Flight of Fancy

When the Trans World Airlines (TWA) terminal first opened at John F. Kennedy International Airport (then known as Idlewild) in 1962, it was hailed as an architectural masterpiece. An emblem of the golden age of air travel, the gull-winged steel-and-concrete structure evoked flight itself. It was famed architect Eero Saarinen’s final building, opened a year after his death.

The terminal closed in 2001, as TWA fell into bankruptcy, and stayed dark for the better part of two decades. Soon, however, it will be reincarnated as the only on-site hotel at JFK, scheduled to open May 15. “Restoring the TWA Hotel is a labor of love,” says Tyler Morse, CEO of MCR and MORSE Development, the hotel’s developer. “We are counting down the days until the landmark building is filled with life again.

The TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy Airport.

The original terminal will serve as the hotel’s lobby, while a pair of new buildings behind the historic terminal will hold the hotel’s 512 rooms, kitted out in midcentury modern décor—including furnishings designed by Eero Saarinen such as his womb chair, executive chair, and tulip side table. “From the moment guests and visitors arrive at the TWA Hotel,” says Morse, “they will find themselves immersed in the ethos of 1962’s rich culture, architecture, sights, sounds, and ambience.

Hungry guests can choose from among six restaurants, the most notable of which is the Paris Café, helmed by celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and serving food inspired by in-flight menus from TWA. The Sunken Lounge, at the heart of the terminal, will return to its 1962 splendor courtesy of the Gerber Group, the team behind the recent revamp of The Campbell in Grand Central. Underneath a classic split-flap departures board, the lounge will offer classic cocktails one might have sipped in the ’60s—including the Old Fashioned and the, ahem, Aviation—as well as the official TWA Martini and the Royal Ambassador Cocktail, which was once served to TWA’s most elite passengers in gold-flecked glassware. “So much history has been made in The Sunken Lounge—crowds gathered to watch the Beatles arrive in the United States in 1965, and visitors saw the Tin Goose break a transcontinental record right outside the window in June 1962,” says Morse. “Having a cocktail on these grounds will be like stepping back into 1962—without the cigarette smoke.” It’s one of eight bars the hotel will hold; another will be housed inside a repurposed 1958 Lockheed Constellation (which began its life as a TWA aircraft) parked just outside the hotel.

The former TWA terminal circa 1962.

Other hotel amenities include a 10,000-square-foot fitness center, as well as a rooftop pool and observation deck. The hotel will also house a museum celebrating midcentury design and travel, curated by the New-York Historical Association and holding more than 2,000 artifacts, including vintage air hostess uniforms by Valentino, Ralph Lauren, and Stan Herman; vintage furniture from the TWA headquarters; and in-flight amenities such as gilded playing cards and silver serving ware.

Commercial air travel likely will never regain its former romance, when it was a source of allure and excitement, a novelty for most. But if glamour is fleeting, architecture is less so, and Saarinen’s building—and the midcentury artifacts and design pieces it now holds—may be the closest we’ll get in the present era to the grandeur of air travel’s golden age. The hotel has a stop on the air train, too; you may hear it beckoning during an inevitable flight delay. Pop over for a martini and raise a glass to the days when travel was a cause for celebration.