JFK Airport's Pan Am Worldport: A Jet Age Relic In Peril

Posted on: February 15th, 2013 by Katherine Flynn 6 Comments

A Boeing 707-100 aircraft sits at the Worldport in 1961. Credit: John Proctor, Wikimedia Commons
A Boeing 707-100 aircraft sits at the Worldport in 1961.

The original architects of the Pan Am Worldport might have hoped that the building would fit in perfectly with the landscape of the new millennium.

The terminal at New York’s JFK Airport was built in 1960 by Ives, Turano & Gardner Associated Architects in the shape of a futuristic flying saucer. It made its mark on American cultural history by sending off the Beatles after their first U.S. tour and appearing in at least one vintage James Bond adventure. Pan Am shuttered its ticket windows in 1991, but the Worldport still serves as a reminder that air travel was once seen as an exotic luxury, rather than a nuisance-riddled necessity.

Although the Worldport is iconic, its current tenant, Delta Airlines, is planning to dismantle the structure, now known as Terminal 3, in 2015 to make way for a $1.2 billion expansion of neighboring Terminal 4. The original Worldport space will eventually be used as a parking lot for aircraft.

Recently, an online campaign to preserve the terminal has been gaining traction, spearheaded by aviation enthusiast Kalev Savi and partner Anthony Stramaglia. Save The Pan Am Worldport aims to keep this iconic piece of aviation architecture from being demolished, and to see it refurbished and repurposed for new generations of jet-setters.

“You just don’t see buildings like that anymore constructed at airports,” says Stramaglia. “Now a terminal is more like a warehouse than a showpiece. This building is more of an art form.”

Delta Air Lines is the current tenant of the Worldport at JFK, now known as Terminal 3. Credit: Anthony Stramaglia
Delta Air Lines is the current tenant of the Worldport at JFK, now known as Terminal 3.

Savi and Stramaglia started an online petition a little over a year ago that has garnered 1,818 signatures so far. Their current project is to get the Worldport approved for New York Landmark Status, with the eventual hope that it will be recognized with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Other terminals and structures at JFK have been recognized for their historic significance over the years, including the TWA Flight Center, a swooping dome that was completed in 1962 and designed by renowned Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. (It was also added to the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2003.)

“In some people’s mind, that was the building worth saving,” Savi says. “This criticism that there’s no famous architect associated with [the Worldport] I find to be a moot point.”

The New York Port Authority and Delta Airlines have said that the Worldport is beyond repair, and upkeep and maintenance have become impractical and costly. “It’s not an asset you can recover at this point,” Delta CEO Richard Anderson was quoted as saying in The Architect’s Newspaper in 2010.

The underside of the Worldport. Credit: trevor.patt, flickr
The underside of the Worldport in 2011.

Other complaints about the space include its small, cramped feel with the addition of baggage screening and TSA security checkpoints, which the architects didn’t have to consider in their original plans. It underwent a renovation in 1971 to accommodate the Boeing 747, but the interior space is still lagging behind modern airport standards. So far, the New York Port Authority and Delta haven’t responded to the campaign.

Savi and Stramaglia think that the structure could be preserved with some outside-the-box thinking, and they argue that, in an age of generic cookie-cutter airports, Delta could make a branding statement by repurposing the building, or even housing an aviation history museum inside the terminal. They also posit that tearing the terminal down and paving it over is twice as expensive as the cost of repair and refurbishment.

Save The Pan Am Worldport shows no signs of slowing down, and Savi and Stramaglia are hoping that they’ll be able to win some immunity from demolition for the flying saucer portion of the terminal before 2015. “It should be something that the public can enjoy, that can help them remember significant events from the past,” Savi says. “It should be something that people want to go to.”

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Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores and uncovering the stories behind historic places. Follow her on Twitter at @kateallthetime.

Local Preservationists, Modern Architecture

6 Responses

  1. Richard Upchurch

    February 15, 2013

    I agree with Kal and Anthony, and am signed on to fight against the destruction of T3, we must save the Worldport, at least the saucer, once it is gone it is gone. By saving this structure, we may just help return Commercial Aviation back, in a small way, to a classy way to travel instead of just a means to get from point A to point B. If TWA Terminal was saved at JFK and LAX Terminal in L.A., then why not T3, Worldport. These are the big three which stand as a symbol of our grand style that was and I think still could be, here in the USA.

  2. Arnold Berke

    February 18, 2013

    For an excellent article on Worldport/T3 and other modern airport landmarks, read the article by Sudip Bose in the May/June 2009 issue of Preservation Magazine. Check it out online at http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2009/may-june/flights-of-fancy.html

  3. JFK’s Once Futuristic Terminal is in Danger of Getting Torn Down - Scott Henson Architect LLC

    February 22, 2013

    [...] post originally appeared on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Nation blog, an Atlantic partner [...]

  4. Save the Worldport | Margaret George

    February 23, 2013

    [...] had a brief posting on the campaign to save the PanAm Worldport at JFK. If you are familiar with this terminal, it is [...]

  5. Bruce Holberg

    February 28, 2013

    My favorite JFK terminal has always been the front portion of the TWA Terminal. Now that that has been saved and repaired, it shows itself off as a focus on the 1960’s. The second best terminal in my opinion is Pan Am’s dynamic terminal now used by Delta. I believe the flying saucer portion should be saved and restored. JFK is the point of entry to the U.S. for many foreign visitors and it should continue to impress them every time they pass through.

  6. Ron Fano

    March 2, 2013

    Having worked at JFK in the 60’sand70’s it was and still is the most recognized air terminal in the world! Lets save it for future generations to enjoy.