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Save the TWA Terminal

by Josh Rubin in Culture on 07 November 2003

2003.07.11 Manhattan User's Guide reported that Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK, that glorious, swooping, curvilinear icon, which proves that a building doesn't need great height in order to soar, is about to be destroyed by the Port Authority. 2003.11.06 Again via Manhattan User's Guide, news on the JFK TWA Terminal. This time good: The Port Authority and JetBlue have done the right thing, thanks in large part to the work of the Municipal Arts Society: Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal at JFK will remain one of New York's treasured architectural landmarks. Although the agreement is tentative, pending FAA approval, it seems likely to win that approval. Here's what the plan calls for: JetBlue will "utilize the main terminal building as an entrance to a new terminal structure to be built behind it. The original tube-shaped passageway will be preserved intact, and significant components of the original Flight Wing ñ Saarinenís innovative gate satellite ñ will be relocated to the end of a new concourse. JetBlue will place ticketing and information kiosks in the terminalís soaring main hall to encourage passengers to come through it on their way to their gates. The remainder of the building will house restaurants and retail as well as other compatible activities." "Weíre thrilled that this remarkably successful airline wants to make use of the nationís most architecturally significant terminal building," said Frank Sanchis III, the Executive Director of MAS. After our plea on July 11, the MAS wrote to us that "the FAA and the Port Authority were impressed by the volume of correspondence they received regarding preserving the TWA Terminal at JFK airport. On behalf of the Municipal Art Society, thank you for helping to get the word out about the threat to this modern masterpiece. It really made a difference!" That thanks belongs to MUG readers. Before we leave the topic, we'd like to comment on a Crain's editorial on this topic from August 11. It was a blithering, crass, short-sighted piece: "Should preservationists from an organization like the Municipal Art Society dictate to the executives of JetBlue Airways, one of the best-run companies in its industry, how to design their new terminal at JFK International Airport? Of course not." [If Penn Station taught us anything, it is that sometimes the historical and architectural heritage of a city supercedes immediate commercial interests. It is so obviously irrelevant how well JetBlue is run. And for all Crain's knows, it could be gone within a few years, with only the loss of an architectural landmark to show for it.] Calling the Municipal Arts Society "extreme preservationists," Crain's huffs that the MAS was "demanding that the Saarinen structure be used as an airline terminal." [It's shocking, isn't it, that anyone would want to maintain Saarinen's building in more or less its original form and for more or less its original intent?] Crain's continues, "They took it upon themselves to offer their own designs. They have no credentials to do so. They are not expert in the needs of airline passengers. They don't know anything about making a profit in the brutal conditions that airlines face today." [This conveniently ignores the fact that the MAS worked with renowned airport planner Hal Hayes and that the plan was developed with a team of airport planners, designers, and traffic specialists.] In the end, New York has retained a small, essential part of its character. Crain's, on the other hand, has shown itself as ignorant of history, greedy and boorish. It's nice that, sometimes, the good guys win. Story from 2003.07.11 Even though the PA isn't planning to raze it, with the changes planned for the Saarinen design, they might just as well. The changes will completely decontextualize the structure and clumsily smother Saarinen's flight of fancy. And even though the building is a designated NYC landmark, as well as a designated NYC interior landmark, the PA simply doesn't have to comply with NYC law. Recently, the building was placed on America's 11 Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Trust describes the problem this way: "The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the building, seeks to redevelop the site as part of its airport expansion program. Current plans call for substantial demolition of the terminal's innovative flight satellite concourses, the construction of a hulking U-shaped building around its airside and a light rail system which bypasses the historic building and blocks the TWA Terminal's view of the tarmac. The Port Authority's plans will permanently remove the historic terminal's gates, and render it useless as an aviation structure." (Read more at www.nationaltrust.org) Under the terms set out by the FAA, the PA must prove that no "feasible and prudent" alternative can be found before the FAA will give the go-ahead. The Port Authority claims that there is no viable alternative. But that it not true. Over at the Municipal Art Society, they've been working with architect and airport planner Hal Hayes on a feasible and prudent alternative plan. This plan was developed with a team of airport planners, designers, and traffic specialists. You can see the plan at www.mas.org. According to Vicki Weiner of the MAS, this is the time for concerned New Yorkers to act. The Port Authority will accept letters on the subject until July 30th. And on July 15th, the PA has scheduled a meeting (not even calling it a hearing), out at JFK. But it is open to the public. There are two sessions: from 3-5pm and 7-9pm. The location is JFK Building 14, 3rd floor main conference room. Please send letters protesting the needless damage the Port Authority is poised to commit. Say that you support the Municipal Art Society alternative, which preserves the entire building and function. Letters should go to: Ed Knoesel Port Authority of NY & NJ Aviation Department 225 Park Avenue South, 9th Floor New York, NY 10003 and: Philip Brito, Manager NY Airports District Office Federal Aviation Administration 600 Old Country Road, Suite 446 Garden City, New York 11530 with copies to: Bernadette Castro, Commissioner NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Agency Building 1, Empire State Plaza Albany, NY 12238 Don Klima, Executive Director Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Old Post Office Building 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 809 Washington, D.C. 20004 The Port Authority may believe it is acceptable to be profligate with New York's architectural heritage, but we do not. Please don't let them get away with it.
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