Ultra Swank - Retro Adventures

Save the Worldport – A Piece of Pan Am History

Written by Baron von Swankenstein • July 8th, 2013
Save the Worldport – A Piece of Pan Am History

Pan Am’s Worldport — Pan Am’s former New York JFK airport terminal built in the 1960s

Every mid-century maven knows Pan Am. All swank jet-setting dreams began with the famed airline.

The first to employ luxury jetliners (Boeing 707s in 1958 and Boeing 747s in 1970), Pan Am was one of the founders of the commercial Jet Age. With 86 destination countries on all six major continents at its peak in 1968, the Pan Am name was synonymous with style, luxury, and glamour. Pan Am pilots held the same esteem as doctors and Pan Am stewardesses held the same prestige as Playboy Bunnies.

In 1991, four days before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pan Am ceased operations. But those swank jet-setting dreams didn’t end just because the Cold War did. Even now, 22 years after its close of business, customers, former employees, and mid-century mavens are unwilling to let Pan Am die. Websites are dedicated to its history and to its ephemera. A brief search of eBay reveals a brisk trade in Pan Am memorabilia. Even the swank Exotica music masters Tikiyaki Orchestra have parodied the Pan Am logo on their album art and merchandise.

A key piece of Pan Am was its hub terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, The Worldport. Designed by Walther Prokosch of Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, and Emanuel Turano of Ives, Turano & Gardner Associated Architects, The Worldport opened May 24, 1960; It was a tour de force, getting immediate coverage in LIFE magazine and Vogue.

Hollywood was quick to follow suit and adopted The Worldport as one of its architectural darlings: Doris Day departed from The Worldport in That Touch of Mink (1962). And super spy James Bond disembarked from the terminal in Live And Let Die (1973).

With its flying saucer canopy and its futuristic International Style architecture, The Worldport has stood as one of the premiere symbols of the Jet Age for over 50 years. After Pan Am’s bankruptcy in 1991, the terminal was sold to Delta Air Lines and continued to be used for international flights.

Now, this icon of mid-century design is threatened. In 2010, Delta announced its plan to move its international flights to Terminal 4 and, with the support of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, slated the Worldport for redevelopment. Its final airliner departure was in May.

According to preservation group Save The Worldport, “redeveloping” involves razing the terminal and paving the site for more airliner parking. Ignoring the group’s two-year effort, Delta Airlines has been proceeding with its plans for demolition. Demolition equipment is on-site as of this writing.

All of this is in spite of the fact that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed the Worldport on its America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list for 2013 and has directly advocated for the terminal’s preservation to Delta and the Port Authority.

Now, with a campaign to raise money for an advertisement in the New York Times, Save The Worldport is engaged in a final effort to raise public awareness and get demolition stopped. Here’s hope that New York doesn’t repeat its Penn Station Mistake.

To stay apprised of Worldport preservation efforts, and to see how you can participate, go to Save The Worldport.org

Baron von Swankenstein

Roman Gheesling aka Baron von Swankenstein, is that swingin' mad scientist who celebrates Halloween year round. He also holds a BFA in Graphic Design.

Find out more about Baron von Swankenstein

  • Scotty

    I hope this can be preserved, but like so many other important buildings, it is likely to be demolished. They will probably replace it with something that has all the style and beauty of a double wide mobile home, or some Soviet era administration building.

  • Baron von Swankenstein

    Actually, it’s worse than that. The Worldport won’t be replaced by anything but a bigger parking lot for jetliners. . . .

  • At least they preserved parts of the TWA building when Jet Blue took over. Come on America, what is it with you guys and demolishing anything that is older than 50 years?

  • Lisa Turano Wojcik

    Worldport exemplifies the epitome of inventiveness that characterized the post-World War II era, when our nation was at its height of innovation and booming economy. The 50s-60s was a time of great change in American culture, art, architecture, and engineering. Back then—Americans did some pretty amazing things—and Worldport was one. We ‘wowed’ the world with our accomplishments and inventive American way. Worldport is an example of that “wow factor.” As Americans, we need to preserve it as a reminder—of who we are—and what made us great. That’s the essential reason we need to save Worldport.

    Yes, there are numerous cultural, artistic, and historic reasons to Save the Worldport, but most importantly, America shouldn’t trample over its illustrious history in its effort to move forward. I’m reminded of visiting Venice, Italy. Examining a 500-year old apartment building, I looked in a window and noticed a chrome & glass modern kitchen inside. Honor the old, and repurpose it. Every other culture on Earth does this.

    (yes, I am the daughter of the architect)

  • BA

    Beautiful article lauding Pan AM’s first’s. It’s ashame Delta is in such a hurry to take one of the most infamous historic air terminals down, when it could remain, be refitted for a purpose for the future and to so many gainful employment. Not much you can do with a slab of asphalt! As the song goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”! SAVE THE WORLD PORT. It’s iconic design of modernism is one of the last great designs of this type of architecture in our country! SAVE THE WORLD PORT!

  • Koop Kooper

    Kalev Savi who is one of the people behind the movement to save this iconic structure is featured on this weekends Cocktail Nation radio show.

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