merely considered a modest convenience (and an afterthought in airport design), a way to get a newspaper or a paperback book en route to the gate.

Click here to continue to Page 2The Original Seven Terminals

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