JFK’s historic Worldport put on ‘endangered’ list

Photos courtesy Anthony Stramaglia
By Rich Bockmann

Preservationists scored what may end up being a symbolic victory last week when JFK Airport’s historic Pan Am Worldport, set to be demolished to make way for a parking lot, was recognized as an endangered historic site.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation last week said the flying saucer-like structure symbolized “America’s entry into the Jet Age,” as it put the terminal on its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.

The congressionally chartered nonprofit has a lot of muscle when it comes to advocating for preservation, but lacks any regulatory authority.

When it opened in 1960, the Pan Am terminal was marketed as the “Gateway to the World” and was unique for its circular shape and elliptical roof, which measures 450 by 350 feet, cantilevered over the edges of the building and sheltered passengers from the elements as they embarked on aircraft.

But by the end of the decade, the structure was ill-equipped to handle the newest batch of Boeing 707 Super Jets, and Pan Am added a concourse to the terminal in 1973.

Delta Airlines took over the Worldport in 1991 after the demise of Pan Am and renamed it Terminal 3.

The airline left the terminal vacant in May for more modern digs in the renovated and expanded Terminal 4 next door. As part of the plan, the Worldport is set to be demolished.

“The clock is definitely ticking,” said Anthony Stramaglia, a member of the Save the Worldport preservation campaign. “They so badly want the structure down to build a parking lot.”

Stramaglia said crews over the weekend began dismantling the elevated roadway that leads up to the terminal.

Throughout the latter part of the 20th Century, John F. Kennedy International Airport boasted a treasure chest of architectural gems, such as I.M. Pei’s Sundrome — the National Airlines terminal — and American Airlines’ Terminal 8, notable for its famed stained-glass windows.

But those outdated buildings were demolished to make way for ones that could accommodate larger, modern aircraft.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey noted it has worked to preserve historic structures at each of its major airports, including Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK, but said it has to balance preservationists and economic concerns.

“The old Pan Am Worldport terminal at JFK served this region for more than a half century, but is obsolete for 21st century aviation purposes,” the agency said in a statement. “Unfortunately, JFK is a land-constrained airport and the choice we face is between job creation today in Queens and preservation of a facility that is no longer functional.”

Stramaglia said he understands the need for modern terminals, but they just do not inspire him the way the Jet Age ones do.

“The modern designs are necessary. The old, historic terminals are not designed for today’s security requirements,” he said, lamenting the generic feel to Terminal 4. “The way they designed [the Worldport], there’s really nothing like it. You’re never going to see something like that again, and for that reason I think they should keep it.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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