On Tuesday, the old TWA Flight Center at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport opened its doors briefly to a select group of journalists to get a look at the future site of the long-awaited TWA Hotel. The event, hosted by MCR Development, allowed journalists to see the remnants of the languished terminal, the progress being made to restore it and gave a sneak peek at one of its future hotel rooms.
Touring the TWA Flight Center
Traveling to and from JFK’s Terminal 5 on various JetBlue flights over the years, I’ve always been intrigued by the former TWA terminal. The building is an architectural and engineering marvel, especially when contrasted to the ultra-modern Terminal 5 just feet away, that was designed by the famous Eero Saarinen, who also designed the terminal for Washington’s Dulles International Airport and the former U.S. Embassy in London.
The terminal is an intricate series of curves and meanders specifically designed with no right angles anywhere in the building. This gives the terminal an open feel and the curves are resemblant of an elegant labyrinth instead of a busy airport terminal.
The casing where the famous Solari split board hung above the terminal. In a former life, this was the precursor to the digital departure boards we have today. Passengers would huddle around the sign, inquiring about their flights, as many people do today. However, instead of instant updates, the board would cycle and spit out letters and numbers one by one, leaving onlookers in suspense until the last letter or number appeared.
On display was one of the concrete connecting tubes that currently connects the TWA terminal with JetBlue’s terminal 5. Although it is currently closed, the opposing end leads directly into the JetBlue baggage claim area via a staircase. The tube was made famous in the movie Catch Me If You Can about the con man Frank Abagnale Jr. In the movie, Tom Hanks’ character accosts Abignale Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is attempting to fly on a TWA plane.
This passenger lounge is known as the sunken lounge due to it being two steps down from the rest of the terminal. Its heart shape made it affectionately known as the heart of the terminal. It also features a Solari split board.
While walking around, we were able to see the old furniture that has been unused and untouched for decades. The terminal truly is a time capsule where various objects had been lost in time. Pieces of furniture, phones, and other items from a time that I’ve never known all sitting there, waiting for any sort of interaction.
MCR Development had hired actors to portray a TWA pilot and flight attendant for the day. The two acted as semi-tour guides along with CEO Tyler Mose of MCR Development.
When the event began, MCR Development CEO Tyler Morse addressed the crowd. Morse, an aviation enthusiast himself, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the terminal. The hotel project was close to his heart, clearly.
After the opening speech, we embarked on our tour of the terminal before getting a sneak peek of the hotel’s rooms. We started at the former site of the Ambassador’s Club on the second floor.
Although the glass that lines the building is seemingly normal, no two panes are the same. The glass is also very think, although it doesn’t appear to be. One square foot of the glass is quite heavy, as we were able to hold a piece. The tour continued to the connecting tubes on the first floor.
In the rear of the building, there is a space between the building and terminal 5. MCR has acquired a Lockheed Constellation, one of TWA’s most famous and revolutionary aircraft, which will act as a restaurant open to the public. Underneath the concrete, however, a large-scale conventional center will host events and conferences.
According to morse, there will be 6 restaurants and 8 bars in total in the hotel. This includes both in the TWA Flight Center and the two towers that will make up the hotel. Additionally, there will be a viewing center and infinity pool on the tops of the towers, a perk for aviation enthusiasts and those fascinated by the miracle of aviation.
After walking over to terminal 5 and back through the concrete connecting tubes, it was time to head to the model hotel room which was located offsite. MCR had rented 1960s-era cars to transport journalists over to the cargo area of JFK where the room was staged.
The Model Room
Inside a nondescript cargo building at JFK was the model room for the future TWA Hotel. This grey door served as a time machine, as when we stepped inside were transported back to the 1960s.
Frank Sinatra was playing over the speakers, flight attendants in 1960s uniforms greeted us at the door and scores of TWA memorabilia was on display.
After a brief few moments in the staging area, it was time to see the model room. Down the red carpet draped hallway with a modern yet nostalgic design, our hotel room awaited.
The first thing you see in the room of the wet bar and closet. The wet bar is stocked with premium alcohol for having drinks in the room, reminiscent of the alcohol-fueled days of the 1960s. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a stocked mini bar, but the TWA Hotel is going a step further with the wet bars, but they’ll cost a pretty penny.
Moving into the sleek and modern bathroom, the only thing that reminds you of the 1960s is the TWA branded toiletries and other amenities. Besides those, the bathroom has all modern amenities and fixtures.
Moving into the main room, we were shown a display of what the view from the South Tower would look like facing the ramp. This room had a view of the ramp between JetBlue’s terminal 5 and terminal 4, which serves aircraft ranging from Airbus A380s to Embraer Regional Jets, and airplanes departing and arriving on runways 4L/22R and 4R/22L. Although, there were some planes out of place.
After the tour was over, we were shuttled back to the terminal in a classic 1963 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. I’ve been driven to the airport in all sorts of cars, but driving down the JFK Expressway back to terminal 5 in this beauty alongside A350s and B747s took the cake.
The hotel is currently still under construction but is slated to open in Spring 2019.