At this point, modern air travel is so unpleasant, so inconveniencing, so downright annoying that talking about it almost seems pointless, like shouting into a jet engine. If there is one positive to be extracted from all of our collective airline agony, it’s that it forces us to reflect upon a time when air travel was not only enjoyable, but dare I say, sexy. Shows like Mad Men, and movies like Catch Me if You Can play into our rosy-eyed curiosity with mid-century air travel, portraying well-heeled passengers, sociable stewardesses, and those beautiful modernist concourses. Airports of today are drab reminders of just how far you are from home, but in the early decades of air travel these buildings were sleek, shiny shrines to the future. The terminals that serviced America’s larger cities at this time were designed to not only help carry passengers from point A to point B, but also to reflect the progressive spirit of commercial air travel, which had really only taken off (no pun intended) in 1958 with the advent of the Boeing 707. So buckle up, make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position, and travel back in time with us to the golden age of the American airport.
Main Terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport, VA
Architect: Eero Saarinen
Fact: Saarinen proclaimed that the airport was “the best thing I have ever done.”
TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY
Architect: Eero Saarinen
Fact: The once-bustling terminal has sat idle for over a decade.
The Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, NY
Architect: William Delano
Style: Art Deco
Fact: The Marine Air Terminal remains the only “first generation” terminal still in use today.
The Theme Building at Los Angeles International, CA
Architect: Pereira & Luckman Architects
Fact: The top of the structure originally featured a rotating restaurant giving diners a 360 view of the airport.
The Field Terminal at McCarran Airport, NV
Architect: Welton Becket and Associates and John Replogle
Style: Mid-century Modern
Fact: Welton Becket also designed the Capitol Records Building, the Santa Monica Convention Center, and The Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Long Beach Airport, CA
Designed: Early 1940’s
Architect: Horace Austin and Kenneth Wing
Style: Streamline Moderne
Fact: This terminal is still in operation today and was made a cultural landmark in 1990
Pan Am Worldport at John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY
Designed: Late 1950’s
Architect: Ives, Turano & Gardner Associated Architects and Walther Prokosch of Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton
Style: Futuristic Modernism
Fact: With Pan Am long since bankrupt, the Worldport was unfortunately demolished just last year.