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News January 2012

Pan Am Worldport

January 13, 2012

With the dust still settling from the demolition last October of I.M. Pei’s Terminal 6, aka the “Sundrome,” we turn our attention to another Jet Age terminal at JFK Airport that appears destined for the same fate. The clock is ticking loudly for the 1960 Pan Am Worldport and its 4-acre cantilevered “flying saucer” roof. In August 2010 the Port Authority of NY/NJ, together with Delta Airlines, released plans that call for the terminal’s demolition in 2013 to make way for more aircraft parking. Referred to as Terminal 3 today, the Worldport currently serves Delta’s international flights.

The terminal, originally called Pan Am Terminal, was designed in the late 1950s by the firm of Ives, Turano, and Gardner in association with architect Walther Prokosch of Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton. The principal architect, Emanuel Turano, won an award of excellence from the American Institute of Architecture for the design. After completion in 1960, the Pan Am Terminal welcomed the first Boeing 707 and later the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. But perhaps more notably, it welcomed the Beatles’ British Invasion—along with screaming hordes of young girls—in February 1964.

Unfortunately, the terminal was functionally obsolete soon after it opened. While other terminals were including the newly conceived enclosed jet way for passenger access to planes, Pan Am incorporated a less advanced means—exterior bridges sheltered by the broad cantilevers of the canopy. Boarding passengers may have gotten more of a sense of jet travel adventure, but they were exposed to all extremes of weather and the noise of an airport. 

In 1971 the terminal was expanded to accommodate 747s and renamed the “Pan Am Worldport.” A large, clumsy extension was built on the field side, with a warren of low-ceilinged spaces lacking any sense of adventure. After Pan Am ceased operations in 1991, Delta took over the terminal for its international flights. Many users of the terminal today never even see the relatively expansive interior under the great canopy. The Delta-Port Authority agreement would demolish the entire complex to make room for aircraft parking associated with the expansion of Terminal 4 next door.

But Terminal 3 isn’t going down without opposition. A growing chorus of preservationists is advocating the reuse of the original rotunda portion of the terminal and its canopy as a connector in the planned walkway between the existing Terminal 2 and the Terminal 4 expansion. There, passengers could dine, shop and take in the view of the buzzing runways while waiting for their flights.

To help make their case, advocates have created an online petition addressed to Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Airlines, Mayor Bloomberg, and Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as an active Pan Am Worldport Facebook page that boasts a photo gallery with great vintage photos. We encourage Terminal 3 enthusiasts to sign the petition and “like” the Facebook page.

Pan Am Terminal, 1961 photo: John Proctor